Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema: stop touching yourself. Our fearless leader, Brian Salisbury, is taking the week off, so I’ll be your guide through the fat and cholesterol laden cinematic jungle. And I assure you Mr. Salisbury’s absence had nothing to do with that blinding chest pain … he’s probably still alive.
Every week our intrepid host takes you, dear reader, on a perilous journey through a particular film, mocking it like a redheaded stepchild and then pointing out all the reasons it’s cool anyway. To put the bacon on the cupcake (what, you don’t put bacon on your cupcakes?) he’ll finish things off by choosing a delicious, health-defying concoction for you to stuff in your wet mouth. Like Lord Salisbury, I also revel in all the fried and battered goodness that movie history has to offer us and I’m steering this ship in one direction: up! Like the Friday the 13th and Leprechaun films of yore, Junkfood Cinema is blasting right past the shark and into the final frontier of outer space.
That’s right, kids. This week’s target is none other than Vin Diesel Growls in Space with Glowing Eyes aka Pitch Black.
What makes it bad?
Pitch Black’s problems are legion, but let’s start on a basic technical level. In what was clearly a stylistic choice, the entire first half of the movie is overexposed to all hell. Everything in the frame is blown out, supposedly to show how hot and desolate and desert-like the planet surface is, but all it really succeeds in doing is making the audience wish they were watching the movie with sunglasses on. I actually wouldn’t mind this so much if it were ever backed up by dialogue or character actions in any way whatsoever. I don’t think anyone even says the word “hot,” and while there’s some sweat, it’s hardly at the level indicated by the exposure choice. As is, it’s just annoying.
Going hand in hand with the poor exposure is the editing. I’m fairly certain Polygram hired an ADD-riddled 12-year-old boy to cut this film and paid him in cases of Code Red: Mountain Dew. There’s more cutting than a 7th grade girls’ sleepover, and it’s ostensibly a deliberate stylistic choice meant to ratchet up the tension. Luckily someone told them their daddy loved them and the cuts slow down towards the end of the film.
And then there’s Cole Hauser in a role that sounds like it had to have been written for Matthew McConaughey, only he somehow figured out that he wouldn’t be able to take his shirt off and had to pass. They would have gotten Josh Lucas, but everyone knows that Josh Lucas is actually just a McConaughey clone, a cybernetic organism designed to imitate his every move…including passing. So we got stuck with Hauser, who only barely manages to not make a complete ass of himself as he half-heartedly stumbles through his lines. Hauser is about as interesting to watch as melting butter and his performance stretches the limits of mediocrity.
I will say that this movie has some great special effects, mostly CGI that looks pretty good for a movie from 1993. The only problem is Pitch Black was released in 2000, so in actuality the CG looks about two steps above a kid playing around with MS Paint. At least Riddick-vision looks kinda cool, it’s all pink like cotton candy!
Remember the 12-year old editor hopped up on sugar and caffeine? Apparently he was also the scientific advisor on the film. In a bold and dastardly move, Pitch Black decides to one-up Star Wars by having its characters land on a planet with not one, not two, but three suns. Take that, Tatooine! By the time the planet that’s totally NOT Saturn first crests the horizon, our band of misfits has about 5 minutes before
the planet completely overtakes two of the suns. It’s unclear what exactly is blocking the third sun, which was a full 180 degrees away from the other two suns. What is clear is that Not Saturn is traveling at a speed approaching Mach 17. Which is totally possible!
Why I love it?
Two words: Vin Diesel. Say what you will about this quasi-action star, but I love him. Ripped to pieces with a voice that sounds like he gargles battery acid daily, Diesel is clearly the movie’s main attraction. This is a guy that will probably never play a romantic lead, and thus we can almost always look forward to him busting heads and growling a witty retort. AND HE CAN SEE IN THE DARK! Seriously, I’ll watch pretty much anything with Vin Diesel in it. Except The Pacifier.
In all honesty, with the exception of Hauser, the supporting cast isn’t half bad. The lovely Radha Mitchell is at least halfway decent in the role of the reluctant captain, despite the fact that we’re supposed to buy her supposed transformation from cold and calculating to courageous and caring. Thing is she was never uncaring. The decision at the beginning to dump the passengers wasn’t borne out of coldness or indifference to human life, but simply out of basic, rational survival instincts. But since this is the closest thing the script has to a character arc, I guess I won’t complain too much.
Also aboard for the ride, and challenging Vin Diesel for most gravely voice in space, is the great Keith David as a Muslim pilgrim on a hajj to New Mecca. See how the writer cleverly added new? Cause we’re in the future so now there’s a New Mecca. It’s probably on Not Saturn.
And then there are the monsters. Yes, these CG beasts look like smaller versions of the triangle guy from Silent Hill. No, the CG is not good, but tell me the shot where the guy blows liquor through his lighter and finds that he’s surrounded by hundreds of flesh eating alien pterodactyls isn’t badass? You know what, you can’t, because it is.
Junkfood Pairing: Pink Cotton Candy
Whoever came up with cotton candy should be given a medal. I imagine the invention went something like this. You know what’s great? Sugar. If only we could weave it into fluffy deliciousness… Every time the film cuts to Riddick-vision, the screen is awash and bright neon pink, just like your delicious cotton candy. Eat up friends. Your heart will thank you later.