Monday, August 26, 2013

Riddick Retrospective: PITCH BLACK

Pitch Black
Director: David Twohy
Starring: Radha Mitchell, Vin Diesel, Cole Hauser, Keith David, Claudia Black
Rated: R

I was just watching Predator in my bedroom louder than this!
                                        ~James Brindel

Whenever I think of Pitch Black, the quote above always enters my brain like it was yesterday.  Quite possibly my worst theater going experience of all time came with seeing this film.  If not the worst, it easily ranks in the top 3.  Films that the reel breaks or have projection problems were better than this.  The time I went and saw The Empire Strikes Back for the 3rd time and it was playing at a 45 degree angle was better.

Back in the 90s, $1 theaters started becoming a hot trend.  They are still around, but nowhere near as prevalent.  These would be theaters that at one time, closed, become rundown or just weren't up to snuff with the modern standards.  In the early days, pretty much all of them were theaters that only housed 1-3 screens.  Multiplexes were becoming a bigger deal (and back then those were just a whopping 6 screens a lot of the time).  In Ft. Wayne, IN (where I grew up) one such theater was the Glenbrook (Mall) 3.  Now this theater wasn't in the actual mall, it was back at the other end of the parking lot.
In early 2000, some genius decided to take the Glenbrook 3 and turn it back into a first run movie theater.  Fine.  But, as it turns out, that's ALL they did!  For opening weekend in Ft. Wayne, guess what the only theater in town playing Pitch Black was?  The Glenbrook fucking 3.  This was actually the first weekend it was back up as a first run theater.  I went with my friends (who are also brothers) James and Lee.  We were perplexed as we swore that it was a dollar theater and that maybe they were still just charging $1.  Nope.  Full price.  So we get in, and yep, its the same old crummy dollar theater seats.  Some were even removed because they were damaged beyond repair.  The movie starts and...well, for a new movie, Pitch Black sure looked like it had made its way through a circuit of Grindhouse theaters in the 70s.  But worst of all, the volume was incredibly low.  Imagine gun shots and explosions that could be drowned out just by the sound of your own breath.  About 20 minutes in and already having complained to the management, my friend James couldn't take it anymore and loudly beckoned about the volume.  And still, nothing was done.  Just think of the crash landing at the beginning of this movie and imagine it with like 1-2 volume bars on your TV.  That's pretty close to what it was like.
This was an awful awful experience.  I had a real hard time getting into the movie.  I thought it was okay.  I really really liked Vin Diesel's performance/character of Riddick and some aspects of the movie, but I really couldn't lose myself in it.  And then afterward, I knew it went over quite well with people.  I always meant to go back and revisit Pitch Black, but never got to it.  I hated xXx with a passion, taking some of my love for Diesel with it, and when the next Riddick movie came around, i didn't think it looked good and just wasn't interested.  So, it floated further from my consciousness and I never returned.

But now, I've got my opportunity to return.  Riddick looks pretty awesome and step back to more of what Pitch Black was.  I have to say, I'm excited for it.  And excited to go back through this series. that i've told an article's worth of a story, let's talk about Pitch Black!

I'm definitely a big fan of Sci Fi movies on a smaller scale.  Little story in a larger world.  And this film is more akin to Alien than anything else.  Sci Fi and Horror mish mashing.  Oh and that Agatha Christie style of knocking off one by one is always fun to watch as well.
At the time this film came out, there weren't many movies being made like this.  This was also my first venture with Vin Diesel.  He was quite an intriguing presence and his voice was commanding.  This guy, this character of Riddick is something we really don't see in a film ever.  For all intents and purposed, most of this film he's the awful bad guy.  Then later on, he's helping, but in a situation where there's really no other choice.  While Diesel is cool and the character is rather slick in its appeal, you're still not sure whether you can trust him or not.  And as the credits roll at the end of the film, you STILL aren't sure if the "right" person survived.  And without a sequel that marketed him as a hero, I'm sure it'd feel more this way.  I can't think of many films where I was so on the fence about a character's intentions, good or ill will and didn't decide either way by the end.
To add, one of the biggest merits for the film, the characters who survive the events of Pitch Black are incredibly random.  Yes, going back now you could probably get 2 out of 3 right.  But Vin Diesel was a completely fresh face at this point.  Radha Mitchell hadn't done any real big American films.  Keith David, well, i don't think he's one you could put for "lock".  You could either see him as a notable kill or survivor.  Cole Hauser (anyone notice he's been in both big Vin Diesel franchises yet only 1 movie with him?) was likely the most recognizable face in the cast at this point and even he wasn't that recognizable.  Some folks seem like they could be possibilities just by character actions and stereotype as well.  Radha Mitchell's demise at the end is quite shocking.  Because at that point in time (pretend there's no sequel, no more Riddick), it'd seem obvious that Riddick would be the one to go ironically.  It was very much like when Deep Blue Sea surprised us a year earlier, not just with Sam Jackson biting it, but when Saffron Burrows gets it in the final minutes.  I remember that was one big positive thing leaving that horrible screening was that I was "wow'd" by who survived Pitch Black.  As a horror junkie, I felt I could go into a most movies and pretty much pick who's going to survive the movie before the first act is even over.  This one, I was pretty astonished at the survivors.
The film is much better than my experience before let me have.  While there's some very very 90s camera work still sticking around here in this 2000s film, the rest of it is pretty impressive and holds up valiantly today.  The CG creatures still work very well.  The costuming, the tech, the ships, all is of high grade "real" or "used" looking that the best offer.  It also has some intense moments and sequences.  There's some convenience to a lot of the plot devices, but I'm able to let it go because the film is working so well. 
I'm glad I got to revisit Pitch Black now as opposed to an younger age where I may have been much more of a film snot with a mentality of what I was "supposed" to be thinking rather than having an opinion and voice that was much more my own.  Its a fun film that I rather look forward to going back and revisiting.  I'm also looking forward to seeing the next feature film in this franchise with time removed and a fresh, more open (and frankly, better) opinion than I would have if I saw it back in 2004.  I get to go in with those "low expectations".

Next Time:  Riddick gets a little Animatrix treatment.

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