February 14, 2020

Pitch Black (2000)
Grade: 48/100

Director: David Twohy
Stars: Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser

What it's about. Set in the future. A small spacecraft with Earthlings aboard becomes stranded on a desert planet orbited by three suns. The planet is inhabited by flying reptilian predators that shun the light and attack in the dark.

The crew and passengers consist of cool muscular murderer Riddick (Vin Diesel); drug-addicted bounty hunter Johns (Cole Hauser); hottie blonde acting captain Fry (Radha Mitchell); impressionable tweener Jack (Rhianna Griffith); pacifist Muslim Abu (Keith David); French antique dealer Ogilvie (Lewis Fitz-Gerald); and adventuring couple Ezekiel (John Moore) and Shazza (Claudia Black).

Conflicts arise between Fry, Johns, and Riddick. They escalate after the planet is darkened by a lengthy solar eclipse, and the alien raptors begin picking off the crew, one by one.

How others will see it. Vin Diesel is best known for the The Fast and The Furious film franchise, but Pitch Black helped make him the moviestar that he is today. Pitch Black launched a franchise of its own starring tough guy antihero Riddick, with David Twohy continuing to serve as director.

Nonetheless, Pitch Black had a fairly modest domestic gross of 40M. Although the producers' goal was to make money instead of hauling in festival circuit trophies, it was nominated as Best Sci-Fi Film by the Saturn Awards. The Australian Cinematographers Society also honored David Eggby, who shot the oversaturated outdoor scenes in a desolated region of Australia.

The success of the film is best demonstrated by its 218K user votes at imdb.com. The user ratings are a respectable 7.1 out of 10, and are consistent across audience demographics. Women over 45 grade the film highest of all, 7.4, presumably because a woman (Fry) is in charge and seeks to do the right thing.

With those numbers, one would expect the user reviews to be positive, and they are. Viewers like the story, the characters, and the outcomes. Whatever limitations that Twohy may have, there is little doubt that he knows what audiences expect from the sci-fi genre, and he delivers.

During the film's production, Twohy realized that mysterious misanthrope Riddick was the key character, instead of serious, sexy, and sleeveless Fry. This is confirmed in the user reviews, who find Riddick more credible than the remainder of the mostly disposable cast.

How I felt about it. The plot is reminiscent of Alien and Aliens. The malevolent creatures are hungry and determined. The difference is never-wrong Riley is replaced by tough-guy Riddick. It is a surprise that Fry becomes raptor lunch, but no surprise that Riddick plans to take off from the planet leaving everyone behind. It is expected that Riddick remains cynical and indifferent toward the suffering of the other crash survivors. After all, it was their civilization that made him a prisoner.

The science behind the sci-fi doesn't pan out. The Saturn-like planet that blocks the suns is so close that the raptor's planet would have to orbit "Saturn" instead of the suns. It would rotate around "Saturn" so rapidly that no eclipse would last as much as an hour, as suggested by the speed in which "Saturn" rises from the horizon to block the suns.

There doesn't appear to be any life on the planet aside from the raptors. How can they survive without water, eating only each other? Despite the arid landscape and the presence of three suns, it is apparently 70 degrees outside all the time, and the atmosphere and gravity are normal, just as they invariably are in episodes of "Star Trek".