'Pitch Black' loses its sci-fi potential
By JEFFREY Q. IRISH
Scene Movie Critic
If the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie "Predator" and the somewhat tatty "Starship Troopers" spawned, and they had a legitimate lovechild, it would be "Pitch Black."
"Black" is a futuristic thriller about a random group of people who are stranded on a distant planet and hunted by native creatures. David Twohy is the talented filmmaker who wrote and directed "Black," but it is not like his popular films, "The Fugitive" and "The Arrival." It is more like his shamu-style flop, "Waterworld."
Twohy begins "Black" with a slow moving shot of the entire length of a space ship. It is overdone ("2001," "Star Wars," "Alien," "Star Trek"), but still a thrilling shot. As a voiceover sets up the story, asteroids penetrate and force the ship to crash-land on a barren planet. Most of the crew is killed on impact, but of the few that survive there is much distrust and bad blood.
"High Art's" Radha Mitchell plays Fry, the captain of the ship. She is a shady character that tries to save herself and "leave the rest to die" more than once in the film. The other group members consist of a Muslim priest, an art collector, a few rascally kids and a convict. Most of them are token characters, but the surprise (which really isn't a surprise at all) is that the best character in the film is the convict. His name is Riddick, and he is played by the appropriately named Vin Diesel (Capt. Caparzo from "Saving Private Ryan").
Riddick has killed numerous men, women and children. He gives no reason for his murders, and the audience can easily see that he has no remorse. His last few years have been spent in a futuristic prison with few or no lights. Potential attackers would sneak up on him at night, so he had a doctor do a "shine job" on his eyes, allowing him to see at night.
The special effects are probably the highlight of the film, although they are really nothing out of the mundane. The planet the group is stranded on has three suns, so the first part of the film has extreme brightness, an almost white background and reflection on all objects (much like "Three Kings").
Riddick's special vision blinds him during the day but at night allows him to see things that the others cannot, namely the native creatures, which are really similar to the aliens from "Starship Troopers." In cuts reminiscent of "Predator," we are allowed to see the angles and distinct light and movement visions of both Riddick and the native creatures.
"Black" was disappointing in that there is so much potential for creativity on an alien planet. The three-sun concept was an interesting dilemma, but when the night came it was somewhat disappointing. People instinctively fear the dark. Last summer's hit "The Blair Witch Project" thrived on little more than the audience's fear of the dark. Long-held shots of pitch black, empty space with sounds of vicious alien creatures would have invoked the fear Twohy desired. With a multi-million dollar budget and an alien world, it is surprising that the result was not more thrilling.
The film's running time is only 107 minutes, which is a relief from the three-hour films of Oscar season, but may be the reason the film seems somewhat incomplete. Twohy could have spent more time setting up the background of the flight. Was there a reason why they didn't foresee the asteroid field? He also could have spent a few more minutes ending the film — it seems rushed.
All Scene Stories for Thursday, February 24, 2000