Thursday, June 16, 2005

Pitch Black (2000)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

Science fiction is often described as "a genre of ideas". Science fiction films, on the other hand, speak against this definition. Ideas behind those films are often not particularly original or in any connection with common sense. It is in the way they are presented that make for the quality in science fiction films. PITCH BLACK, 2000 science fiction written and directed by David Twohy, is good example.

The plot is set in distant future when a passenger space ship gets hit by meteorites and makes emergency landing on the surface of an unknown desert planet with three suns in the sky. Only a handful of people have survived the crash and Fry (played by Radha Mitchell), pilot who volunteers to become group's leader, has to deal with two problems – lack of water and Riddick (played by Vin Diesel), convicted murderer who was being taken to prison by his guard Johns (played by Cole Hauser) and who took the crash as an opportunity for escape. While Johns tries to talk other survivors in tracking him down, Fry discovers apparently abandoned human colony with conspicuously preserved space ship that could fly after minimal repair. Fry and others will soon discover the reason why there aren't any colonists – a total eclipse, which happens every 22 years, leaves the planet in complete darkness and brings some forms of the local fauna from the underground. The creatures can't stand the light but the darkness allows them brief opportunity to enjoy some exotic food on the surface.

After its premiere PITCH BLACK was hailed as the new ALIEN, a SF horror classic in the same category with Ridley Scott's masterpiece. Although such praise wasn't justified, PITCH BLACK deserves to be recommended as a solid piece of genre entertainment. Twohy managed to overcome relatively low budget with ingenuity and good use of Australian locations. But the most important factor is human – Twohy learned a lot from Scott's film. The script allows audience to start caring for the characters and action scenes even allow for some minor glimpses into future world, which is in a way distant reflection of our own, with all of gender, race, religious, social and other differences. There are some interesting plot twists and many characters aren't what they are supposed to be. The acting is, of course, very good. Vin Diesel is very effective in almost iconic role of a "cool" but lovable rouge, while Radha Mitchell does nice job as Ripley-like pilot. Keith David, however, steals the show in the role of Muslim pilgrim.

The major problem for PITCH BLACK is in this science fiction film, like so many recent Hollywood examples of the genre, not taking "science" very seriously. Too many elements of the plot are too convenient to bear serious scrutiny. Most of them deal with the bizarre ecology of the planet that is hard to reconcile with fauna described in the film. On the other hand, those who don't care much about little details are going to be entertained by superb acting, excellent action scenes and credible drama. At least for a while, PITCH BLACK brightened the prospects for all those who like quality science fiction in Hollywood.

RATING: 6/10 (++)


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