In the future, we’re going to be able to fly around the universe in spaceships. Movies have told me that this is a foregone conclusion. Pitch Black starts out in the future with a bunch of people in their personal spaceship. They begin in cryo-stasis, but after their ship gets shot down, they land on an unknown planet. Of course, they have a great deal of quirky characters aboard all of whom we’ll get our chance to see.
That is, all except for a character named Zeke (John Moore), who ends up being killed fairly early on. The suspect is Riddick (Vin Diesel) a criminal who was being transported by the ship because one of its members, Johns (Cole Hauser) is a mercenary and wanted to bring him in for a large sum of money. Riddick escapes and the surviving group believes that he plans to murder them all. When Zeke turns up dead, of course he’s the one they blame. That only makes sense. It’s too bad, though, that Riddick wasn’t Zeke’s murderer.
Our cast consists of ship captain Fry (Radha Mitchell), the aforementioned Johns, a religious man named Imam (Keith David), an antique collector named Paris (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), another woman, Shazza (Claudia Black), and a couple of children. And, of course, Riddick. After it has been discovered that Riddick wasn’t behind the murder, and that it was instead a group of aliens that only live in dark places, the “good” people team up with the criminal in order to try to get off the planet. They’re not in any real danger, though, as the planet has three suns and doesn’t go into nighttime.
At least, that’s what they think. They soon discover that every 22 years, there’s an eclipse that completely darkens the planet. That means that these alien creatures, things that get physically burned by light, are able to roam freely. I wonder what they do for food in those 22 years, and what they do if no random humans decide to land on their planet. We find out that the last time there was this eclipse, other humans died as well. They must have the best metabolisms ever.
Oh, there’s an important thing to know about this Riddick character: He can see in the dark. He has to wear sunglasses whenever there’s light, otherwise he can’t see. But once the eclipse happens, this ability becomes paramount. So, most of the film consists of the surviving cast members attempting to get off the planet without getting eaten — or killed by Riddick.
A lot of the success of Pitch Black rides on the Riddick character. If he doesn’t click, and if he becomes predictable, so does the film. We need him to be spontaneous, we never want to know what he’s thinking, because if we do, the film become mundane. He has to be the spark — the enigma that makes us wonder exactly what’s going to happen next. Thankfully, the character works and it’s for this reason that I had a good time with this movie.
The other thing that we need to be unsure about is who, if anyone, is going to survive at the end of the film. I’ll admit that there are actually a few surprises in store for you here. Most of the cast seems ripe for being picked off, but some of the people I thought would survive ended up dying, while at least one of the ones I thought would be alien food lasted a lot longer than I would have figured going in. (No, I’m not going to tell you if this character lives through to the end!)
This is a film that takes quite a while to get going. At the beginning, the antagonist is Riddick. We don’t see him much, as he’s the serial killer you don’t want to run into. The other party members try to figure out what to do about their current situation, and they bicker a lot. I liked this. They debated and deliberated about what the plan would be heading forward. But not a lot gets accomplished, which could be disappointing for some viewer who want action/horror right away.
However, once the action starts, it rarely lets up. Well, that’s apart from the scenes when random characters will wander stupidly into the darkness just to be picked off (which happens at least twice), but that’s satisfying the horror aspect, right? Most of the film is ripe with tension, either from not knowing what Riddick’s going to do, when the aliens are going to pop up and cause havoc, or whether or not the humans will be able to get their act together and stop fighting long enough to find a ship and get off the planet.
The cast is strong, if only because nobody stood out as being terrible. They all do a fine job in their roles, although this isn’t the film to have deep performances. But it’s not like anyone came out and showed me they were terrible. Vin Diesel makes for an imposing, unemotional force, while Radha Mitchell was essentially Ellen Ripley light. Oh, and one of the people is posing as a boy but is actually a girl, for what little purpose that serves. (Spoiler Alert!)
Pitch Black is a pretty enjoyable film once it gets going. It does take a while to kick into high gear, but after a slow start, it delivers the thrills you want from this type of film. It has a good enough cast to follow for a while, even if some of the characters act stupidly for the sole purpose of getting killed off. But because the aliens can appear from anywhere and Riddick always feels like he could turn on the supposed “good guys,” the film keeps tension high and is quite a bit of fun.