Pitch Black (2000)
Directed by David Twohy

Artistic Value: * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * *

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Sometime in the future, a spaceship crashes on a desert planet circling three stars. Among the survivors are an escaped convict named Riddick (Vin Diesel), who is able to see in infrared, the bounty hunter who captured him, a Muslim cleric, his young disciples, the ship's female pilot, a scruffy youth, and an effete antiquities dealer. Before these persons can escape from this planet, however, it is covered in darkness by an eclipse, after which swarms of carnivorous winged monstrosities emerge from their underground warrens and begin devouring the castaways.

David Twohy's Pitch Black may not be a particularly memorable film, but it is generally enjoyable.

The story the director tells is almost completely nonexistent, but, since it really exists only in order to provide excuses for Pitch Black's action sequences, its absence is, perhaps, forgivable. Having placed his characters in a deadly environment, Twohy spends the greater part of his movie depicting their race across the desert while they are being hunted by the winged horrors that are trying to eat them. There really is not much more to say about the film's narrative.

The persons around whom this minimal tale revolves are just as forgettable as it is. Several are dull, recycled caricatures who are much like persons who can be found in various other action or science fiction films, and others are complete non-entities. Riddick, however, I must concede, is mildly intriguing. He is a brutal, selfish individual and, at least until near the movie's conclusion, never displays any concern for the well-being of his fellows. Sadly, the director was not willing to sustain this characterization and eventually does give his protagonist his humanity. Unfortunately, by doing so, he removes most of the character's appeal.

The monsters the heroes battle are not a tremendous success either, but they are, at least, moderately well conceived. When seen from Riddick's perspective, as infrared images, they are like winged scorpions and are genuinely nasty and fearsome. When, however, they are shown more clearly, they are not likely to make much of an impression on the viewer. Nevertheless, they are generally fun to watch.

Regrettably, few of Pitch Black's action sequences are particularly riveting. The director combines extremely quick cuts with tight shots and so prevents the viewer from being able to discern exactly what he is looking at. Depictions of the monsters' attacks, of various fights, and the like, are consequently confusing and uninvolving.

What is more, the movie is no more distinguished visually than it is in any other way. The technological items, such as dune buggies, weapons, and spaceships, resemble those that can be found in countless other science fiction films. The planet on which the protagonists are trapped is a dull, featureless desert. Even the director's attempts to give it some local character by tinting everything blue when a blue sun rises is obvious and uninspired.

Lastly, I should note that, as is often the case in science fiction films, there are a couple of elements of the plot that may test the viewer's credulity and force him to ask some question or another that will distract him from the story he is being told. What, he may, for example, wonder, do the thousands of swarming monsters living underneath the parched, lifeless desert sands of the film's imaginary planet ordinarily eat? Does a blue sun cause everything it illumines to appear blue? After all, our yellow sun does not make everything on the Earth look yellow. Could it be just a little too convenient that Riddick has had an operation that allows him to see in the dark and then crashes on a planet that is soon plunged into darkness? The list of such questions could easily be expanded.

As severely flawed as it is, Pitch Back is, nonetheless, a reasonably entertaining action film. I doubt if many people will be truly impressed with it, but it is diverting.

Review by Keith Allen

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