Movie Review: Pitch Black

Starring Vin Diesel, Rahda Mitchell, Cole Hauser, Keith David & Claudia Black

A merchant ship carrying passengers in hibernation is struck by a meteor shower and crash lands on a desolate planet. The survivors (an eclectic group which includes a mercenary, an “antiquities dealer”, a group of Muslim pilgrims (and a psychotic killer with some interesting improvements) discover that the planet is in a trinary star system, and thus rarely experiences night. They find an abandoned research station, with evidence that the researchers didn’t exactly get out in one piece, and a mechanical solar-system model predicting that a 22-year cycle of nightfall is upon them. With the Big Dark rapidly approaching, they are on a race to find a way off the planet before it’s too late.

Pitch Black is an ambitious B-movie. It’s not afraid to go where several hardcore sci-fi flicks (namely the Aliens series) have gone before.  t the same time, Pitch Black pitches up high-quality CGI effects and avoids (for the most part) the monster movie cliches of guy-in-a-bad-rubber-suit and dumbass-goes-into-a-room-alone. Some of the characters are predictable stereotypes, but there’s also plenty of who’s-fooling-whom to keep you guessing all the way to the end.

The movie is never exactly what you expect. Its tone sometimes reminds you of the old Mad Max movies; other times it looks like German impressionist cinema. The filmmakers repeatedly remind you that this is no normal sci-fi flick; they use strange lighting to emphasize that the planet has three suns, they employ weird camera angles, and they shoot some sequences with strange timing.

The movie’s monsters (rendered entirely via CGI) are also creatively imagined. What would creatures be like that live eternally underground and can only come to the surface when their world is in total darkness? We won’t give it away.

One footnote:  Sci-fi fans will recognize Farscape‘s Claudia Black and The Thing‘s Keith David (also the voice of animated Spawn) among the talented cast.

Rating: B

[Originally posted in March 2000 at]

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