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Pitch Black   B-

USA Films

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: R
Director: David N. Twohy
Writers: Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat, David N. Twohy
Cast: Radha Mitchell, Vin Diesel, Cole Hauser, Keith David, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, Claudia Black, Rhiana Griffith, John Moore, Simon Burke.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Pitch Black opens with the obligatory sci-fi shot of a spaceship slowly coasting through the darkness toward some faraway galaxy. But the ship's peaceful flight is assaulted by a cluster of galactic debris, which penetrate the hull and immediately kill the captain -- who, like everyone else aboard, was cryogenically sleeping. During the ship's intense hurl towards oblivion, Fry (Radha Mitchell), our heroine here, takes over, and manages to crash-land the ship on a desert-like planet with three suns.

A grab bag of characters -- including a Muslim (Keith David), a runaway kid (Rhiana Griffith), a geologist (Claudia Black), a cop (Cole Hauser), and a convicted murderer (Vin Diesel) -- emerge from the wreckage to discover that the planet is seemingly desolate. It's not too long before they discover that the creatures that do inhabit the planet only strike in the dark.

Oh, and as luck would have it a total eclipse that only occurs once every 22 years is right around the corner. You're not afraid of the dark, are you?

Director David N. Twohy (The Arrival) pulls us into this thriller effectively from the start -- the chaotic, shaky crash sequence is pretty intense -- then lets all the cards fall into place once the crash survivors emerge on washed-out, overexposed landscape. While most of the characters are transparent (they're, quite simply, alien food), two of the characters are truly intriguing and make this more than pure sci-fi/horror junk food.

Fry, played by the attractive and talented Radha Mitchell, has a lot more depth than your average sci-fi heroine chick, and she's not without her moral flaws. She's actually very human, and I'll be damned if I didn't start caring about her through the course of this movie.

And Riddick (Vin Diesel) -- the convicted murderer -- simply kicks ass. At first I thought he was going to be the typical misunderstood killer who turns out to be good after all, but I was pleasantly surprised. You see, in Pitch Black there are no clearly defined good guys and bad guys, and I liked that. Riddick, who had a shine job done to his eyes so he can see in the dark (how appropriate), will have you rooting for him all the way -- whether you think he's good or bad.

The alien creatures, I'm sad to say, didn't really elicit the kind of terror I was hoping for. They provided a few effective jump-out-your-seat scares, but overall Pitch Black lacks that gripping sense of fear that would have made it a truly standout sci-fi thriller. It's tries, though, and it's a good try nonetheless. And with the cooler-than-cool Vin Diesel and the wonderful Radha Mitchell leading the way, it's still well worth the price of admission.

Lastly, I gotta say that the ending surprised me. It left me kinda sad and shocked, but there couldn't have been a more fitting outcome. That damn poetic justice stings like hell.

Review published 02.25.2000.

For another opinion, read Rob Vaux's review.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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