Pitch Black (15)
AFTER being conditioned by glossy, hi-tech but ultimately empty sci-fi blockbusters, it is a refreshing moment when one comes along which harks way back into the B-movie past.
Pitch Black is a reminder of those glorious old movies of the 1950s, when Earth was constantly menaced by the Man from Planet X, the Green Slime, the Deadly Mantis or our old interstellar adversaries, Martians.
In the case of Pitch Black, that story revolves around that old familiar stand-by: the spacecraft which has crash-landed on a remote, deserted planet, thereby throwing together a disparate bunch of survivors in an action-packed battle for survival.
From the outset director David Twohy lays his cards on the table. On the parched, three-sun desert planet are strewn the bones of great, long-dead creatures, while something hungry and evil lurks beneath the surface.
The motley band of survivors includes a killer who can see in the dark, a ship’s officer, a gun-toting space cop with an itchy trigger finger, and a trio of muslims.
One by one they fall victim to the hidden horrors of the night. Then they realise, with mounting horror, that the planet will soon go into eclipse, plunging their new home into total darkness and making them easy prey for the voracious, nocturnal terrors which haunt the night skies…
Shot deliberately in bleached-out colours to emphasise the heat and dust of the setting, Pitch Black works extremely well as a sci-fi/horror thriller in which nothing is played for laughs. Consequently the horrific setpieces – victims are snatched into the darkness and messily dismembered – play effectively.
The principal cast – Vin Diesel (the first soldier victim from Saving Private Ryan) as convicted killer Riddick, Radha Mitchell as ship’s pilot Fry, and Cole Hauser as trigger-happy cop Johns – are ably matched.
The towering Diesel, in particular, scores highly as he delivers a charismatic yet laconic impersonation of Lee Marvin.
All the cast work hard to breathe life into a trite script – the film’s one real disappointment despite the involvement of Twohy with writers Jim and Ken Wheat – and put flesh on the bones of their anorexic characters, but this is stylishly done despite deriving much of its mood from the likes of The Thing, Alien, Tremors and Stephen King’s short story The Mist.
As a modern B-movie it succeeds of every level, proving that with imagination one does not need an over-reliance on technical gimmickry and camera trickery.
For originality it scores low, but it deserves full marks for sheer verve and style, and for providing a signpost to Hollywood mandarins who confuse a big budget with a good film.
This one will shock, frighten and impress in equal doses. It boasts a fine, heroic turn from Diesel and an inventive ‘villain’ in the hordes of vampiric aliens who plummet from the night skies like alien eagles, zooming in on their hapless, helpless prey.
To coin a phrase: “Be afraid. Be very afraid”.