Vin Diesel is an actor that I’ve never really had respect for as an actor (sorry Vin, although you sound like a cool guy). I once sat through a painful two hours watching “XXX,” and after that experience, I never wanted to see another movie with him in it.
But for reasons not worth going in to, I decided to shrug off the horrors of “XXX” and give “Pitch Black” a shot. I will probably never be persuaded that Diesel is an excellent actor, but here, he is perfectly cast as Richard Riddick, the sociopathic lead character who can see in the dark.
“Pitch Black” opens with a passenger spaceship experiencing a malfunction and crash-landing on a barren planet with just a handful of survivors, no water/food in sight and rescue looking doubtful. Unfortunately for them, this planet is also home to a horde of pterodactyl-esque creatures that have quite the taste for mammal blood. Also, while the planet is normally in the center of three suns, they managed to land on it just before this total eclipse blocks out all light. Did I mention that the creatures thrive in darkness? (Damn, these people have absolutely no luck whatsoever.)
Within that setup comes some (slightly underdeveloped) stock characters and tensions, and while “Pitch Black” is really an old story in new clothes, it’s interesting enough to stick it out.
Diesel has a good command of a character who just wants his freedom and enjoys screwing with the expectations of people around him. He pulls off a tricky feat by playing up the animal-within side of Riddick, but also keeping him (relatively) nice enough that the audience can root for him. Radha Mitchell also gives her character, a pilot who becomes the de-facto leader, more nuance than the script provides and makes her character’s journey compelling and, more importantly, believable.
The downsides of “Pitch Black” are the downsides of most horror films (too many characters, emphasizing mood over characterization, overly flash directing) and really, at least this one is trying to make you care about what happens on screen. Yes, a lot of the actors are underutilized, the script is a tad predictable, but really, it could have been so much worse. Maybe that’s not the most ringing endorsement, but it’s just that kind of film.
“Pitch Black” (2000)
Written by Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat and David Twohy
Directed by David Twohy
Starring: Vin Diesel (Riddick)
Radha Mitchell (Carolyn Fry)