Introducing . . . "Richard B. Riddick,
convicted felon, murderer."
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!
In 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
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.
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
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.
All On The Same Hajj Now"
passengers assume Fry is the Captain (she doesn't correct
them), and credit her with saving their
lives, but it's
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
heart to be removed, and he dies fairly quickly.
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
"Danger, Will Robinson1!"
Being 'lost in space' is just half the passengers'
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
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
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.
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.
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
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,
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
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.
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
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
Fry about Johns' addiction to painkillers and the fact that Johns
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.
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
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."
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.
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
Strong survival instinct: I admire that in a
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.
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
I will leave you here. Step inside.
(kneeling at the foot of the ramp
into the ship) I can't.
Sure you can.
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.
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.]
(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.)
| 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?
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).
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
He died and was reborn in Fry's arms.
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