Pitch Black Weirdly cool, coolly weird, assembled with throwaway flair from cast-off sci-fi- thriller pistons and gears, Among the movie's recycled components, Fry, as a next-generation heroine,… Pitch Black Weirdly cool, coolly weird, assembled with throwaway flair from cast-off sci-fi- thriller pistons and gears, Among the movie's recycled components, Fry, as a next-generation heroine,… 2000-02-18 R PT110M Drama Mystery and Thriller Sci-fi and Fantasy Vin Diesel Radha Mitchell Keith David Cole Hauser USA Films
Movie Review

Pitch Black (2000)

MPAA Rating: R
Radha Mitchell, Pitch Black

TUNNEL VISION Pilot Mitchell explores an arid phantom planet in ''Pitch Black''

EW's GRADE
B+

Details Release Date: Feb 18, 2000; Rated: R; Length: 110 Minutes; Genres: Drama, Mystery and Thriller, Sci-fi and Fantasy; With: Vin Diesel and Radha Mitchell; Distributor: USA Films

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.

Originally posted Feb 18, 2000 Published in issue #527 Feb 25, 2000 Order article reprints