STARRING: Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, Keith David, Lewis Fitz-Gerald

2000, 107 Minutes, Directed by: David Twohy

Description: A spaceship crashes on a desert planet scorched under three suns. The mostly doomed survivors include a resourceful captain (Radha Mitchell), a drug-addled cop (Cole Hauser), and a deadly prisoner (Vin Diesel) who quickly escapes. These clashing personalities discover that the planet is plunging into the darkness of an extended eclipse, and it's populated by hordes of ravenous, razor-fanged beasties that only come out at night.

Let's get one thing straight first: Pitch Black isn't particularly original and that's an understatement. In truth, its plot - of a group of stranded people being picked off one by one by monsters - has been done to death ever since the first Alien movie practically invented this plot convention way back in 1979.

A spaceship crash-lands on a desert planet orbiting around three suns. Vicious carnivorous creatures inhabit countless subterranean caves. This isn't too big a problem since the creatures would seem to be very sensitive to light and the planet seems to be basked in perpetual day. However, it soon becomes apparent that an eclipse lasting several years is about to descend and the nasties beneath the ground will come out to feed. The group of crash survivors also has to contend with an uncooperative escaped convict and bickering amongst themselves.

We've seen this thing done countless times in sci-fi and horror movies like Deep Blue Sea and Virus to Jurassic Park: The Lost World and Event Horizon. It has practically become a subgenre of its own, adhering to a strict set of rules. If you go to the movies often then you'll know what I mean when I say that the only tension this particular genre often offers is merely guessing who is going to get killed next . . .

Once you've accepted that Pitch Black falls squarely into this particular subgenre and you aren't expecting anything more, then you'll probably have a fun time watching it. Pitch Black is a better example of this type of movie than most. The special effects and sets are well done, some of the dialogue is clever, the photography (by the guy who filmed the first Mad Max movie) is interesting, and the acting is passable. There is even an effort at character development, although not always quite successful.

Hard SF fans would also be delighted at some nice science fiction touches: some effort went into making the landscape look alien instead of what lies a few miles outside the city limits. Also, the movie supplies audiences with the venerable but sadly neglected tradition of the bad ass anti-hero in the guise of Riddick, the serial killer/hero played by Vin Diesel (the actor who lent his voice to The Iron Giant). Riddick is one bad ass mother, oozing menace and macho confidence, making Snake Plissken (the Kurt Russell character in Escape from New York and Escape from LA) look like a boy scout in comparison. The alien creatures (a cross between a hammerhead shark and a pterodactyl) are also excellent.

It may be lowered expectations because I recently had to sit through the dull and crappy likes of Bicentennial Man, Mission to Mars and Battlefield Earth, but director David (The Arrival) Twohy gave us a straightforward enjoyable action flick with Pitch Black.

(Followed by an inferior sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, in 2004.)



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