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'Pitch Black' Familiar Even in Dark

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 18, 2000


    'Pitch Black' The survivors of a crash-landed spaceship contend with terrifying creatures in "Pitch Black." (Universal)
In "Pitch Black," a space vessel crash-lands on a remote planet, leaving its dazed crew to deal with strange pterodacytl-meets-starfish creatures that hide in the dark by day and devour human flesh at nightfall. Night is coming fast. But so is that sinking feeling we've seen this movie before.

Under the haven't-I-seen-this-before? category:

Dangerous crew member who could lose it any second. The postal one this time is Riddick (Vin Diesel), a serial murderer with specially enhanced "night vision" eyes, who is being transported to the slammer. The big quandary for his accompanying lawman (Cole Hauser) is: If they release Riddick, will he kill monsters or humans?

Tough gal, will travel. Fry (Radha Mitchell), the single-named female pilot of the ship (as in "Ripley" of "Alien"), is the one who steers the ship to that belly-flop landing. She out-butches any man who dares stand up to her, even Riddick. You can tell that she and Riddick are going to be among those leading the final stand against the flying monsters.

New movie, same monster blueprint. Guys, guys, guys. You are allowed to come up with a monster we haven't seen before. You know that, right? Creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos's winged thingies in "Pitch Black" seem to be slight variations on the velociraptors from "Jurassic Park," the monster from "Alien" and a few dozen other less effective sci-fi/horror flicks since. As least they didn't have that dripping mucus problem. I hate that.

Bones of the last crew. As Fry and crew get the lay of the land – which looks a lot like the Australia where it was filmed – they encounter a veritable graveyard where a previous space crew lost out to the familiaraptors. Seems like there's always a pile of poor suckers who got there first and perished without so much as a cameo in the ensuing movie.

The getaway ship. Yes, as usual, there's a small getaway craft which could use a little fix up, but which is their only way outta there. Of course, getting to it is the problem, what with the nighttime thing. And our beleaguered crew only has so many flaslights and other sources of illumination to keep the human-eaters away.

Scriptwriter cuteness. Don't you hate those pseudo-cute quips characters always make in movies like this? Scriptwriters Jim and Ken Wheat and director David Twohy (also a co-writer) get to work: "That's what you get for riding coach," says a snooty passenger called Paris (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), looking at the dead passengers whose seating locations were destroyed in that forced landing.

Where's Mel? There's not much more to tell you. Horror films are, essentially, like that party game, musical chairs. People walk around in circles, the music stops, someone turns into space chow. There was one thought I couldn't dispel throughout this movie. I guess it was because of that familiarly arid Australian landscape. I was waiting for Mad Max to come blow those creatures away. But then, this production would run into something far more intimidating than eight-foot tall flying monsters: Mel Gibson's salary.

PITCH BLACK (R) – Contains violence, obscenity.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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