Pitch Black Review
By Joe Lozito
There are just no good aliens anymore. The title character from 1979's "Alien" - the film which set the watermark in the genre of which "Pitch Black" is a part - was a living, breathing, frightening, fully-realized creation. In the last 21 years, there have been a plethora of "Alien" rip-offs, but none of them seemed to realize that what made "Alien" work was not the scares or the gore, but the creature itself.
By their very nature (they only come out at night, after all) we never get a good look at the creatures in "Pitch Black". They fly like winged furies with a force that shakes the camera as they pass, but we learn very little about how the creatures live, except by the educated guesses of the characters (which are seemingly always correct).
The non-computer generated cast is competent as a whole. Radha Mitchell (High Art) holds her own nicely as Fry, the tough captain-by-default. Vin Diesel snarls and portends his way through the role of a criminal with a vague record of evil deeds.
"Pitch Black" has the clever idea of making its creatures only come out when it's completely dark. This gives director David Twohy (The Arrival) the unenviable challenge of lighting his actors with the minimal amount of wattage. Naturally, a movie can't be totally dark - unless, of course, it has the budget of "The Blair Witch Project" - so there are occasions when it is unclear where the ambient light is coming from. But, as a whole, Mr. Twohy does a good job keeping his characters in the dark.
More startling, however, is the first third of the movie, which takes place in the blazing light of three suns (oddly, the planet doesn't seem hot so much as bright). By supersaturating the film stock, among other trickery, the planetary landscape actually seems very alien - unlike the usual Southern California-scapes in sci-fi film and TV.
"Pitch Black" largely incorporates pieces from other sci-fi films. Thankfully, it steals from the best. There is a female pilot/heroine (a la Sigorney Weaver in "Alien"), there's a shackled convict (a la Hannibal Lechter), and there's a spaceship load of false scares to keep the audience screaming. The script, co-written by Mr. Twohy, has enough clever nuances to keep things interesting. Mr. Diesel's character, for example, has surgically augmented eyes which allow him to see in the dark (what luck!). Unfortunately, there is also a ludicrous macho battle between Mr. Diesel's character and his bounty hunter, and plenty of get-us-off-this-rock dialogue. Thankfully, the irony of landing on a planet with three suns only days before a total eclipse isn't lost on the film.
As expected, the real star of the film is the special effects work and, in all honesty, some of the shots (the eclipse scene in particular) are beautiful. If only there had been as much time spent on creating believable aliens as there obviously was on the landscape.