4/10/10

Pitch Black (2000): The Silver Eyed Diesel and I

Often, in order to reach out to a broader audience, a director or screenwriter will decide to create a hybrid film. When it comes to horror, usually this means that a comedic or science fiction element is grafted onto a macabre tale. On a few rare occasions, you get elusive crossbreed the horror/action film. Since I’m celebrating Spring Into Action, I thought I would look at a few of these titles. Tonight, that means I’m going to check out a film I‘ve never had any interest in seeing, Pitch Black. I’ve never been a fan of Vin Diesel (though his admission of being a D&D player nearly brought me around).   I don’t know if I’ve ever made it through one of his starring vehicles, but there is a chance that I watched xXx at some point. If I did, I blocked it from my memory. When I was poking around researching films that would fit this theme, Pitch Black kept coming up, and much to my surprise, it seemed like people liked the tale of the silver eyed badass, So I finally took it on to check it out, but the question is will the light go on over my head or will it leave me stranded in the dark.

It all starts out when a transport ship crashes on a desert planet. Out of the forty passengers only a handful survives. Among them are co-pilot Carolyn (Rhada Mitchell), an antiquities dealer, pilgrims on their way to New Mecca, bounty hunter William Johns (Cole Hauser), and his prisoner, escaped convict Riddick (Vin Diesel). They find the planet to be inhospitable and seemingly devoid of life, but they soon discover they are not the only beings there. Under the surface, strange creatures with an aversion to light reside, and with the planet entering a long night cycle, the survivor’s only hope lies with Riddick whose silver eyes can see through the darkness.

Right off the bat let me say that Pitch Black was way better than I expected. Well, let me pull that back a little, it was better than I expected. From the opening crash sequence to the expected ending showdown, the film keeps up a rapid pace without letting character development suffer in the process. It doesn’t get bogged down in exposition either. The characters develop organically through their actions, and no one bothers to explain what the creatures are, why they are there, or why they want to kill people. Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter, and Pitch Black knows that. Screenwriters Ken and Jim Wheat (Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, Nightmare on Elm Street IV: The Dream Master) deliver on what the audience wants, blood, guts, gore, and a guy with silver eyes kicking ass.

Speaking of old silver eyes, I was actually kind of impressed by Vin Diesel. I’m not saying that I’ve become a fan, but he played the charismatic badass antihero to the hilt. He even delivered his quips well. My personal favorite being his response to bounty hunter William Johns when he admonishes Riddick for having a knife and Diesel’s character replies, “it’s a personal grooming appliance” while shaving his head with a disgusting goop. I will have to admit that the goggles he wore distracted me because I couldn’t help but think they looked like 2 rubbery watchbands put together. Other than that aesthetic gripe, there really wasn’t anything I didn’t like about Diesel. From the action to the dramatic to the snappy one liners, he really had it together on this one, and if I don’t watch a single other Vin Diesel film, I feel fairly certain that I will want to see this character continue in The Chronicles of Riddick.

Diesel is joined by a great supporting cast that rounds out the rest of the film. First off, there’s Rhada Mitchell as the pilot Carolyn. Between Pitch Black and Silent Hill, Mitchell has really got that wounded, yet strong woman persona down pat. Of all the characters, she is given the best story arc, and there’s good reason for that. Pitch Black also features one of my favorite genre film stars, Keith David. If you don’t know who Mr. David is, then you must not have seen They Live, Road House, or The Thing, and directly after reading this review, you should go fix that. He doesn’t have much to do as the Muslim Imam on his hajj to New Mecca, but he performs strongly and shares quite a few great scenes opposite Diesel. Cole Hauser, who I liked on the short lived New Orleans cop show K-ville, and Lewis Fitz-Gerald also put in solid performances as the bounty hunter and the antiquities dealer respectively.

Director David Twohy had previously directed a pair of films, 1992’s Timescape with Jeff Daniels and 1996’s The Arrival with Charlie Sheen, but most of his success had come from his writing.  Twohy was the scenarist for films like Warlock, GI Jane, Waterworld, and The Fugitive, and more recently he penned he script for The Perfect Getaway (2009) as well as directing it. Twohy did a good job creating tension and keeping the pace of Pitch Black going, and the only category his film really suffers in is the CG department.  It definitely struck me what a difference 10 years makes because the creatures on display looked only slightly better than what a direct to DVD film might offer now. Other than that minor quibble, Twohy put together a neatly constructed film that contained a few solidly original moments.

I went in expecting Pitch Black to be a 1 or maybe a 1.5, but I was pleasantly surprised to find this film to be a solid affair that comes in slightly above average. I would hesitate to gush with the amount of praise I’ve seen some folks pile on this film, but I would probably watch it again and will continue on into the franchise. The best thing was the way that it combined science fiction, horror, and action into one neat package. Apart from the first two Alien films, there are precious few movies that do that well, and Pitch Black proved itself to be a worthy addition to the sub-sub-genre. So if you have the hankering for blood, gore, and butt-kicking in an outer space adventure, then don’t keep yourself in the dark like I did, walk into the light and give Pitch Black a look.

Bugg Rating 

4 comments:

  1. i did enjoy this one, the next one, not so much.

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  2. Dude, this a good movie. One of the best anti-heroes in the past 15 years.

    The sequel is actually pretty solid too, if a bit overwrought at times. But worth watching.

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  3. I agree with Kangas, but I hated the sequel. Kick ass film and you did a good job with your review!

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  4. Also agreed here, I never expected to like this one but despite the CG it was an above average alien shootumup

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