28
Jun
08

Trapped Between Evil and Darkness

Movie Review: Pitch Black

In normal times, evil would be fought by good; but in times like these… well, it should be fought by another kind of evil. –Aereon Oracle

The following review contains spoilers.

If you were to judge Pitch Black, the first movie in the Chronicles of Riddick series, solely by its posters and advertising, it would come across as just another science-fiction horror flick. However, Pitch Black is so much more than that. Instead of using its alien creatures only for thrills and chills, Pitch Black uses them as a backdrop for a more intimate story involving the best… and worst… aspects of humanity. Unlike your typical ‘monsters in space’ movie, the plot does not revolve around the alien menace, but instead around the human characters and their struggle to survive on an inhospitable world, The best way to classify Pitch Black is as a science-fiction/horror/action adventure that ends up as a morality play.  It is a great film with stunning visuals, frightening creatures and engaging action, and is well worth watching.

Pitch Black has no hero. Instead, the main character is the antihero Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel), a convict and murderer. Riddick, who is on his way to prison, is being transported along with 40 other passengers, along the ‘ghost lanes’ of space in a cargo craft. When a trip through the meteoroid-rich tail of a comet damages the ship, it winds up crash-landing on the surface of a forbidding desert world. The 11 survivors (besides Riddick) soon learn that the planet experiences constant daylight as a result of being lit by 3 suns.

Claudia Black wishes she had some sunglasses.

Because of a shortage of manual laborers, the survivors decide to enlist the help of Riddick. However, Riddick’s nature as a cold-blooded killer soon leads to unease and dissension. The survivors discover an abandoned human settlement, with the settlers mysteriously missing. They also find a swarm of flying, bat-like carnivores that cling to the darkness, as well as larger versions that inhabit a tunnel system under the surface. The existence of these creatures seems paradoxical, since light kills them. However, the survivors soon discover that, every 22 years, the planet undergoes a lengthy total solar eclipse, plunging it into darkness and allowing the flying monsters to roam freely. The next solar eclipse is (surprise!) about to begin.

Encroaching eclipse.

Riddick is soon forced to become the survivors’ unlikely defender as the nocturnal predators begin picking them off. As he fights, he begins to question his values, realizing that he is more than just a killer. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say Riddick has an epiphany and ends up a changed man.

From the spectacular opening shot (see the first image above) to the ambiguous finale, Pitch Black is a thoroughly enjoyable movie. Although it initially appears to follow the typical monster movie clichés, this is only superficial as the story takes some unexpected turns. Pitch Black is undoubtedly an action movie, but is set against a horror backdrop, and mixes these two elements rather well. Even though the majority of the survivors (i.e. meat shields) don’t receive much character development, the five key players (Riddick, interstellar cop Johns, holy man Imam, pilot Fry and young Jack) are well-rounded out and developed. The main protagonist, Riddick, starts off as a textbook jackass, but soon becomes a likable (if rough around the edges) antihero. Plus, as any action movie fan will tell you, Vin Diesel is awesome.

The nocturnal predators (identified in promotional material as ‘bioraptors’) are well-designed and frightening. Like the Alien movies of old, director David Twohy takes a ‘less is more’ approach to his creatures. Instead of massive swarms of flying monstrosities, he opts to show us darkness, accented with thousands of shrieks. This, along with a few well-placed shots of the creatures themselves, gives the audience the impression that the survivors are surrounded by thousands of bioraptors… and the only thing keeping them safe is their lights. When the creatures are shown clearly, however, they don’t disappoint. In fact, after seeing a horrifying flying bony mass of teeth and claws, its all the more intimidating knowing that thousands of them are lurking just beyond the scope of the your vision, waiting to devour you. Darkness is scary enough without teeming swarms of bloodthirsty monsters in it.

As far as scientific accuracy is concerned, Pitch Black isn’t hard science fiction. It includes obvious fantastical elements (such as the bioraptors or Riddick’s superhuman abilities). In fact, the existence of predators on an otherwise lifeless planet who can only move freely only once every 22 years is highly illogical. However, this can be overlooked if you consider the movie to be fantasy set in an era of high technology. The sequel to Pitch Black, called The Chronicles of Riddick, makes this even more apparent as it introduces more fantasy-themed elements into Riddick’s world.

Overall, Pitch Black is a highly enjoyable and fun action movie with meaningful moral depth to it. Although it won’t win any awards, it is still worth watching, especially if you are a fan of Vin Diesel, action, or science fiction. It gets 8 out of 10 Xore points.

–Up next: I’ll review Unbreakable, an M. Night Shyamalan movie.

All Images Copyright © 2006 Universal Studios. Used without permission.

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2 Responses to “Trapped Between Evil and Darkness”


  1. 1 Dustin
    June 29, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    I like how you used a quote from “Chronicles of Riddick” in the post about “Pitch Black”. XD

    Anyway, one of my favorite parts of “Pitch Black” is the dynamic between Jack and Riddick. Jack thinks Riddick is awesome and wants to be him, but Riddick knows full well that no one should live like he does. Typically when movies have an antihero, he or she is glorified for it. Riddick is not. You want to like him and want him to save the day, but at the same time you hope that the influence of Jack, the Imam, and Fry will help him become more than the primal animal that the movie shows him to be. You root for him, but you don’t want to emulate him. I wish antiheroes would be portrayed like that more often.

    Also, I’m thinking I should do a review of the video game “Escape from Butcher Bay”. It would make for a nice bit of synergy, and I really would like to pimp that game at some point.


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