Sunday, August 28, 2016

Journey into Darkness: Pitch Black revisited

Journey into Darkness: Pitch Black revisited
By Bobby Neal Winters
Last year about this time, I wrote a review for the Pittsburg Morning Sun of the movie Pitch Black.  It can be found here.  I’ve rewatched it one more time and would like to revisit it. There will be spoilers ahead, but as I’ve seen this movie six times and have liked it better each time, I am not too worried about spoiling it.
This movie is a journey.  It is a journey in a couple of different ways.  We begin in a spaceship, cocooned in  cryogenic sleep chambers.  We are as far from nature as technology can take us.  A meteor hits the ship disabling it and killing its captain.  Carolyn, the docking pilot, is forced from her cryo-chamber into the pilot’s chair.  In a frenzy she is trying to land the spaceship safely because this accident has happened closed to a large satellite of a gas giant.
The computer tells her the ship is too heavy to land safely so she responds by getting rid of cargo.  She does this until the only section she can get rid of is full of passengers.  She says that she is not going to die for these people.  She then pulls the lever to jettison them but it will not work, and she manages to crash land the spaceship.
The survivors include an Imam on hajj, a bounty hunter (Johns) and his prisoner (Riddick played by Vin Diesel) and an epicurean among others. They are now on the satellite of the gas giant.  It current language we would call it a hot Jupiter.  It is in a system where there are two yellow suns closely orbiting each other and another star that is farther out than the gas giant.  For all initial appearances, the sun never sets.  It appears to be eternally light.
In this land of eternal light, the survivors fear the prisoner Riddick who is a murderer. Some would kill him; others would keep him tied up; others would be happy if he were as far away as possible.
Riddick is not well-suited either to the polite society of the civilized travelers or to the world of eternal light.  The journey leads away from civilization and away from light.
As they seek life-giving water, they discover things are not what they seem.  There is something dangerous living on the world that keeps to the darkness. They are not afraid of it as they are protected by the eternal light. They also discover they are not the first humans to have been here.  There were others before.
Riddick, being more suited to Nature than to Man’s protecting mantle of civilization, notices things the others do not.  The previous visitors never left.  They were killed by the things in the dark.  This becomes worrisome because it is discovered that the light is not eternal. There is an interval every 22 years wherein the central suns, the gas giant, the satellite, and the outer sun line up in such a way to bring darkness.
Near the mining camp, an escape ship is discovered that can take them to safety, but they need parts from the crashed ship.  The survivors start this just as the central suns are eclipsed by the gas giant.
It is here that the journey away from civilization and into darkness begins in earnest. The creatures swarm from the caves in which they have been trapped.  Riddick, who is uniquely qualified to see this as he has had a operation in prison to enable him to see in the dark, observes that it is beautiful.  
The group has determined that the creatures will stay away from light as it hurts them.  They begin the journey with electrical lights, which are lost.  They replace these with the lighted whiskey brought by the epicurean.  Members of the group are picked off one by one by the creatures.  In the darkness, the same people who wanted nothing to do with Riddick in the eternal light now hover close to him for protection.
As it looks like they might be able to make one last run for the escape ship, it begins to rain, putting out their whiskey bottle torches, forcing them to seek safety inside a cave, where Riddick leaves them.  In the cave, with even the light of their torches gone, they notice the bioluminescent larvae of the creatures that have been killing them.  They find just enough to fill one whiskey bottle and this creates enough light to keep the creatures at bay.
Riddick, in the meantime, has made it back to the ship. He prepares to leave and to all appearances, is planning to leave the rest behind.  
Carolyn finds him at this point, and entreats him to come back with her to bring the other two survivors with them.  He refuses.  They have an argument which climaxes in a question from Riddick: Would you die for them?  This is, of course a question Carolyn had answered at the beginning of the journey in the negative.  Now she answers differently, “Yes, I would die for them.”
Riddick simply replies, “Interesting.”  But he does go back with her.  They get the other two survivors, but on the return, Riddick is forced to fight one of the creatures again.
Carolyn gets the other survivors to the escape ship, and this time, they are suggesting that Riddick should be left, but Carolyn goes back to find Riddick exhausted having just vanquished a few creatures.  She chides at him to get up and come along, saying in order to shame him that she would die for the others, but “not for you.”  
At that point, she is captured from behind by one of the creatures and taken off into the darkness.  Riddick is left there with an look on his face that almost defies description into words. (Vin Diesel is an actor, not just a set of muscles.)  He is utterly amazed. Someone has given their life for him. He tries to cover this unaccustomed emotion by saying, “But not for me.”  And yet something has happened to him.  He has been saved through her blood.  
This journey from the light into the darkness has brought both Carolyn and Riddick into a different sort of light.  She has found that she could give her life even for someone who appeared irredeemable and the one who thought himself totally self-sufficient has been saved by another.

When Riddick is leaving with the two other survivors, he is asked what will they tell the police when they are found.  He says, “Tell them Riddick died there.”

Pitch Black

Pitch Black

By Bobby Neal Winters
(This appeared in the Pittsburg Morning Sun in August of 2015)
Movies have layers.  Good ones, that is.  A movie can have action, which is good. They are called movies after all. These are better if they have good characters.  A bit of mystery is good. Then add an element of horror if you are into that sort of thing.  To me, if they make you think a bit, that is good too.  The trouble is that that we are not used to that in so many of our action/adventure/horror movies and it might take you several viewings before you realize there is something else going on.  This is the case with Pitch Black, starring Vin Diesel.
There are some who look askance at Vin Diesel as an actor. This is an easy thing to do. Nature has equipped him physically to be an action hero.  So well, in fact, that it would be difficult to believe him in any other roll.  The only time I’ve seen him even put in a slightly different direction was in The Pacifier, which is Walt Disney.  Yet even for Walt Disney he was an action hero.
Those of you who know his work also know that action hero is not a perfectly precise description.  The role that suits him best is that of anti-hero.  And the anti-hero for which he has been perfectly cast is that of Riddick, who is the central character in Pitch Black..
Riddick was introduced in Pitch Black, released in the year 2000 and now available to stream on Amazon Prime.  The character was so good there had to be sequels, of course, and, of course, the sequels are not as good as the original.  This is not to denigrate the sequels. Quite frankly Pitch Black was a perfect blend of Sci-Fi and horror.  Indeed it is difficult to decide whether Pitch Black is horror movie that uses elements of science fiction or a science fiction movie that veers into horror.  Alien would be an example of the first and Predator of the second.  Like the middle choice in The Three Bears (also a horror story if you think about it), Pitch Black is just right.  It is pitch perfect.
It is a story of sin, redemption, faith, and spirituality in the future. The movie begins as the spaceship has been hit by a meteor shower and is crashing. The captain is dead. The surviving pilot decides to jettison the passengers who are sleeping through their interstellar flight so that she might have a better chance to live, but she is unable to do so.  She says, “I am not going to die for them.” Remember that line.
Riddick is among the survivors.  He is an escaped convict who has been recaptured.  Also surviving are his captor; a muslim cleric and his entourage who are on hadj; an adolescent girl traveling in the guise of a boy; and various others who will be killed in horrendously grisly ways as the movie marches to its climax.
Light is, an ancient symbol of God’s wisdom imparted to Man. We see by His divine light.  The spaceship crashes on a planet (actually a large moon of  a gas giant, but lets not get picky) that has multiple suns. There is every indication that there is never night because of this.
Yet, pulling a device from the Isaac Asimov short story Nightfall, our luckless travellers have crashed just before an eclipse of one of the suns. The configuration is such that they will be sent into total darkness.
This would not be so bad, but they are not alone.  There are some particularly nasty creatures which, in horror movie fashion, begin to reduce the number of our luckless survivors, one by one.
Other things begin to happen which one by one removes their technological advantages.  Soon they have been reduced from the god’s of technology which Man to considers himself to be to prey.
Riddick, who was viewed as pariah at the beginning, has become someone they need, but someone who they dare not trust. He makes no bones about the fact that his primary, perhaps solitary, interest is his own survival.
In one of my favorite parts of the movie, Riddick and the cleric have a conversation in which the cleric says, “Just because you do not believe in God does not mean he doesn’t believe in you.” Riddick replies with words to the effect that he absolutely believes in God and absolutely hates him.
But there are moments to make the viewer question whether this is his final state.  Riddick who is of the opinion that everyone is out for himself sees something which might cause him to question this view, as the pilot, who had been on the point of killing all of the passengers to save herself, finds her redemption.
Only after seeing the movie four or five times, do I realize that, regardless of how interesting a character Riddick is, the move is about her.

(Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at and He invites you to “like” the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook. )