Saturday, April 13, 2013

Popcorn On - Pitch Black

I imagine that it's because of the Fast and the Furious franchise (which I admittedly haven't seen), or perhaps the less-awesome movie, The Chronicles of Riddick, but whenever I tell people that I enjoy Vin Diesel as an actor, I'm always met with stares like I have a giant dent in the side of my head.  Or that such an opinion is only valid if you -have- a giant dent in the side of your head.  I won't say that I don't understand it, because I do, but I don't like it, and a big portion of the reason why I don't like it is because of the movie I'm going to talk about tonight.  That is partly because Pitch Black is a fantastic movie, but partly because it's also a fantastic movie that features Vin Diesel being awesome.  The first of its kind, really, unless the handful of films he did before this one have him being similarly awesome.

Pitch Black, if you have not watched it which is probable, is a Sci-Fi/Horror movie released back in February of 2000, being both the movie that really launched Vin Diesel's career and the movie that debuted the Anti-Hero we've come to know and enjoy as Richard B. Riddick.  The premise is a simple, tried-and-true one which works because it is simple and tried-and-true:  A ship carrying an incarcerated Riddick as well as forty civilian passengers is shot down above a remote, seemingly uninhabited planet and, following the crash, the survivors try to band together and find a way to get off the rock.  That's not to say the movie is formulaic or anything of the sort, as it breaks conventions, certainly, but that the premise is an easy one and one that continues to prove its worth with its use.

The harsh, desert-like conditions of the planet make it insufferable to consider taking refuge on it, and with how badly the ship was following the landing, it's practically unsalveagable.  The forty passengers have been whittled down immediately to a dozen or so, being the ones lucky enough to not get dragged out from the impact, nor shot to death inside their Cryo-sleep chambers by whatever shot the ship out of space.  Riddick is nowhere to be found, which is to be expected, given that he survived the crash and wouldn't want to hang around with his bounty hunter, William Johns, alive and on the prowl for him as well.  As the other survivors settle into their roles of trying to pick apart what they can from the ship and organize for a search effort for civilization, it soon becomes clear that Riddick is the thing to be worried about on this planet, being the escaped murderer that he is.

The entire first portion of the movie revolves around this, as Riddick plays Cat-and-Mouse with the survivors, though more often than not without them knowing.  It's quite enjoyable to see just how ever-present Riddick is even when he's not the focus, reminding the viewer that he can be anywhere, anytime, ready to strike.  He is the literal Beast uncaged and unchained, reveling in his newfound freedom while the rest of the crew stumbles about their new surroundings, keeping an eye out for him while trying to find any basic tenet of survival.  Water, shelter, food, anything that could make their hopefully brief stay on the planet more pleasant, if not just to make sure they stay alive long enough to get off.  For a while, the extreme heat from the two ever-present suns (joined by a third when the first two seem to begin setting) and Riddick are the main antagonists of the story, and the viewer is left wondering just when one is going to strike.

There are worse things on the planet than Riddick, however.

Given the nature of the advertising for the movie, there's no real spoilers in saying that there are other inhabitants of the planet and they are not particularly friendly.  After the survivors find themselves a few short thanks to run-ins with the light-sensitive creatures in abandoned buildings and such, the idea of keeping Riddick around suddenly becomes palatable for everyone, even Johns, who suggests that Riddick can work with them in exchange for his freedom.  Perhaps it's a little too good to be true, perhaps not, but for the moment, an uneasy alliance is formed with the group of them and Riddick no longer has to stalk them in the ever-present broad daylight of the planet.  He still -could-, of course, but now he can be up close and personal with his prey without having to worry about a shotgun tearing his chest apart.  Not that he was too worried about that to begin with, though.

The introduction of these creatures seems a bit odd as they are creatures that stick to the darkness on a planet that barely -has- darkness.  It seems the easiest thing to avoid, but all of that changes when they stumble across a diorama that shows exactly why the planet is otherwise unoccupied.  Some time ago, almost to the exact day they're on, the planets aligned in such a way that a total eclipse occurred, submerging the planet into a pitch black state (see?  it has a reason after all).  With that possibility looming over them, it's agreed that leaving sooner rather than later is the plan of action and they all take the steps necessary to get that done.  I won't spoil whether or not that succeeds, but I'm sure you can hazard a guess.

Really, the reason why Pitch Black is so brilliant is because it encapsulates what's scary about horror movies without shoving it directly into your face yelling "MAN I AM SO SCARY, HUH?" as current horror flicks seem to feel the need to do.  Pitch Black -is- scary because it takes a very simple approach and executes it flawlessly by building up atmosphere.  If I had to make a gaming comparison, I would point at Dead Space without hesitation, as with both things, it's the atmosphere that is tense and scary rather than the actual creatures and/or monsters that inhabit them.  Though the creatures in both aren't slouches either, and moreso in Pitch Black, as they play the predators in the dark that strike when you literally cannot see them...unless you're Riddick with his eyeshine eyes.

It's because of those elements, the horror feeling that is actually scary, the characterizations of the survivors and Riddick, and the way it all plays out that I cannot recommend Pitch Black enough.  There's definitely a reason why it made Vin Diesel popular and why it inspired a series of things to go alongside it.  Unless we all forgot the rather fantastic The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena, as well as the eventual sequel to this film that, while not as cool as this movie, was still pretty awesome to watch, if for completely different reasons.  So if you're a fan of horror films at all, a fan of Vin Diesel at all, hell, a fan of movies whatsoever, I implore you to track this one down.  It's not on Netflix because Netflix is just, you know, a service wholly dedicated to movies, so why would it be on that, but it's worth the more-than-cursory searching that it will take to procure a copy.

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