Pitch Black (2000)

*. It seems strange to me that people want to do effects-driven SF-action movies on a low budget. If there’s any genre that needs to have some money thrown at it to work, this is it.
*. All the more credit then to Pitch Black, a low-budget SF film that still manages to (mostly) work. Though even the label of “low-budget” has to be considered as relative to the genre. $23 million was still a good chunk of change in 2000.
*. Most of the money doesn’t show up on screen. The aliens don’t look good, neither all that original nor very convincing. They look like CGI. Their RaptorVision, and Riddick’s night vision, are both surprisingly vague. How can they see anything in all that blur?
*. But mostly the limitations of the budget are concealed (if that’s the right word) by director David Twohy jerking the camera around and doing lots of rapid cutting. Which makes you sort of give up on what’s going on after a while.
*. The plot, as simple and formulaic as it is, works pretty well. A spaceship of pilgrims (and one convict who is being transported) crash lands on a remote planet. The only remaining life on this desert world are giant carnivorous raptors that only come out at night. As bad luck would have it, the planet is about to go into eclipse. And on a dark planet the man with specially augmented eyeballs — that would be the convict Riddick — is king.
*. Like I say, it’s simple enough. The crash survivors have to work together to repair a spaceship they find at an abandoned mining colony before the bat creatures kill them all. Despite its premise there isn’t a lot of suspense, but there’s enough action to keep things moving along. And there’s even a twist at the end that honestly surprised me.
*. You could think of it as the film that launched Vin Diesel to stardom. Or that might have been The Fast and the Furious (out the next year). As with most action icons, he really can’t act. At all. But he has that quality that makes him the center of attention, whatever else might be going on. Despite his build he also has a peaceful demeanour that’s an odd fit for this character. I mean, we know Riddick is actually a good guy, but he just doesn’t seem that dangerous.
*. Well, better to have audiences find you inherently likeable than mean. It’s a quality that would serve Diesel in good stead in the coming years, as he would effectively become a man of two franchises. Even if he was to be eventually buried by both under an avalanche of bigger budgets, more effects, and brighter star power. As the next film up in the series would prove, this was not progress.

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