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Pitch Black movie poster
 

PITCH BLACK Director's Cut

Introducing . . .  "Richard B. Riddick, convicted felon, murderer."

(2000) Writer/Director  David Twohy

"Fight Evil with Evil."

That Pitch Black line definitely became the jumping-off point for the sequel The Chronicles of Riddick. Pitch Black delivers because it doesn't try to do too much—That's not to say there's not a lot there, just that what is there is very well constructed. The idea of fighting evil with evil opens the door to a tale of redemption that holds a surprise. The more I watch it, the more I like it. I'm never bored. There are juicy bits to enjoy throughout. The script by Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat, and David Twohy has lots of great quotes. Twohy's (and/or the Wheat team's) gift for opening monologues sets the stage:


"They say most of your brain shuts down during cryosleep . . . all but the primitive side; the animal side. No wonder I'm still awake. Transporting me with civilian, sounded like 40, 40 plus. Heard an Arab voice—some hoo-doo holy man probably on his way to New Mecca, but what route . . . what route? Smelled a woman: sweat, boots, tool belt, leather: prospector type—free settlers, and they only take the back roads. And here's my real problem: Mr. Johns: blue-eyed devil planning on taking me back to 'slam'. Only this time he picked a ghost lane. A long time between stops; a long time for something to go wrong . . ." 
And of course, something does.

Lost In Space
In the Director's commentary David Twohy said that before they released the theatrical version, test audiences felt they had to add an establishing shot of the exterior of the spacecraft moving through space. Uh, yeahh! How could they possibly have thought they could begin inside? Plus, that puts this film on a select list of movies with an opening shot of a really long spacecraft (including Space Balls with their classic spoof of the shot). We LOVE that shot!  Pitch Black is also my Action Movie holy trinity: Action/Sci-fi/Horror. So, yes please, make a model and show us some strange planets!

Pitch Black Opening Shot


Crash Landing
Pitch Black FryIn the opening sequence, a merchant vessel moves into the path of a passing comet whose trail of debris penetrates the ship's hull and the body of the Captain as effectively as bullets.1  With the hull breach, alarms go off, and Carolyn Fry and Greg Owens (the Docking Pilot and the Navigation Officer) are forced to respond quickly to the situation as the craft is losing air and on a collision course with a nearby planet. Fry takes the helm as Owens radios for help.

The ship resembles a freight train with cars linked together. On the nose of the craft, the communication antennas break off in the heat of entering the planet's atmosphere at great speed. The rear of the spacecraft has four things that look like engines, but which also serve as rudders when extended. When one breaks off, the ship begins to spiral out of control. Fry deploys the upper air brakes and is able to stop the spiraling, but the lower air brakes jam, and the nose of the ship still won't come down.

The ship's guidance system voice (the Director's voice) recommends Fry purge ballast in the rear to try get the nose down. She begins to jettison segments from back to front starting with the engines and 3 remaining rudders.  Next she jettisons what looks like storage tanks, and then all that's left is just cargo and passengers in the one remaining compartment that is separate from the helm.

The nose of the ship still won't come down, so Fry is ready to jettison the passengers. She seals the air lock between the helm and the cargo/passenger area, and grabs the handle that will purge them. Owens realizes what she is about to do and tries to stop her from doing this by screaming "Don't you touch that handle, Fry!"  She pauses. With quick thinking, he manually jams the air lock between the two compartments to prevent her from being able to release it, should she try anyway.

Meanwhile, Fry has thought things over for a few seconds, and decides, screaming: "I'm not gonna die for them!" and yanks on the handle.

Nothing happens.

Thanks to Owens, the passengers are still alive. He tells Fry she still has 70 seconds to level the craft out.  Fry's only option now is to keep trying to get the lower air brakes (flaps) down, which she finally does by stomping hard on the handle.  Fry's willingness to jettison the passengers sets up her character arc and the main plot point of the movie.

The ship levels off, and either she manages to crash land it, or it lands, luckily, on its own. All we see her do, besides be terrified, is cover her face when the windshield breaks. They don't show her hands until she covers her face, so you don't know if she trying to steer, although you could assume either that, or that the ship was just on the right trajectory to slide to a stop.

"We're All On The Same Hajj Now"
The surviving passengers assume Fry is the Captain (she doesn't correct them), and credit her with saving their lives, but it's really Owens who saved them from Fry. Sadly, he got a metal rod through his chest in the crash. It's not clear what this metal rod is, but when Owens again screams "Don't you touch that handle!", everyone assumes he means the 'handle' in his chest. Everyone, that is, except for Johns who heard it before the crash. The metal rod is too close to Owens' heart to be removed, and he dies fairly quickly.

 Fry's feelings of guilt over Owens dying, plus the misplaced gratitude of the passengers, starts her on the path (her hajj) of redemption in trying to be worthy of their gratitude. 

"Danger, Will Robinson1!"
Being 'lost in space' is just half the passengers' dilemma. There's as-yet-undiscovered danger on this planet, and let's throw in a murderer. They leave us wondering just how dangerous convicted-and-restrained felon Richard B. Riddick is . . .

Vin Diesel was fairly new to acting and in my opinion this film made him and he 'made' the film. Guys don't give him enough credit; but women love him. This movie needed a Bad Ass and he delivered.

After surviving the crash, the passengers feel lucky to be alive, but how lucky is it to be alive on a planet with no visible life (no food, maybe no water) and no way of getting off? This certainly is a who-dies-next movie, and I loved the guessing game. They do too good a job of making us scared of Riddick. Or maybe Vin Diesel does that. Or both.

Riddick escapes from his holding cell after the crash, and hides in the interior of the wreckage. Still blindfolded and shackled, he nonetheless manages to set a trap for the Bounty Hunter Johns. He takes Johns' gun as bait and puts in a certain spot on the floor below where he is 'stuck' hanging from some cables, so he can use his foot chain to strangle Johns. But when the cables supporting Riddick break and he drops to the floor, Johns is saved. Johns tells Riddick "Somebody's gonna get hurt one of these days; it ain't gonna be me." So you know, it is gonna be him. It's just a question of when. Thus begins the cat-and-mouse game between Riddick and Johns.

The Grateful Dead
Although we are fascinated with what Riddick's up to, Fry's character arc is what moves the story along.  By the look on her face when the survivors thank her for saving their lives, you know she's living on borrowed time. The sacrifice she was willing to make of the passengers' lives invalidates her own. She has to redeem herself somehow, you just don't know how until the end. After her initial failure to do the right thing, she rises at every turn to be the first in, the bravest, the one with the most fight, and seemingly, the one most alive. She's fighting for everyone else, so you fight for her. 


Circle of Distrust
There is an interesting dynamic between Riddick and Johns, between Johns and Fry, and between Riddick and everyone else. Johns and Fry seem to compete with each other, alternately assuming leadership of the group. Fry, ashamed that Owens is the one truly responsible for the passengers being alive, keeps denying that she is Captain and not in charge, and yet, she has courage and assumes responsibility and leadership, (like being the one to go into the cave when Zeke, the prospector, disappears) as if she owes it to them. She also steps on Johns when he gets out of line. She's capable, brave, and moral—despite her moment of supreme cowardice.

Fry judges Johns for his lack of empathy because she feels guilty. Johns, on the other hand, is more lucky than capable, and a conniving, cold-hearted addict.  He hides behind his badge, gun, and drug habit. When the chips are down, he tries to use Riddick to kill for him. (All the while you know Johns doesn't mean a word he says, and will not keep any promises to Riddick once Riddick does his dirty work.) 

[This life-sized ship from the movie is on display in Coober Pedy, 9 hours north of Adelaide, Australia.]

Fresh Meat
Once Riddick is under Johns' control again, he manages to escape a second time by dislocating his arms from his shoulders in order to get his handcuffed hands from behind his back and up over his head so he can clear the top of the post he's handcuffed to.  Owch!  Vin Diesel actually did this, but they ended up having to CGI it anyway.

Riddick the murderer is now loose on the planet, but is mainly exploring and staying out of the way, and you don't know what to expect from him, except what you get told by Johns. It gets creepier when you realize that when the survivors try to bury the dead, the are serving 'fresh meat' to the as-yet-undiscovered underground monsters. Zeke is the one digging the graves and the noise and vibrations attracts underground attention. He is also watching out for Shazza (his wife) who is back at the crash site, and in trying to protect her, he shoots an innocent survivor who turns up. Zeke thinks the new survivor is Riddick (everyone thought there were no more survivors) trying to attack Shazza and Jack (the young boy who turns out to be a girl). The audience and the passengers are terrified of Riddick who really hasn't done anything yet besides observe and hide (if you don't count trying to kill Johns). What Riddick was doing at the moment Zeke shoots the survivor is sitting in antiquities dealer Paris P. Ogilvie's perch. Classic!

While Jack, Shazza, Zeke, and Paris stayed at the crash site, Johns, Fry, Imam, and his three boys were off exploring/looking for water in the direction of what looked like trees, but turned out to be huge bones of long-dead animals. This part of the movie set is really cool:  "Like the elephants of Earth" and you do wonder "What could have killed so many great things?" Riddick had been exploring ahead of everyone else and was already hiding in the gulch with the large animal bones when Fry happened to stop and stand nearby. Johns comes along and gets a confession out of Fry about what she did. Riddick overhears this. I remember thinking Riddick was going to kill Fry (he has a crudely fashioned knife) but all he does with it is cut a lock of her hair, smell it, kiss it, and then blow it away into the wind. This sets up that you think Riddick might like Fry, but I was never sure if Fry heard or felt when Riddick cut the lock of her hair. She blinks, and her eyes glance backward in Riddick's direction, but she doesn't let on to Johns that Riddick is there (if she knows), and so they 'mush on'.

Here There Be Monsters
Being lost in space plus having a murderer on the loose seemed like something to be afraid of, until the survivors found out they're also not alone on this planet. So many movies have had creatures of one kind or another. This one is like a lizard/piranha with wings.  Part of what adds to the foreign feel of these creatures is the flat color scheme and unnatural-looking blue light of the suns (and the night), which also makes the planet seem more dry and desert-y. The effective illusion that the passengers are not on earth is a huge part of making the movie audience uncomfortable and jumpy.

Watching this movie in the theatre, I was sure that Riddick would a cold-blooded hunter who would kill them all at the first opportunity, especially after this scene. However, he turns out to be misunderstood (until the end). Riddick hears when Zeke when is later attacked by the creatures, and investigates but stays above ground. After all, Zeke just shot a guy he thought was Riddick three times, so why should Riddick help him? Shazza runs to Zeke's aid, but she's too late. Zeke has vanished.2

Shazza is terrified of Riddick who is crouched above the entrance to the bloody hole holding a knife—but the knife is not bloody. When Shazza appears, Riddick runs away, and Shazza wrongly assumes he killed Zeke. Johns, having heard the shots, is waiting for Riddick and trips him as he runs by. Then he pulls off Riddick's goggles. Riddick's special purple-tinted "shine job" vision and the way he's writhing and letting himself get hit makes you think it must be very painful for him to have to see without the goggles. You wonder too what kind of place he came from that it was so dark that he altered his eyes to survive.  As dangerous as he seems, he really hasn't done anything while he was on the loose.

They tie him up, assuming he killed Zeke, and Carolyn comes to speak to him about it.  This shows great courage and it seems she trusts Riddick. Something no one else is willing to do. Riddick says she should look deeper into the hole Zeke disappeared into. Johns ask if she's trying to prove something and tells her "Being balls-y with your life doesn't change what came before" but he's wrong.  It may not change it for the passengers and crew who are dead, but it does change how Carolyn feels about what she did, and that is her hajj.

She goes into the hole to investigate with a rope tied around her waist. She finds a lot of blood and Zeke's severed foot still in the boot. This is our first glimpse of the creatures and it's scary. The moment when she realizes there really are dangerous creatures down there, she starts to climb the hell out through the nearest opening. The things start pulling on her rope and it's a struggle for her to climb and not be pulled back.  She starts screaming for help. Riddick can hear this and starts banging his restraints.  You feel like he is trying to attract attention away from her, to distract the creatures. It's a protest, almost. (It was Vin Diesel's idea to do this and it goes a long way to humanizing Riddick and making him appear sympathetic, even heroic, to try to help even when tethered. What if the creatures stopped trying to get Carolyn and came toward the noise Riddick was making went through my mind.)  The look of terror and helplessness on Carolyn's face is really something as she is struck dumb with fear. They do find her in time and get her out, only to have her get yanked backwards again. Finally, they are able to cut the rope and she is freed—Now they know: it wasn't Riddick.

Fry and Riddick have a talk about the creatures. Riddick tells Fry about Johns' addiction to painkillers and the fact that Johns is a reward-driven bounty hunter and not a cop (which Fry assumed and Johns did not correct her on—omitting the truth is the same as lying).  Johns tells Fry that his painkillers are for a wound he says was caused by Riddick that should have taken his life.  In Fry's eyes, however, this does not mitigate the fact that Johns let Owens the Navigator die a painful death when he could have shared some of his painkillers with him.  Fry seems eager to give Riddick the benefit of the doubt from the start. The other passengers do not. Only when Johns re-captures Riddick after his second escape and they find out he is not responsible for the death of Zeke, do they realize their predicament and want Riddick's help. That we're-all-in-this-together moment begins the who-dies-next-horror-movie aspect of this film.  This is a still a Monster movie, and neither Fry, nor Johns, nor Riddick is the real monster; it's the creatures.

Ticket to Ride
The movie is fraught with tension. From their crash-landing situation and having survived, to staying alive in a hostile environment that pits them against thin air, thirst, and each other. The stakes are increased by the leadership struggle, the unknown element of the murderer on the loose, and the introduction of creatures who will eat them. Just when you think there's hope for them getting off the planet as they discover and abandoned miners' settlement with water and transportation, you find out why the movie is called "pitch black". I love the old-school mechanical model that calculates the planets' orbit cycle like a 23-year alarm clock.  I am fascinated that Fry thought to push it through its cycles to see why they made it. At first she thinks there is never any nighttime (up to year 16), but then she revisits it and realizes what happens every 23 years. She may have started out a selfish coward in a bad situation, but the guilt of living with the consequences makes her grow up in a hurry. This small act of thinking to pay attention to and figure out the eclipse model to the end of its cycle shows her intelligence and her leadership initiative. She discovers the miner's 'drop ship', which can be made operational and can get them at least as far as a shipping lane to get picked up (according to Riddick). Fry gets to work checking it out and organizing the survivors to get some fuel cells transported to the ship, to get the hell off this rock. Alas, it was not meant to be. They go from a ticket to ride to a ticket to hell as one of Imam's 3 boys is taken and they realize what happened to the mining colony.  As Riddick says "I don't truly know what's gonna happen when the lights go out Carolyn, but I do know, once the dying starts, this little psycho fuck family of ours is gonna rip itself apart." 


Billy Bad Ass
As the movie progresses, Riddick is a little like a cat playing with a mouse (Johns) in a trap. Johns is out of his depth but he doesn't know it. Riddick is so dangerous and so skilled, it seems like he's just waiting for the best time to kill Johns. The more I watched this movie, the more I appreciated Vin Diesel's performance. The way that the tables keep turning in what Johns thinks is a power struggle is just Riddick letting him think he has the upper hand. Johns thinks he's playing Riddick but Riddick lets Johns hang himself, so to speak, and reveal his moral decrepitude when he hatches a plan to use Riddick to kill one of the colonists as bait. You know he would turn on Riddick and use it against him. Johns is just selfishly trying to improve his own odds of surviving. 

As the colonists go back to camp and get the fuel cells and test the drop ship, darkness descends all too suddenly. They are forced to abandon the trek back and Shaza is killed by the creatures as they all come above ground now that the suns are gone. The two suns and no moon is wicked cool, like Tatooine. Even cooler that they are different colors.

Pitch Black's two suns

A Question of Faith
This movie is totally relatable and I get taken in every time as the crew goes from exploring, to a run for their lives, to salvation. The story brings to mind the question faith and the story of Peter. Fry is afraid to be "Captain". She denies she is Captain three times before she finally takes charge. Riddick is the one who forces the issue.

cave to leaving them behind)

 

"7 Stones to Keep The Devil At Bay"
Owens dies in the crash. Zeke shoots a survivor. Planet takes 7
1. Zeke, 2. the little one Ali,  3. Shazza, 4. Paris P. 5. Hassan  6. Suleiman? 7. Fry
 

 

RIDDICKCK
 
FRY

RIDDICK 

FRY

RIDDICK

FRY

Strong survival instinct: I admire that in a woman. 

I promised them . . . that we would go back with more light. 

Did you?  Hmmm.

What are you, afraid? 


(laughs) Me afraid?

Come on, Riddick. There's gotta be some part of you that wants to rejoin the human race.

 

RIDDICKCK

FRY

RIDDICK

FRY

RIDDICK

FRY

RIDDICK

Truthfully, I wouldn't know how.

Well then just give me more light for them,  I'll go back by myself.

Okay.
(hands her a light)  Here you go.

(still afraid—pleading) Please just come with me.

I got a better idea: Come with me.

(afraid of him) You're fucking me, I know you are.

You know I am? You don't know anything about me.
I will leave you here. Step inside.

 

FRY

RIDDICK

FRY

RIDDICK

 

(kneeling at the foot of the ramp into the ship) I can't.

Sure you can.

I can't.

Here, I'll make it easy on you.
(reaches a hand out to her)
Take my hand, come on . . . come on.
Look, no one's gonna blame you. Save yourself, Carolyn.
 

FRY

RIDDICK

I . . . (crying)

Come on . . . come on.  That's it. That's it. Good girl.
[Riddick helps move on her knees in the direction up the ramp, and she gets to her feet and walks up into the ship, giving in to her fear. She already did that (saved herself) and as she hears the creatures in the distance and Riddick growls, Carolyn sees the passengers who died and what she did (pulled the handle) flash before her. She turns in rage, and screaming jumps on Riddick knocking him down into the mud at the base of the ramp.]
 

FRY

(on top of Riddick) Now you, you listen to me. I am the Captain of this ship, and I am not leaving anyone on this rock with those fucking things, even if that means . . .
(Riddick flips her off him and turns the tables dragging her under him and putting a blade to her neck.)
 

FRY

RIDDICK

FRY

RIDDICK

Get that thing off my neck

You'd die for them I'd try for them

You didn't answer me.

Yes, Yes I would, Riddick, I would. I would die for them.

When Riddick tries to get her to take off with him, the old Fry weeps and the new Fry takes a stand. Now, finally, she is willing to die for them. How do you not admire courage like that? It gets Riddick to go back with her for Jack and Imam. 


"I would. I would die for them."
  In her mind, Owens died for Fry. The passengers don't become real to her until they thank her instead of Owens because they don't know. . .  The twist at the end is when Riddick is attacked. Fry is already 'home free' aboard the ship but she goes back. She gets Riddick up on his feet and says she would die for them, not for him to spur him on.  Ultimately, though, she chose to do just that when she went back for him as well. In a Christ-like sacrifice, the price of her life for Riddick's is paid nonetheless. "Not for me!" he screams in pain. Her act validated him. Aren't you ready to rejoin the human race?

 

THE CHRONICLES
Riddick the outsider, the wronged loner, the survivor at all costs gets his world rocked as Carolyn gets taken away. The moment when he screams "Not for me" is pivotal to the next movie and heartbreakingly poignant. Carolyn's death is hers and Riddick's redemption. He escapes the planet and in the next movie keeps running. He runs away from "Jack" (Kira) (but, once again, a woman dies to save him).

The movie is visually interesting. The landscape is desolate enough to be believable as the surface of another planet, but as good as the image of the three suns is, the smoking ruins of the crash are bad.  That's my one tiny 'didn't-work-for-me' element, and I mention it only because it broke my escapist illusion and took me out of the movie for a moment. The TOTALLY awesome script brought me right back in.

Carolyn hears Riddick scream and goes back for him. He's wounded in the leg.  She helps him up, he falls and she screams at him to get up. It seems like he was about to lose consciousness.  They stagger together until one of the creatures spears her. They cling to each other for a second before the creature flies away with her.  Riddick screams after her.

Not for me. Not for me! And he rejoins the human race.  Tell them Riddick's dead. He died somewhere on that planet.

He died and was reborn in Fry's arms.

 

 

 

________________________________________________________________________

1

2 GLASS HOUSES The one thing that I couldn't figure out about the establishing scene was why the spacecraft is moving as slowly as it appears to be if it's on a voyage so long they have to put the passengers in cryosleep? Wouldn't it be going as fast as it could to shorten a long voyage? The comet doesn't appear to be moving quickly either, so what gave the rocks the velocity to pierce the hull? Why didn't they just bounce off "plink". It's got to be one or the other, either the ship is moving really fast or the rocks are, or both, but it appears to be neither. It might have created some tension and sense of impending danger if they showed the comet whiz by just missing crashing into the ship and triggering the proximity alerts, and then the expectation of the flying shower of rocks would have seemed dangerous as they meet with the hard surface of the ship—Add the ship speeding into the path of rocks head on and double the velocity. 

3 After shooting the new survivor, then having to wrap and drag his body back to the grave site, Zeke flings the shade tarp covering the site off to one side. but when Shazza comes running over when she hears Zeke's screams and gunshots, the tarp is not only covering the site but re-tied and she has to uncover it (oops).  This reveals not only the bloody hole but Riddick crouching above it. This is a dramatic (scary) reveal but until I was writing this, it didn't occur to me that it wasn't just an oversight.  Maybe we're meant to think Riddick retied it for cover, but why would he hang around after? I think it's just a mistake, but any time we noticed things like that, it takes you out of the movie fantasy.  

Pitch Black Screencaps: PitchBlacker.com