Words that I never thought would be uttered on my blog are about to be written into the proverbial stone that is the internet. I have found a movie in which Vin Diesel out acts the rest of the performers in a film. In many a Diesel driven film he either plays a lesser character to established actors, as is the case with something like Saving Private Ryan or he ends up just being yet another terrible performance in a even worse film, as has proved true in the Fast and Furious franchise. However, it is hard to deny that 2000's Pitch Black is very much helmed by the performance and precision of Diesel playing a convict who is forced, rather unwillingly, into a position of authority and leadership due to a trait his character possesses. Vin Diesel embraces this place in the film with zeal and just enough of a suaveness that it manages to work and even the ridiculous nature of his character within a larger science fiction plot manages to work wonders. Cinematically speaking Pitch Black is a flawless movie, it employs a great brilliance of traditional camera tricks, post production magic and a load of justified CGI to create a new planet within a galaxy, although the characters within the narrative clearly reflect our global ideals circa 2000, the extra terrestrial nature of the work manages to center the social commentary in something more transcendent. Furthermore, the work contains a some what positive depiction of an Arabic character, however, I need only draw your attention to the year in which the film was released as a means to help explain why this portrayal was approved in the first place. I know including Pitch Black on the blog this month seems a bit of a stretch, however, I stand firmly in it entrenching itself to some degree or another within the horror genre, particularly in that the narratives main point of progression centers around a group of people surviving through a pack of monsters attacking them during nightfall, the only thing making it non-traditional in its horror leanings is that it is set on another planet, were it the same concept set in suburban America its place in the genre would not only be unquestioned but understood as certain.
Pitch Black begins with a space freighter of sorts traveling through the depths of the galaxies, as the voice of Riddick (Vin Diesel) explains that he is a prisoner placed in confines on a ship carrying civilians, a choice he thinks to be terrible considering that the lengthy trip could prove dire at any moment, a prophecy that soon comes true when some sort of meteor materials pierce the hull and begin destroying the ship and causing it to spiral downward towards a unknown planet. The captain dies during the crash leaving Carolyn (Radha Mitchell) unwillingly in charge of the group, which includes the ever divisive shipmate and cop William (Cole Hauser), a Arabic priest aptly named Imam, played by Keith David who would have got my vote for best actor in the film were it not for his constant moves in and out of an accent. Along with this group are a antiquities dealer, a few archaeologists and a young androgynous person who takes a quick liking to Riddick. When they emerge onto the bright planet the party realizes that the world they now inhabit does not follow the celestial rules of Earth, instead having at least three identifiable suns. Tensions rise as the group navigates the new space, particularly when it becomes apparent the Riddick's help is necessary to escape the sand trap that is the planet, only worsened by William's refusal to grant the prisoner any sort of breaks, his motives are later revealed when viewers discover that he is indeed a bounty hunter and not a cop as he claimed. When night falls it the group realizes why the planet is uninhabited, because the area is lurking with boney alien bat creatures that crave destruction and seek out the group with much zeal. Eventually going underground with lanterns after discovering that the aliens are destroyed by sunlight, at this point the group severely splinters over what role Riddick will play upon reaching a supply ship that they intend to take to get off the planet, eventually leading to the death of William. Riddick and others do make it to the ship, but must fend off many more of the creatures before leaving the planet a task that comes with a new set of dangers.
Pitch Black, like many a film centering on the experiences of inmates tend to do, studies the line between good and evil, as well as lawfulness and ethical forgiveness. Similar to Luke in the film Cool Hand Luke, Riddick has a certain suaveness and hipness to his actions, often spouting poetic one liners to those who condemn them and even engaging in purposefully humorous moments, as is the case when the camera zooms in on him lounging under an umbrella while the group fearfully looks for him. In contrast, we are provided with William who is a drug fueled bounty hunter whose southern accent and dismissive attitude to Riddick help to assure that the already on-the-nose slavery commentary is not completely overlooked. We are also, as viewers, led to believe that the murders in which Riddick partook were a matter of self-defense and necessity and that overall he lacks a genuine desire to hurt people. In fact, compared to the self-serving attitudes of some of the characters in the film, including Carolyn who grapples with her own self-worth in relation to a group of unknown persons, Riddick seems rather saintly, certainly his ethereal, almost angelic presence is intensified by his glowing eyes. However, that is not to say that the criminal is not void of is own faults, in some of the closing moments Riddick does indeed falter in face of his own survival, realizing that if he concedes to returning for the other members of the party he will voluntarily provide witnesses to his whereabouts and existence. However, the higher good prevails in Riddick and he returns for the group, unlike Carolyn whose initial attempt to dismiss the group to death is inevitably and tragically punished as her and Riddick finally share an understanding embrace.
Key Scene: The moments we are afforded Riddick's vision are a bit of a cinematic treat in their technological newness, as well as their hearkening back to sic-fi classics of the 60's and 70's.
Pitch Black is a movie I enjoyed much more than I anticipated, however, I can see it being less exciting to many others and as such only suggest renting it.