Main cast: Radha Mitchell (Carolyn Fry), Vin Diesel (Richard B Riddick), Keith David (Abu “Imam” al-Walid), Cole Hauser (William J Johns), Lewis Fitz-Gerald (Paris P Ogilvie), Claudia Black (Sharon “Shazza” Montgomery)
Director: David Twohy
This movie evokes the perfect sense of claustrophobia. It is all the more satisfying because it is terrifying. And it has two strong leads too. Pitch Black may be this year’s answer to The Matrix. Not that it offers the cheesy exuberance that is The Matrix; it offers an entirely different feast for the senses: claustrophobia.
Our main characters are on a spacecraft on the way to a distant planet when they crash onto the planet called Hell. Hell has three suns and is nothing more than a planet of arid dunes. Here, they encounter some weird things in their search for water and shelter: an abandoned human encampment, a working spacecraft… and no sign of life. What happened here?
Well, it’s that there are life on Hell. Hungry, ravenous creatures that live in the dark underground labyrinths. And when Hell experiences an eclipse, oh boy…
This movie succeeds, excels, in fact, in arousing my feel of panic. How on earth can our heroes and heroines flee? And every source of light, however meager, becomes their chance at salvation. It is a terrifying scenario, to be trapped in suffocating darkness when unseen predators are out there and there is no where to run.
The well-fleshed characters are an added plus. Carolyn Fry is a wonderful heroine who learns the meaning of nobility and loyalty at a great cost and too late a time. And Richard Riddick, a convicted murderer with little humanity left in him, learns to regain his decency and humanity from Carolyn. These two characters are reluctant symbiotes in their quest for escape, and both are stronger than they think they are. Comic relief from Paris Ogilvie (“This will teach me to travel by coach!”) adds some much needed succor from the panic and hopelessness. The Dumb Middle-East caricatures may offend some, but me, I can overlook that, especially when Imam’s one of the sole anchor of sanity for the rest of the gang when things really really get ugly. And William Johns, the law-enforcer with a secret, add some great inside friction in the gang.
True, the last hour does degenerate into blatant “Chase me if you can, you bastards!” territory, but Pitch Black retains all the thrills and chills that make classics out of genre masterpieces like Terminator 2 and Aliens. With great action and characterization, everything else is insignificant.