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.

2 responses

  1. I love Pitch Black. I saw it in the theatres when it originally came out and was blown away by the cinematography on the big screen. I hadn’t seen Claudia Black in Farscape yet, but I adored Radha Mitchell’s (whom I’d seen in High Art) Fry, and was very impressed by Vin Diesel’s acting and charisma.

    I saw The Chronicles of Riddick afterwards and was majorly disappointed by the rewriting of the universe around the characters (and the fridging of those characters who aren’t Riddick). I’ve come to enjoy it as the cheesy dark space opera that it is since, and it’s a more fanfic-friendly film, but it’s the kind of movie I where feel like fast-forwarding either through the scenery-chewing or the action sequences depending on my mood, but Pitch Black still holds up after ten years and 20+ viewings as a solid integration of acting, action sequences and special effects. Vin Diesel was the break out star of Pitch Black, but the sequel doesn’t have Fry, who was the hero and the tormented heart of the piece. [insert rant about Chronicles of Riddick here]

    1. I think you’re right about the characters between the two movies, and I know I’d feel differently if I’d seen Pitch Black first. As it is, I still really like Chronicles, because I love the slightly cheesy nature, Karl Urban is awesome, and Thandie Newton makes me think of Lady Macbeth every time! But as you say, Fry is the clincher in making Pitch Black an awesome movie.

      I’ve seen FarScape through once. I’m thinking I need to buy it for rewatching…

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