Pitch Black (2000)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 6/27/04
Music: Graeme Revell
Cast: Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, David Keith, Claudia Black

A transport ship on a questionable flight path runs into some trouble and is forced to make a crash landing on a desert planet. A handful of passengers survive the crash, including the escaped convict and notorious killer, Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel). Riddick is exceptionally strong and cunning, and has the unique ability to see in the dark. He wastes no time breaking free, which raises the tension of the group considerably. Soon, he and the others discover that there are worse things to be afraid of on the planet than each other. The good news is that the carnivorous critters on the planet are extremely sensitive to light. The bad news is that the planet is about to plunge into an extended period of darkness. Riddick and the others make a desperate run through the dark to reach an old evacuation ship, with the monsters constantly at their heels.

A by-the-numbers B-movie firmly in the mold of "Alien" (1979), with the requisite amount of "what are these people thinking?" moments. However, "Pitch Black" rises above so many other "Alien" clones by having an intelligent script and a very interesting cast of strong and complicated characters. The majority of the tension in the film comes from the moral ambiguities of the characters, the increasing paranoia between them, and the tough choices that they are forced to make. Is Riddick any worse than anyone else in the group? And is he the only one who has a chance of keeping everyone else alive? Vin Diesel plays the part of Riddick with extreme creepiness, and constantly keeps you guessing at his alignment and motives. Even though he gets star billing, the film really belongs to Carolyn Fry (Radha Mitchell), the feisty pilot who effectively takes charge of the survivors. Her performance is riveting, and her character is one of the best action heroines I've seen outside of Asian cinema. She alone is evidence that we're not dealing with standard Hollywood fare, which makes the downbeat ending even more heartbreaking.

While it proudly shows off its B-movie roots, the effects are competent and the sets are effective. The acting is good and all of the characters have a believable no-nonsense edge to them. While the scientific elements of the film collapse under the slightest scrutiny, the premise is compelling enough to forgive them. Overall, "Pitch Black" is an enjoyable journey into science fiction horror, with a strong cast of engaging characters.