Weirdly cool, coolly weird, assembled with throwaway flair from cast-off sci-fi- thriller pistons and gears, <''Pitch Black'' opens with a bang. A slam, actually, as a hurtling spaceship under the docking direction of a brisk pilot named Fry (''High Art'''s Radha Mitchell) makes a crash landing onto an unknown planet. The rest of the crew is killed; the passengers are all shook up and emerge ahead of schedule from their transport comas, blinking and bleeding in a seemingly lifeless land.
Among the movie's recycled components, Fry, as a next-generation heroine, owes her job to the gender barriers broken by ''Alien'''s Ripley; Riddick's ancestry can be traced all the way back to the Beast who saved Beauty; and the fussing sybarite might have been played by Edward Everett Horton.
The rampaging aliens, meanwhile, are your average downmarket menaces; they look like irradiated escapees from ''Jurassic Park,'' and they squawk ''reeee-reee-reee!'' as they pounce and devour.
But ''Pitch Black'' is so jaunty, so limber, and so visually self-assured that art peeks through where crap has traditionally made its home. Director-cowriter David Twohy (''The Arrival'') has made more of the latter -- he cowrote ''Waterworld'' and ''G.I. Jane.''
But he lucked out with his collaborators: Cinematographer David Eggby and production designer Graham ''Grace'' Walker both worked on various Mad Max movies, and they bring to ''Pitch Black'' that same disorienting thrill of a world turned upside down. (It's a small galaxy after all -- like George Miller's seminal futuristic saga, this was shot in the Australian end-of-the-road pit stop called Coober Pedy.)
Rarely has the unknown looked so grubby and yet so beautiful; rarely have crash landings felt so visceral. Besides, the movie's outlaw aesthetics liberate relatively unknown actors to make the most out of characters sketchier than guests on the Enterprise. I particularly like Mitchell as Fry, with her peppery whiff of melancholy.
And I enjoy even more the developing relationship between Fry and the murderous prisoner Riddick, who, as played with growly gusto by Vin Diesel (''Boiler Room''), is a useful desperado of the future: He can see the way forward in the darkness, much as ''Pitch Black ''can see the light in sci-fi formulas.