As a rule of thumb I tend to stay away from the SyFy channel. In my younger adolescents it was one of my most watched channels as I did have a brief phase (as most people do) with the whole CGI exploitation ‘creature feature’ that the channel is well-known for spewing out over the years. I think everyone goes through that Saturday afternoon creature feature at some point. The only caveat is that some people don’t grow out of the habit. But if that is what you are into who am I to judge?… Oh yeah that is all that I do. How silly of me.
But I digress, back to business at hand. The point of the story is that I have not watched anything on the SyFy channel for a good four years now. But for whatever reason I was bored a few days ago with no work and nothing to do and lo and behold I find myself on the SyFy channel and sure enough it was a movie marathon and the one about to come on is a film I had not seen in sometime known as Pitch Black.
For anyone who is not aware, this was Vin Diesel’s breakout role that propelled him into the various Fast and the Furious movies and started the God awful Chronicles of Riddick series. Before this Vin Diesel’s film catalog had included a few bit parts, a small role in Saving Private Ryan and providing the vocals for the Iron Giant as… well the Iron Giant.
I had not seen this thing since I was 15 or 17 at best and I remember as a young teenager that I really liked the film. With nothing better to do with my time I decided to sit through it just to see if I still liked it after all these years and my answer… Well a bit of yes and a bit of no. I won’t say that I adored the film but I will say that I was… Pleasantly surprised on many levels and seeing as how I create blogs about the pros and cons of anything I can lay my eyes upon we might as well take a look at the movie that started Vin Diesel’s career of intense squinting so without further a do… Let’s talk about Pitch Black.
It sets itself apart from the rest of the genre by building the universe around it
Let me set the scene for you. When Pitch Black came out it was during the time that Science Fiction/Horror flicks had hit hard times. The glory days of the 80’s were behind them and now it was a valiant attempt at making a movie that they could sell to TV stations like SyFy (SciFi at the time) and get a $5 sell at the bargain bin at Wal-Mart. Even during its release nobody gave it much hope of doing… Well anything at the box office. The best that they were hoping for was a modest box office gross then back down into the levels of obscurity with a decent cult following.
But the film did really well for itself making $53 million at the box office, sporting a $30 million dollar profit. One of the main reasons for this is that it set itself apart from the rest of the movies coming out at the time. Really what the film does a fantastic job at doing is setting an atmosphere. At the beginning of the film you have a shot of a ship flying through space and almost instantly you get the feeling that you want to know as much as you possibly can about the universe you are seeing before you. Then thanks to a monologue from Vin Diesel’s character Riddick you get more immersed into the world in a few short minutes. You learn that this world does have mercenary type bounty hunters as well as mine workers. You find out that the practice of Islam is alive and well and almost feels like the dominant religion. Just from the opening the film does a fantastic job painting a picture in a few short minutes of what kind of world this space world is. Even if it is pure exposition dump.
Even after the film crashes on the planet, it takes its time, builds an atmosphere. You learn a lot from the conversation between characters just what this world is like. The film keeps you wanting to know more which is probably why the Chronicles of Riddick series was created in the first place. This film does a fantastic job at building atmosphere. Even while watching I wanted to see what this ‘New Mecca’ that the Imam and his students were traveling to, I wanted to know of this mining colonists ways of life, I wanted to know more about these prisons that Riddick stayed in, and how a person like William Johns captured Riddick. Even though I and many people would agree that the sequel generator is a Hollywood cum guzzling whore only in it for the money… If you want to ensure that your film creates sequels then leave the audience wanting to know more about the world that you just presented to them and this film does a great job at that.
This is something that I was not expecting from a film like Pitch Black or any film from the SciFi ‘creature feature’ genre and that is magnificent pacing. I absolutely love the fact that this film is filled with action and intense scenes but then gives the audience a chance to breathe and recoup before the next sequence hits. It actually allows moments for character development to happen. You do grow attached to certain characters and want to see them succeed, the villains of the film you do want to see get whats coming to them. The film allows itself moments for character development to create characters instead of just adding to body count… Though they are slightly guilty of this but we will come back to it later. Even during the end of the film when the climax is about to hit and the falling action is about to occur it does give it moments for character development and knows that it can have a quiet scene and get one last moment of emotion before going in for the kill. And I absolutely love it.
Letting Vin Diesel be… Vin Diesel
This was the first movie that gave Vin Diesel the ability to… Well be who he is. Muscle bound hardass anti-hero. This persona is not for everyone, it seems to have its own little niche market. Pretty much the same market that professional wrestlers fall into. Basically if you like watching WWE then you should like Vin Diesel movies.
This is the first film that really allowed him to be what he is good at. Riddick is essentially the epitome of every single Vin Diesel character for the rest of his career, just repackaged into different settings and if you are a fan then you are a fan and it this film was your first taste of that.
One note characters and poor acting
Even though I just got finished praising the film for doing a great job at character development… doesn’t necessarily mean that the characters are well-rounded intelligent characters with able-bodied actors working to make them come to life.
The film does suffer from using character models instead of letting the characters build themselves. The Imam and his followers are Muslim thus they are religious people. The snooty British guy who is supposed to be French (I don’t know he is very confusing) is giving a pompous attitude and an archaeologist background. Kind of shades of the ‘Jonathan’ character from the Mummy franchise. The mercenary is the mercenary and the rest are pretty much defined by their accents.
Not to mention the acting is pretty terrible. Keith David, Diesel, and Radha Mitchell, and Cole Hauser put forth… decent performances with Radha Mitchell actually having a pretty damn good performance all things considered. But the rest… Well are not good.
I am still convinced that the three kids that they got to play the Imam’s followers weren’t actual actors but a bunch of Saudi tourists who wandered on set and they said ‘fuck it’ let’s put them in the movie. They never speak English yet seem to understand it just fine and they seem like more of the Islamic three stooges stumbling around the set until their inevitable deaths.
But my personal favorite for bad acting went to the Rhiana Griffith who plays a transgenderedish tomboyish… character named Jack/Jackie. Her whole part in the film is being this boy who is enamored with this killer Riddick to the point where she shaves her head and begins wearing goggles just like him. Pretty much straight up fangirl. What I love is apparently the fact that she is a girl was supposed to be a big surprise in the film that only Riddick in his infinite wisdom could know. For the first half of this film I was under the assumption that she was just a tomboy. She makes no attempt to hide the fact that she has a female voice and not even a deep female voice, this thing is straight up 1st soprano level valley girl voice. But when Riddick made the big reveal saying that she was a girl all the others acted completely shocked and I was sitting there on my couch saying… ‘Well no shit Sherlock?! Did you really need the philosophical sociopathic convict to tell you that Jack is sporting lady bits?!”
The rest of the acting is to be expected from minor roles in a sci-fi creature feature but really the worst is by far Rhiana Griffith.
Too many characters!
This is a problem with creature feature/slasher flicks in general is that they add characters merely for the sake of body count and honestly except for big gore hounds I cannot think of too many people who really want to see a movie just to see how many people die. It just seems to be a misconception that in order for your threat in a film to be menacing they have to kill a lot of people.
The sad thing is though that unlike other horror movies this film actually had some pretty interesting characters and they did get some good screen time. But they could have gotten so much more if there wasn’t a bunch of body count characters sucking away precious minutes.
There are a handful of needed characters for this film to work including the Imam, the mercenary William Johns, Riddick, the Jack/Jackie characters, the pilot Fry and her crew and the rest are… well body count. That is 7 needless characters. Though I can see adding a few to add to the mythos as i said but really you could cut one of the mining workers and the Imam’s brigade of teenage followers and already you have less characters fighting for time and more time to develop the characters that really matter.
So… This film isn’t fantastic… But for its genre and the other films that accompany it… It is actually one of the strongest pieces in the genre and a refreshing change of pace in SyFy’s line up from Megladon vs. Giant Squid 34.
It has enjoyable characters in a fun setting and if you have a few hours to kill on a Saturday afternoon and it is on, I say check it out.
Final Score: 2.5/5
That is it for another review. I’ll have another one out shortly. If you enjoyed this review please like and subscribe I’ll have many more out in the future and remember I am always happy to take requests.