One of the big news items getting my fanboy heart a-pounding this month is the long-awaited return of Vin Diesel and David Twohy to the “Riddick” franchise. The news broke last week that they are going back for a third helping and then we learned just this morning the first few story details and plans for a “back-to-basics” approach. In this case, “basics” refers to “Pitch Black,” the thoroughly enjoyable first movie in the series which celebrates its 10th anniversary tomorrow.
I still remember going to the theater to check out “Pitch Black” with an old high school friend on a snowy February night back in 2000. We’d both seen “Boiler Room,” both loved Diesel’s character in that movie. That’s actually what finalized the decision to see “Pitch Black.” That, and the badass-looking alien beasts shown in commercials.
Unlike the overblown, effects-driven blockbusters that are typically associated with science fiction, this is a movie that served up true, character-driven sci-fi. Visual effects are used sparingly, allowing the story to unfold rather than overpowering it.
And how about that story? Like the best horror/suspense flicks, fear is built very slowly. The story involves a group of survivors — one of whom is Diesel’s Riddick character, a dangerous criminal — who are marooned on a distant planet after their ship crash lands. The sun-baked landscape is exceedingly bright, a result of the three suns the planet orbits. Only rarely does darkness descend on the world… and that’s when the indigenous creatures come out to play.
The entire first act follows the group as they explore their new (and hopefully temporary) home. We don’t see the fearsome aliens, but there are threats, a few red herring jump scares and, as time passes, the briefest of shadowy glimpses. As our survivors realize what these creatures are and the danger of the setting suns, they prepare for a very long night. However, nothing they do can ready them for the fearsome sight that greets them when the last ray of light fades: the creatures, thousands of them, emerge from nesting holes scattered across the barren landscape and take to the sky, hungry and looking for food.
It’s here that the chase begins. The light goes out and the monster is revealed only a short time after the group discovers a possible escape route. Unfortunately, that escape will involve trudging through a gauntlet of the fearsome beasts with heavy equipment in tow. And so we have this ragtag group of survivors who are forced to cooperate if they wish to survive. And their unlikely leader, a vicious intergalactic criminal by the name of Richard B. Riddick.
It’s a sharp story, well-written and equally well-cast. And it continues to hold up precisely because of that. This is an easy Sick Day Stash pick for me, one that’s been sitting on my list since the column was first conceived. And I thought today, the day before that 10th anniversary, would be a great time to remind you all of why people love the Riddick character so much.
Congrats to David and Vin for keeping the series going this long. I look forward to seeing what you guys come up with for the next one.