Daily Archives: November 4th, 2010

Pitch Black

I’m fairly sure that we watched Chronicles of Riddick at the movies one summer when it was unbearably hot outside. It looked exactly like our sort of thing: futuristic sets, awesome action/fighting sequences… excellent. Then we discovered that Riddick had had a previous outing, so of course it was a no-brainer: we had to find Pitch Black.

They are, of course, remarkably different movies. Pitch Black was made on a very tight budget, with a limited amount of time, in the Australian outback, and falls squarely into the SF/horror bracket. Chronicles had way more money and time – Diesel was a much bigger name three years later – and it is a much more lavish, grandiose film, that’s far more mainstream SF. And you can watch Chronicles without the benefit of Pitch Black, which is a remarkable achievement in a sequel.

But I’m not here to talk about Chronicles; that can wait. We re-watched Pitch Black a couple of days ago, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to muse on a couple of points.

Spoilers ahoy!

I love the anti-hero, and Riddick is close to the ultimate anti-hero. You really don’t know whether he’ll help the other survivors; the only reason I didn’t think he’d go for Johns’ plan is because he loathes Johns more than anyone else. I like that he is just human – frighteningly fast, strong, and quick-thinking, but he has no superpowers. Diesel sure knows how to deliver a line, too, which is one of the things that stops this film being way too grim for my liking.

The supporting cast is largely enjoyable. I love Claudia Black, so I’m always sad when she dies way too early. Radha Mitchell is nicely complex as the navigator trying to redeem herself, and it’s totally gutting that she doesn’t get to leave. Riddick’s one human moment comes with that stricken “not for me”. Paris P. Ogilvie is hilarious, and allows for a nice lightening of the mood; the Imam is an interesting choice for moral compass/unintimidated person. I wonder if he was only possible before the Sept 11 attacks? Perhaps becoming more feasible now…. I love Johns’ character because he alone has any real development – from apparent hero through to junkie bounty hunter, willing to sacrifice companions to save his own sorry butt. Plus, Cole Hauser is cool. And Jack – well, the kid certainly adds an interesting twist when he’s revealed to be a she. The implication that it’s bad enough that a boy would shave his head and enthuse about being a killer, but that for a girl to do so is that much more troubling, is fascinating.

I enjoy the cinematography and setting every time I watch it. There are just enough weird-ass camera shots that it has a less-than-mainstream feel to it, but not enough that I actually feel queasy. And the lighting is immensely effective. It’s overdone, but I think that’s part of its effectiveness. It’s so other, so alien, that the three suns thing feels like it fits right in. The whole eclipse-every-22-years thing? Totally terrifying. And I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this movie, but those damned monsters manage to scare me every single time: I forget when they’re going to appear, and then BAM – shriek! They’re utterly absurd, but they’re very clever.

Pitch Black remains a movie I will always enjoy re-watching.

I [heart] disaster movies

I avoided 2012 when it was at the cinema, because I figured it wasn’t going to be worth wasting my money on it there. However, if you saw it at the cinema and haven’t bothered to rewatch, let me suggest that you get the DVD and watch the special features, especially the one about the ‘science’ behind the movie: it is so, so worth it.

The scare-quotes around ‘science’ in that last sentence ought to tell you a bit about what I thought of this movie.

I have gradually come to the realisation that I am a total sucker for disaster movies. Natural or manmade, it’s all good: from Poseidon Adventure to Dante’s Peak, Inferno to Core, I just love them. Consequently, I really enjoyed 2012. But there’s no way I’m going to pretend that it was actually a good movie.

Some spoilers ahead!

For a start, I really enjoyed Chiwetel Ejiofor. I liked having a smart black man as a lead character, I liked having a sensible geography geek as a lead character, and I always enjoy a good moral scientist v immoral politician stoush. On which note, Oliver Platt was excellent as the politician, and his development from fairly sensible if somewhat (and necessarily) ruthless through to being entirely obsessed with his plan was very well played.

From my memory of the ads, I had thought that John Cusack was the main character, so I was surprised that Ejiofor’s character got quite so much play. I quite like Cusack as an actor, although this role was very different for him – and the whole SF-author-as-character thing generally has me rolling my eyes. His relationship with his family developed in somewhat unexpected ways, for which i was grateful; I had been anticipating a typical overblown Hollywood family – the reason why I won’t watch Deep Impact again, but watch Armageddon frequently. There was a bit of the divorced-parents stereotype playing out with the kids, but actually I thought the son in particular was quite a complex little character, with his angst towards the dad and love of the step-dad and wanting his dad to actually like the step-dad. I figured that someone would end up being sacrificed, one of the men, and I honestly wasn’t quite sure which it would be – and I was a little disappointed when it was step-dad. It would have been a much more interesting movie if they’d allowed step-dad to stay with the family, and also made it much more poignant that Ejiofor had brought Cusack’s book with him. But, you know, they didn’t. (Of course the much edgier version would have seen the two blokes get it on, but that was never going to happen.)

The plot… yeh. It actually had one, which was fun. I thought that the time jumps needed to be done a bit more obviously, because I was confused when they were talking about having prepared for this over years when it was only 10 minutes ago! I liked the split between national response and family response – I thought it was a pretty good split, time-wise. Having read Stephen Baxter’s Flood, when they first started talking about arks I was expecting spaceships, which would have been very, very interesting – and much more complex about how many people they could save. When I finally (eventually, much later than I ought to have) realised they were talking about floating ships… well, ok. It meant they could save more people, which was all nice and touchy-feely. And I had had several thoughts about how the movie could end, and managed to be a little surprised by the conclusion. It was something of a cop-out – especially Our Hero’s dad still being alive on the resort ship – but it was a nice (if admittedly tacky) touch to have them go back to Africa.

I enjoyed the effects. Some nice, utterly ridiculous scenes with the cars and the planes escaping from various encroaching disasters – they actually managed to be engrossing! I was gripped! One or two of the waves managed to not be entirely CGI-looking, which is an achievement.

So. 2012. Glad I didn’t see it at the movies, thoroughly enjoyable on a Saturday afternoon.