Pitch Black is the new Alien

There once were two brothers named Wheat; who had an idea for a film, a good film; a modern version of Alien, only set on a planet, with a human anti-hero who made the new monsters look like Miley Cyrus.

This idea was taken up by a director named David Twohy, who has done pretty much nothing since. He 'contributed' to the script and directed Pitch Black with cheesey flourish. He then kicked the Wheats to touch and produced a sequel that was such a non-sequitur to the first film that it was offensive. However, somehow, Chronicles of Riddick was a moderate success, spawning an animated feature set between the films (that wasn't bad) and two games.

The first film was set in an Alien-style near-future, where people still spoke and acted like we do. They talked about Paris on Earth, their drug addicts took morphine, some of them were Muslims and, if you look very closely, they even still drank Jack Daniels.

Twohy, however, followed this up with a film that was a cross between Star Wars and Dune, where the main protagonist somehow turned out to be an alien version of Conan The Barbarian and Judi Dench played an alien who could turn into mist.

If you haven't had the misfortune, give it a miss, please. One the other hand, you really should track down Pitch Black. Yes, it's a B-Movie, yes it has some cheese at times, but it's also a classic film. It's best known for launching the career of Vin Diesel, and, whilst he can't act, he looks and sounds perfect; and is backed up by a cast who put more into the film than you'd expect for a low-budget scifi. Claudia Black went on to great things in Farscape and Stargate, while Radha Mitchell continues to impress with parts in offerings like Phone Booth and Silent Hill. Elsewhere, most of the cast are Neighbours and Home and Away rejects, which makes their performances' quality all the more interesting.

The plot concerns the passengers and surviving crew of a spaceship that crashes on a dead world where something evil is lurking in nearby caves that may not stay there when the sun goes down. Their only hope is a vicious escaped multiple murderer who was being returned to prison on the ship, as he is the one thing worse than the creatures; if he doesn't turn on the survivors first.

The effects are pretty, if not completely realistic, but still way above what you'd expect from a film of this budget. The design of the creatures is impressively original for an Alien rip-off, if not completely plausible, and the atmosphere is oppressive and tense. Above all else, the characters are fleshed out, with actual multiple dimensions and development, and they react in pleasingly-realistic ways. Along with some nifty scifi touches, like chemical-glazed eyes that see in the dark, but require the owner to wear eye shields at all other times, it has the complete package.

Controversially, I'd say it's up there with the over-rated first Alien offering that it takes inspiration from, but only bother with Chronicles of Riddick if you must witness just how far from the Pitch Black it stumbles.  

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