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Pitch Black

Director: David Twohy
Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Keith David

I remember being vaguely aware of "Pitch Black" when it hit the theatres. It seemed to be an attempt at the sci-fi/horror genre, during a period when people weren't making sci-fi/horror films, and it had some meathead named Vin Diesel who was making the ladies soggy. It was the type of film I'd be pretty prone to seeing on a lazy Sunday afternoon, unfortunately, no lazy Sunday afternoons occurred while "Pitch Black" was out and I missed its theater run. Of course I knew I could catch the film when it came out on video but I also knew that there were a million films ahead of it on my "to see" list, so the odds of me renting it were slim.

Then a funny thing began to happen. People starting insisting I see the film - a lot of people. And many of the folks recommending were not the type I figured for sci-fi/horror buffs. They were intellectual types who wouldn't turn down a Jane Austen remake if it bit them in the pants, and had nothing but kind words for estrogen fueled drek like "The Piano." I figured if Vin Diesel had managed to capture these saps maybe I should give Pitch Black a try.

So I rented it. And I watched it. And I liked it. It's not the greatest thing ever, certain no "Alien" (to which "Pitch Black" carries a heavy debt of gratitude.) but you could do worse.

The film opens with a interplanetary space transport making a crash landing on an alien planet (though, not so alien that humans can't breath the air.) While several of the ships passengers have been killed in the landing, there's still plenty left to be killed of by whatever alien menace they encounter. One character who seems unkillable, is Diesel's Riddick, a mass murderer being transported by a bounty hunter to a penal colony on planet Zarcon or something... you know the drill. Riddick is 110% badass, and has had his eyes specially modified so that he can see in the dark. At first this would seem like a hindrance on the planet the gang has landed - it has three suns and seems to be covered in daylight 24/7. But after a few people are killed off by the hoards of flying lizard creatures that live with in the dark crevices beneath the planet's surface the secret is revealed. Every 22 years the planet is engulfed in an eclipse and the flesh eating monsters that live underground come forth to feast on whatever wary space travelers might have the misfortune to be prowling about.

Of course, like most of these films, the real villain isn't the cold blooded space monsters - they're just acting according to their primal needs - it's the dark nature of man, who should know better. Various crew members inner demons lead them to screw each other over while they face an enemy that can only be defeated via a united front. Most of it's pretty predictable, though Diesel's Riddick, at first an unapologetic nihilist, undergoes a interesting redemption at the end of the film.

Sure, you've seen this all before. It's "Alien," it's "The Thing," it's "It Conquered Space" and it goes back to all the classic "trapped-with-a-killer-amoungst-us" stories Agatha Christie ever pumped out. But the formula is nicely updated for the double zero decade and the digital effects are ably used to bring the aliens to life. The overwhelming brightness of the planet's surface before the eclipse is given a nice visual representation by over exposing the film and then adding a various color filters.

The acting is alos quite capable - no one gets to slack off on their good looks or overabundant musculature (Diesel may be the newest in a long line of musclebound superheros - Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Van Damme - but he's the best actor of the bunch.) One of my favorite bit players, Keith David, shows his range while playing a Muslim guru whose faith is tested as the bodies pile up. Radha Mitchell plays the lead chick and she's quite good. Both her appearence and acting remind me of Jennifer Jason Leigh who I consider one of this generation's finest.

So check it out. "Pitch Black" ain't gonna knock your socks off, but it beats a dreary Jane Austen film any day of the week.

Unless there's a Jane Austen film with homicidal aliens.


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