Viking Night: Pitch Black
By Bruce Hall
May 25, 2010
There are many reasons that certain films achieve what we call "cult" status, but one of them is that they tend to deliver their message in subversive or controversial ways that don't appeal to everyone. While it's true that most people do not like to work for their entertainment, is it possible that even the most unusual films can have something to offer everyone? When I was in college, a group of friends and I would meet regularly to ponder this very question. Beginning with Erik the Viking, we gathered once a week to watch and discuss a different cult classic, but we decided to keep the Viking theme. Now, I'll be working without a turkey leg or a goblet of mead, but with each installment of Viking Night I still seek to examine the same question: Can a film with such limited appeal still speak to us all?
If you’ve ever met a movie snob, you’ve met someone who wants everything they see to be sublime, mind blowing, intellectual enlightenment. They expect the same things out of Brett Ratner that they do out of Steven Spielberg. They hold Sylvester Stallone to the same standard as Daniel Day-Lewis. And if they see anything that fails to meet this expectation, they tend to come away disappointed or angry. It’s unfair but true, and such people short change themselves more than they do the system.
Go ahead and turn your nose up at Top Gun and Lethal Weapon. I’ll bet you money you saw them, liked them, and are smiling at the memories right now. We all have our opinions and preferences, but when you narrow your vision to that extent; when you leave out more than you let in you miss out on a lot and worst of all you sometimes forget just to have fun. In fact, I’d argue that it is just as important to occasionally experience things you’d rather avoid than things you already know you like; not only does it keep you informed but you just might find yourself pleasantly surprised! And that’s generally the point of this column; to encourage people to try things they might not have considered before.
In the interest of full disclosure, those who know me best will point out that I’ve yet to write in this space about a movie that I personally dislike, but don’t worry - its coming. But my goal, as always is to make sure that every movie we look at brings more to the table than it takes away – which brings me to David Twohy’s Pitch Black, an often overlooked but quite satisfying sci-fi actioner with more up its sleeve than you think.
Part thriller, part disaster flick and part horror movie, Pitch Black takes advantage of a tried and true formula – stick a disparate group of characters in a fishbowl, give them a common threat for which there is no obvious defense and start killing them off. Set in a futuristic world whose inhabitants are more or less like you and me, Pitch Black begins with the crash of a civilian transport on a desolate planet where there is little hope of rescue.
With no communications, no water and no way to take off again, those left alive are at first simply glad to be in one piece. But after a slightly predictable but well paced setup, they discover that their chances of remaining in one piece are getting smaller by the hour. What they eventually uncover on this barren world is a far more deadly threat than the bad weather, making cooperation essential for survival.
Their alliance is an uneasy one though, as we find a few of the usual genre suspects front and center. As you might expect, we have the token First Fatality (identity omitted), a character who simply sticks his head somewhere the audience immediately knows he shouldn’t. There’s the requisite self serving coward who never seems to be with the program (Lewis Fitz-Gerald) no matter how desperate the situation gets. And what would any contemporary science fiction thriller be without the "tough chick" character (Claudia Black, doing what she was born to do), filled with snarling, ass-kicking vengeance.