Pitch Black


Even the landscape is giving Vin Diesel the finger.

Even the landscape is giving Vin Diesel the finger.

(2000) Science Fiction (Universal) Radha Mitchell, Vin Diesel, Cole Hauser, Keith David, Claudia Black, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, Rhiana Griffith, John Moore, Simon Burke, Les Chantery, Sam Sari, Firass Dirani, Ric Anderson, Vic Wilson, Angela Moore. Directed by David Twohy

Most of us are scared of the dark in one way or another. We are scared by what we can’t see. We are scared by what we don’t know. And those strange noises that could be claws and fangs….those can be terrifying without a doubt. We are frightened by the things that lurk just beyond the shadowline.

With good reason, it turns out. Especially on this planet. A transport carrying Muslim settlers bound for New Mecca and Riddick (Diesel), a prisoner with surgically enhanced eyesight bound, is holed by space debris, killing the captain and sending the ship crashing to the surface of a barren world with three suns.

The situation seems pretty bleak; the surviving senior officer is Fry, the docking pilot (Radha Mitchell) and she’s a bit shall we say prone to panic. What’s worse is that there is no water to be found, and Riddick has managed to escape. That doesn’t please Johns (Hauser), the marshal escorting Riddick to prison (and a guy with a few secrets of his own rattling around in his brain).

It looks like they may have lucked out in finding an abandoned mining operation with a working well and what seems to be a serviceable transport vehicle that only needs power cells in order to get off the ground. That’s when they find out that they aren’t alone on the planet. There are things lurking in the darkness, things with teeth and insatiable hunger. And those miners didn’t just leave. Unless of course you’re talking about leaving this life.

But the crash survivors be OK as long as they stay in the light. Light hurts these creatures, after all. But don’t you just hate it when you land on a planet with nocturnal carnivores just before a total eclipse? So do these guys.

There is a great deal of suspense of the gut-wrenching variety. There is also more than a little gore, so the squeamish need not view this one. Still, this movie is less about viscera than it is about keeping you on the edge of your seat, and sending some genuine shivers up and down your spine. The various creatures, which are rarely seen well due to the darkness, are really amazing CGI creations. Not only do they LOOK lethal, they look plausible as well.

Diesel is excellent in this movie. As the amoral Riddick, he can be intimidating, creepy even – but he retains a rather dry sense of humor. He is a mess of contradictions, with the devils of his worse nature winning out over the angels of his better nature, but he is not entirely unredeemable or evil. He is a man of shades of gray; mainly dark gray, I grant you, but not entirely without light. He turns Riddick into a human being instead of a cartoon, which movies of this nature tend to do. The character was so fascinating that a second movie, less successful, was later made – and a third is due out this September. While Mitchell and Hauser do passable jobs, they are simply blown out of the water by the character and performance of Riddick. Fans of Farscape will get a big kick out of seeing Claudia Black in a small role here prior to appearing in that groundbreaking sci-fi series. David has a role that adds a bit of gravitas and is the moral crux of the film, which believe it or not it possesses.

Fans who liked Aliens will probably revel in this one. Fear and redemption are the underlying themes here, and horror is the vehicle for facing those themes. Shakespeare it isn’t, but Pitch Black manages to look at human nature at the same time as giving us a hell of a ride. Check it out – but be warned, it IS nightmare-inducing even if you’re not terribly sensitive.

WHY RENT THIS: Diesel creates an iconic anti-hero in Riddick. Great monsters and a fabulous premise well-executed.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Exceedingly nightmare-inducing. Some of the initial crash effects are pretty weak, even by the standards of the time. Some of the support performances don’t measure up.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is quite a bit of violence and gore, some nightmarish creatures and a goodly amount of language. There’s also some drug use which isn’t for the squeamish.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Riddick was initially written as a female character and was to have been killed off in the end until Universal decided that the character would prove popular enough to warrant a sequel.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: The initial DVD release includes footage from rave parties used to promote Pitch Black. The Director’s Edition has an introduction to the Video Game prequel Escape From Butcher’s Bay and the animated Dark Fury which connects Pitch Black to The Chronicles of Riddick. There’s also a visual encyclopedia of the universe of Riddick as well as a “Johns Chase Log” in which actor Cole Hauser narrates his version of events that led to the capture of Riddick. The Blu-Ray also has a featurette in which the sequel’s connections to the original are explored.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $53.2M on a $23M production budget; the movie didn’t make a huge profit via it’s USA Films theatrical release but has been a big seller on the home video market.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Aliens

FINAL RATING: 9.5/10

NEXT: The Silver Linings Playbook

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A Perfect Getaway


A Perfect getaway

Steve Zahn wonders who put the "Kick Me" sign on his backpack.

(Rogue) Timothy Olyphant, Milla Jovovich, Steve Zahn, Kiele Sanchez, Chris Hemsworth, Marley Shelton, Anthony Ruivivar, Dale Dickey, Peter Navy Tuiasosopo. Directed by David Twohy

The trouble with people is that you can never be sure that they are who they seem to be. They may be volunteers for a charitable foundation that help starving children in Africa; they may also be a vicious serial killer.

Cliff Anderson (Zahn) is paid to come up with ideas like that. He’s a Hollywood screenwriter who is apparently successful; after all, he’s getting work. He is also getting married, to lovely Cydney (Jovovich). They decide to honeymoon, as many newly married couples do, in Hawaii. They also decide to go hiking down a mountain trail in Kauai that leads to a secluded beach to which no roads go. The only way to get there is to hoof it.

On the way to the trail they run into another couple, Cleo (Shelton) and Kale (Hemsworth), who apparently has some anger management issues. They briefly get into a tiff, but then Cliff drives off. Smart man.

While hiking down the trail, they run into yet another couple; ex-special forces operative Nick (Olyphant) and his Georgia peach of a girlfriend Gina (Sanchez). Cliff isn’t much of an outdoorsman and Nick seems to be a handy guy to have around in the jungle. Moreover, when he finds out that Cliff is a screenwriter, he gets a little starry-eyed, having some awesome ideas for a movie, not to mention that most of them are taken from his own experiences in Iraq. He even got the back of his skull blown off, to which Gina proudly drawls “Muh bay-abee is hahd ta key-ill.”

Of course, even in paradise there are cloudy days and the two couples are about to have one. They discover there was a vicious murder of a couple back in Honolulu, where both couples were just days before. Could Cleo and Kale, who have followed Cliff and Cydney onto the trail, be murderers? Or is one of the other couples the killers? Or maybe is someone unknown to them stalking them? And when will I stop asking rhetorical questions?

Director David Twohy has written and/or directed some pretty impressive films, including Pitch Black, Below and The Fugitive but he’s also had his share of missteps, such as The Chronicles of Riddick. This one falls in between.

The movie is well-cast. Zahn, who is usually cast in comedic second banana roles, plays this one straight and is much more effective. Jovovich, a veteran of genre movies, is not only easy on the eyes, she gets one of the better non-verbal moments in the movie when she has to make a life-or-death decision near the end of the movie. Her eyes are very expressive in the moment.

Olyphant is a much-underrated performer who has done some impressive work and he is again, perfectly cast here as a bit of a blowhard who, when the rubber hits the road, can definitely walk the walk. Olyphant makes the character not only believable but sympathetic.

There is a twist in this movie; some critics have praised it, others derided it. I’m in the latter group; I honestly believe that most veteran viewers, particularly those who like thrillers and suspense movies, should be able to guess it by the time the movie hits the halfway point. Also, the pacing is a bit on the slow side for the first two-thirds of the movie; once the reveal of the twist is made, it picks up steam considerably.

This is a throwback to the B-Movie thriller of the 80s and 90s, and that is not meant as an insult. It’s the kind of movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat, has just enough sex and gore to titillate and has an attractive cast that performs solidly enough that you care about their characters. This is solidly entertaining and makes for great dark night video viewing. Me, when I visit Hawaii (astonishingly enough, I’ve never been) I think I’ll pass on the isolated trail hiking and just take the tour bus instead.

WHY RENT THIS: The suspense is handled very nicely and the leads are awfully attractive.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The “twist” is not as leftfield as the filmmakers thought; most savvy viewers will figure it out well before it’s revealed.

FAMILY VALUES: As you might expect, there is a good deal of violence and some sexuality, although nothing overt. There is one scene in which drug use is depicted also; I would expect mature older teens would do fine with this, but I’d hesitate for anyone younger.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Both Olyphant (Hitman) and Jovovich (the Resident Evil series) have both appeared in videogame adaptations.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Machete