A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Pitch Black

August 19, 2011

Pitch Black

I get a special thrill watching this movie. Not because of the movie itself, but because this, with the second Ewok movie, is one of the most famous projects that my uncles have been involved in. Of course this is not completely their film. Indeed if David Twohy had his way they’d have only been given story credit for it. After a bitter battle, and arbitration from the screen writer’s guild, it was determined that they had written enough of the screenplay and had created enough of the story that they get a credit right at the start of the movie. “Written by Ken and Jim Wheat.”

I never read their original script but I do understand that this movie isn’t exactly what they had envisioned. It’s mostly there. They wrote a cool sci-fi horror movie about a stranded group of people on a planet about to descend into a lengthy night haunted by vicious monsters. Most of the cast of characters is, from what I understand, directly from them. There’s one notable character death near the end of the movie that they didn’t write. And the biggest change is that the villain at the heart of the movie who turns out to be the hero – the wanted unstoppable serial killer – was not written to be played by Vin Diesel. Riddick was originally written to be a woman. What a cool idea that was.

My uncles have stressed to me however that for most people in Hollywood it doesn’t pay to get too attached to your particular vision of a project. Pitch Black was a big time hit for them, and getting that recognition (and that paycheck) sometimes comes at the price of losing creative control. (They also often bemoaned the fact that they chose to use the pseudonym Scott Pierce for the re-writes they did for Nightmare on Elm Street 4 – which until this movie came out was one of the biggest commercial successes they had anything to do with.)

I’m glad I can claim some familial connection to this movie because it is steeped in cool. What we have here is a somewhat familiar horror movie story with several cool twists. The first twist is the setting. This movie is a futuristic sci-fi film about passengers on a space freighter that crashes on a distant planet after being riddled with holes by a meteor shower – or something. The ship is struck while the crew and passengers are in suspended animation and right at the start the captain is killed, leaving his second in command and a brash but not used to command pilot in charge. The pilot, Fry, (whose name made me expect Philip from Futurama even though she’s a woman named Carolyn) manages to bring part of the ship down for a landing after jettisoning much of the cargo and threatening to jettison the remaining survivors to save her own hide. There aren’t many people left here – and that’s just the very beginning.

So now we’ve got our collection of misfits on a deserted desert planet. There’s the pilot (her co-pilot associate is killed in the crash) and an Imam making a pilgrimage to New Mecca with a small group of followers and a wealthy dealer in antiquities and a young child who seems to have run away from home and a bounty hunter and Morrigan from Dragon Age. There are also a few red shirts just along to be chomped. Then there’s the anti-hero of the movie: Riddick. He’s a wanted killer with a price on his head who was being brought in on the freighter, and now he’s loose.

At first it appears that the biggest problem the survivors have to contend with is the escaped killer somewhere out on the planet’s surface. Well, that and finding a way off world. They do find an abandoned research station, but there’s something else going on. The planet has more than one sun and never experiences night, until there’s a massive eclipse that throws the entire night side of the planet into darkness. Then it becomes apparent that there are subterranean monsters that mostly come out at night (mostly) and these people need to find a way out. They only have one hope – to get some power cells from their crashed ship to the little skiff at the abandoned camp before they’re all eaten. Luckily (for some of them) the meanest monster on the planet is not one of the nocturnal flying hammerhead sharks – it’s Riddick himself.

So much of what is fabulous about this movie is in the cinematography and the extensive special effects work. The monsters are awesome. The look of the planet with its constant heavily hued color correction. Riddick’s night vision and his shiny eyes. It’s all slick visuals, awesome badassery, and deadly digital monsters. I can’t help loving this sci-fi horror mashup. I just wish I knew how much can be attributed to Ken and Jim Wheat and how much to David Twohy.

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August 19, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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