While it might be Corner of Film’s latest Hall of Fame inductee, Pitch Black is far from a perfect film. It may have become a cult hit and spawned its own franchise, but it’s certainly not without its issues.
However, all things considered, Pitch Black is one of the greatest sci-fi horror films out there. With regards to its concept in particular, it makes for one of the best mash-ups of science fiction story with unsettling thrills, and it does so on a small budget using the limited capabilities of its time’s CGI.
With regards to its visual effects, Pitch Black hasn’t aged well. Its CG space scenes and computer-generated monsters look decidedly unconvincing when viewed through the lens of modern cinema, however, putting that aside, the intention of the film is spot on. It immediately sets about creating a large-scale sci-fi universe, only to abruptly cut it short and highlight just how vulnerable humans still are.
Pitch Black doesn’t waste any time elaborating on its universe with endless exposition, it simply states its facts and moves on. It’s as much a tale of survival in the face of disaster as anything else, with its cast coming up against a monstrous alien threat as they attempt to survive a crash-landing on an unknown planet.
While Pitch Black‘s alien monsters may not be rendered in the best CGI, the concept of the creatures works spectacularly: pterodactyl-like beings who hunt using echolocation and have a severe aversion to light. The survivors’ discovery of an impending month-long eclipse is a horrifying moment that kicks the film into high gear, and as the light begins to die, Pitch Black ramps up its tension.
By having two thirds of the film take place in low-light as the survivors struggle to keep the creatures at bay, Pitch Black both lives up to its name and offsets its technical limitations. The actual visuals of the film are generally good – set on a desert planet with three suns, Pitch Black benefits from interesting direction and cinematography that sets it apart from other sci-fi.
Ultimately, it’s a film with a number of shortcomings, but the biggest were all factors well beyond the film’s control. In creating its tension regardless (and introducing a number of interesting characters along the way), Pitch Black sets itself to become far greater than the sum of its parts.
Summary: Despite its issues, Pitch Black is a well-realized sci-fi horror that explores interesting ideas and introduces a fascinating (and deadly) universe.
Highlights: The survivors hiding out in the wreckage of their crashed ship and using light to fend off the creatures is perfect sci-fi horror.