Pitch Black looks like any number of early-year sci-fi disasters. (Does anyone remember Screamers, or Virus?) But, on closer inspection, this Alien clone has some unique features. And, while it never expands the genre, Pitch Black provides its fair share of thrills.
In a hectic opening, a routing deep space passenger ship accidentally runs afoul of a rogue comet, sending the vessel crashing onto the surface of a mysterious planet with three suns.
Those who survived the crash band together to search for water and a way home. They are led by only surviving member of the ship’s crew, the pilot Fry (Radha Mitchell). In the group are a group of Muslims (led by Keith David) on hajj to New Mecca, a party of archaelogists (including the wry Lewis Fitz-gerald), and, most frighteningly, a ruthless killer, Riddick (Vin Diesel), and Johns (Cole Hauser), the man who captured him.
Riddick is immediately a danger, as he escapes and threatens the survivors. But, in truth, they have more to worry about. The planet is not completely devoid of life, as it first seems, but is populated by a voracious race of darkness-dwelling creatures. However, with three suns, the survivors have nothing to worry about. Or do they???
The film’s visual style is unique, but rather confusing, particularly after the initial crash, when we can barely differentiate the characters from one another. By varying the exposure, the daylight scenes seem brighter, and the darker scenes become much more ominous.
Don’t expect much from Pitch Black in terms of dialogue. Even when the film strives to be profound (more often than you might think), it fails. Nor should you pay too close attention to the plot, which is full of more holes and helpful coincidences than most sci-fi thrillers out there.
Still, thrillers aren’t made for their dialogue or their logic. In the thrills department, Pitch Black is a hands-down winner. It has a good setup, and all of the suspense sequences are perfectly paced. While the look of the creatures is none too original, the darkness angle provides a good, simple hook for all the action.
Vin Diesel gives a good impression as Riddick, a character who likely would have been a complete villain in another movie. However, here he’s given shading and texture (sometimes unconvincingly) and is the film’s most fully realized character. Unfortunately, that comes at the expense of most everyone else, who are present perhaps merely as alien fodder.
If you like sci-fi thrillers, Pitch Black hits all the right notes, with plenty of excitement and intensity. However, the film is not likely to win many new fans to the genre.