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Moriarty's PITCH BLACK Review (And More About This Week)

Hey, Everyone. "Moriarty" here again. As I proudly examined my BOYS DON'T CRY review, the first time I've ever updated this page in Head Geek's stead, I realized that I hadn't actually explained to you WHY I was doing the updating. It's made possible by the fact that I hypnotized Harry while he was in LA, and I got him to hand over the passwords for the site. I can now run rampant at a moment's notice, free to wreak major havoc with no restriction. There were a few things I had to get up on the page while they were fresh in my mind, even as I sort a few other things out. I'm just going to fold the RUMBLINGS FROM THE LAB from this week into the one for next week, so expect #18 to be long enough to choke a porn star. In the meantime, I decided that since Harry is a mere mortal, and since he's had to go to to beddy bye to get his sweep so he's all wested up tomorrow, I'd stay up and get some stories out for you guys. Especially when this story is as cool as your first look at PITCH BLACK, the new balls-out cool-as-shit SF action thriller from director David Twohy.

USA Films is still a fairly new moniker, and they've got a pretty wild release slate built primarily of pickups from Gramercy, Polygram, and Interscope, but they're coming out of the box strong. I may have been brutal to Albert Brooks and his recent stinker THE MUSE, but that's because I love Albert's work and I hold him to a higher standard than he evidently holds himself to. I enjoyed Ang Lee's upcoming RIDE WITH THE DEVIL quite a bit, and I dearly loved BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. I had no idea they were holding an ace up their sleeve, though, in the form of the most exciting low-budget action film I've seen in the theater since THE TERMINATOR first rewired me in 1984.

To fully understand what high praise that is from me, you have to understand my relationship with James Cameron's breakthrough picture. 1984 was one of those years where I was old enough to go hang out with friends, without any parents around, but before I was old enough to actually be able to drive anywhere. Crusing around was out. None of my friends were the right age. Instead, we would have to go somewhere specific, somewhere we could be dropped off and picked up from at certain times. That made the mall a perfect destination, especially the one with the big theater. You see, we had a special "in" at the big theater. Six screens, one ticket taker, and he was the older brother of one of the guys in our group. As a result, he would let us theater hop, one film to another, every Friday and Saturday. He didn't care about ratings or about how many times we saw a film.

For someone like me, that was heaven. It was like being given the keys to a bank vault and being told that you're allowed to take home only as much as you can carry each night, no strings attached, no guilt involved. We saw everything, and if we really liked something, we saw the shit out of it. As Christmas 1984 approached, there were two films I was really jazzed to see, and I figured I'd see them both over and over. One was David Lynch's DUNE. I was a fan of the novels, and I figured there was no way the director of THE ELEPHANT MAN wasn't going to deliver the goods. The other film was 2010. I thought the trailer was awesome, I thought Clarke's book was pretty darn cool, and I was already a raving lunatic about Kubrick's original movie. The holidays were looking awesome.

Of course, when both of those films opened on the same day, it was pretty crazy. Both pictures sold out for the prime time show, which meant that freeloaders like us weren't allowed in. Pissed that I was missing not one, but both of the big films, I almost went home. Thank god for almosts, though, because we stayed to see the other film opening that day, a little SF movie from Orion that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. I was a little bit of a fan, having really enjoyed CONAN THE BARBARIAN a few years earlier, but I didn't have any kind of expectations for his films. I had a sinking suspicion that Arnold's good film was a fluke, something that might not happen again. Besides, there weren't any commercials that I remembered for THE TERMINATOR. It looked like it cost about $50, but the theater was empty, so it gave us a place to hang out until the late show.

I didn't end up seeing DUNE or 2010 until about five weeks later, after I'd seen THE TERMINATOR something like 25 times. I was absolutely blown away that something so cool could come as such a surprise. It literally snuck right up on me. As each new sequence worked and got better, I just couldn't believe what I was watching. By that final incredible sequence once the endoskeleton is revealed, my friends and I were cheering, freaking out. We felt like someone had just told us the greatest secret in the world. The secret spread, though, and each weekend, when we went to see it as many times as we could, the theater got more full instead of less. People were dragging their friends back to see it after they discovered it, forcing them to watch the film to prove they weren't crazy. There have been other films like that since... genre movies that fool you at first, that don't look like they're going to be any different than any of a dozen other low-budget flicks clogging up Cinemax at 2:30 a.m. ROBOCOP was one of those movies, and so was EVIL DEAD 2. But I haven't had that same intense rush of discovery since 1984, and it was quite a feeling when it hit me full-force as I watched PITCH BLACK unfold early Thursday.

Part of the reason this film surprised me so much was because of the director. After seeing David Twohy's first film as a director, THE ARRIVAL, I pitched my expectations low for this film. A glance at the cast list didn't really set me on fire, either. Even the premise barely stuck in my mind. I was definitely not prepared for the intensity of the film's opening, in which we meet a transport spacecraft during a long voyage. Everyone on board is in cryosleep, except for the mysterious Riddick, played by Vin Diesel in a role that deserves to make him a pretty damn big star, and pronto. He's a prisoner, chained and blindfolded, so he doesn't see what starts the emergency that kicks off a terrifying chain of events. Several people, including the pilot, are killed, and a crash landing has to be attempted on a nearby planet. It's harrowing, and the survivors find themselves disoriented, stranded on an intensely hot, dry desert planet with three suns.

Twohy makes fine use of the Australian scenery and some genuinely effective digital matte work to create his alien landscape. What he does even better, thanks to the script he's crafted with Jim & Ken Wheat, is weave a human suspense story involving the dangerous criminal Riddick and the rest of the survivors with the mystery of this dead planet and its seemingly inescapable daylight. There's a geological outpost, but there's no signs of anyone being there in 22 years. There's hints and signs that there was some sort of massacre, but by the time the survivors figure out what might be behind the violence, it's too late.

Night is falling.

I'm struggling here with what I can and can't tell you. In the end, I think I want to avoid any imagery that has to do with the mystery of the planet. It's too damn good. Suffice it to say, this film is exactly what genre fans pray for when they go to see crap like SPECIES or SCREAMERS or SOLDIER. You know they're not going to be good, but you still hope they will be. You hope that the obligatory badass is going to actually come across as a badass onscreen. You hope that the female lead is both gorgeous and still able to realistically take care of herself. You hope that any stock characters manage to find quirks and human characteristics that make them real, even if they are drawn on archetype. And most of all, you hope that when the action begins, you'll be genuinely drawn in and that you'll be able to believe. You want your pulse to race. You want to find yourself involuntarily yelling at the screen, "RUN! FOR GOD'S SAKE, RUN!"

And PITCH BLACK is all that, all that and more. I want to single out the lead quartet of actors for mention. Vin Diesel is simply beyond cool in this film. He's got special surgically enhanced eyes that allow him to see in the dark and this crazy-low Tom Waites style grumble that both give him a crazy motherfucker vibe, both menacing and charismatic. Radha Mitchell is the eye candy here, but she's drawn from the same tradition as Cameron's women. She's strong, not afraid to be human, not afraid to kick ass. Keith David is... well, hell, he's Keith David. You really need me to explain the appeal? Finally, there's Cole Hauser, who I haven't seen since DAZED & CONFUSED. He starts out as a cookie-cutter hero, but Hauser and the script allow him to go to some really wild, dark places I didn't expect. Everyone vanishes into their roles early on, and this becomes a great ensemble thriller a la THE THING or ALIENS.

I hope USA Films releases this at just the right time, in just the right way, but Harry and I want to bring this up right now. We want you guys to keep your eyes peeled next spring, because this is the kind of movie that you probably wouldn't be too excited about unless you heard something. Well, now you have.

I'm heading to bed now. Harry should have some interesting stuff for you guys later today, and he and I both have several more tidbits from this week so far. The next update should be his. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • Feb. 9, 2000, 4:41 p.m. CST

    Pitch Black is ALL THAT!

    by E&E

    I just KNOW that Pitch Black is going to rock the house and I can't wait when it does.It's even got CLAUDIA BLACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!I LOVE her!!!Anyway,it's about time we have some good ole' fashion sci-fi to getting the new year FINALLY banging!!!