Much imagination can be seen in the science fiction thriller Pitch Black--and I mean "seen": in a time where all the far-off worlds in distant galaxies have come to look the same, cinematographer David Eggby has given the film's central planet a look that is distinctly new and alien. But that is the only thing free from the cookie cutter in David Twohy's otherwise derivative action film.
The plot is a ripoff of Aliens, with a group of people marooned on a desert planet being hunted down by ravenous alien creatures; these creatures themselves resemble the Alien, with a couple of alterations (the most major one being that some have wings). There is another added wrinkle--they only come out in the dark, and when the planets multiple suns undergo simultaneous eclipse, the humans must band together to survive.
Just who are these humans, anyway? There is very little characterization in the script by Twohy and Jim and Ken Wheat. The ostensible lead is fry (Radha Mitchell), a pilot with the requisite personal trauma, which is linked to the crash that placed them on the planet. The other two main characters are just as shallow, but at least they're given some type of memorable characteristic (everyone else isn't). Johns (Cole Hauser) is a lawman who is perhaps even shadier than his prisoner, the murderer Riddick (Vin Diesel), who has special night vision enhanced eyes. Riddick's escape from custody makes for a tedious timekilling subplot before the alien story gets underway; with all the others fearing for their lives while trying to locate him, the film resembles an outer space slasher film.
Character is not as important as action and effects in films such as Pitch Black, and while competently done, nothing here breaks any new ground in those departments; the slow-mo and quick cut style Twohy uses is a pale imitation of John Woo. What is fresh, as I had mentioned, is Eggby's sterling cinematography. The early exterior shots on the planet are striking, with all the colors washed out other than garish shades of yellow. Another interesting conceit is that each of the planet's three sons bear a different hue; as such, when in the light of the blue sun, for instance, the image is awash in blue, etc.
Such striking use of color goes out the window when the key eclipse takes place, and Pitch Black's look matches its title. From that point on, with the action and effects failing to really dazzle, one looks to Twohy to provide something of interest in the story. But no such thing ever comes, and the virtual absence of humor backfires, ironically making the some of the proceedings laughable (the overwrought "emotional" moments come off especially ridiculous). Pitch Black may actually please most audiences for capably executing most of its desired task, but it takes something a bit more to make a lasting impression in a crowded genre.
RATING: ** 1/2 (out of *****)
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