Pitch Black


Circle the wagons – the natives are restless tonight! Up to now, the scriptwriting brothers Ken and Jim Wheat have been known as specialists in belated sequels like The Birds 2, The Stepford Husbands, It Came From Outer Space 2, and The Fly 2.  This energetic sci-fi thriller, in which a group of marooned space travelers find themselves under attack by mean critters on a desolate world, may change that.

The opening crash landing – set up by the quickly-abandoned voiceover narration by star Vin Diesel (the Iron Giant himself) – is an exciting sequence that gets things rolling nicely. Pilot Radha Mitchell (who some might say is too pretty to be such a good actress) becomes the default leader of the survivors, which include some pilgrims on their way to Mecca, a bounty hunter (Cole Hauser, son of psychotronic fave Wings Hauser) and his dangerous captive (Diesel, struggling to overcome his speech impediment).

The plot so far is pure retread, but the Wheats thought up a doozy of a twist. The planet is kept in perpetual daylight due to the fact that it’s in a 3-star system. The critters – vicious flying hammerhead land sharks – are severely allergic to light, sizzling like vampires at the slightest illumination. Now, how these monsters evolved and flourished on a nightless world is not explained – although it’s hinted that the planet has a thriving underground ecosystem. Forget about this possible plot hole and concentrate on the fact that our little group just happened to arrive in time for the planet to undergo one of its rare total eclipses behind a nearby gas giant. The dwindling band spends the rest of the picture trying to keep flares lit to keep the beasties off their backs, while dealing with all sorts of in-fighting as well.

David Twohy (The Arrival) does his most impressive work yet as director, aided greatly by the cinematography of David Eggby (Virus, Dragonheart). Twohy still has trouble with action scenes – every fight and chase is shot in a series of shaky close-ups – but he creates a great deal of tension, suspense, and even compassion with a few deft moves. As for Eggby, his work is fantastic – the lighting of the film changes dramatically with every chapter, going from cool and flat in the ship’s interior through changes in color with every sunrise, and ultimately into higher contrast to accentuate the deep black night.

The monsters, designed by Patrick Tatopoulis (Godzilla), kick ass. Shown only in bits and shadows, they look like a cross between modern horror’s favorite creatures: sharks, raptors, bats, Aliens – all hissy and toothy.

The flick loses a bit of steam in the finale, mainly due to some lapsed logic and the death of my favorite character, but this is a leap in quality beyond such recent monster movies as Bats and Supernova. See it with the lights out.

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