Modern classic: Pitch Black

Taking a look back at the production that unleashed Riddick.


“I think Pitch Black celebrates a real hero,” said Vin Diesel to Sci Fi Weekly on the film that launched his career, and on the character that he has continued to be associated with throughout it. “I don’t think we’ve had a complex and dynamic protagonist in a long time, and what’s interesting about this film is that the character who I play, Riddick, starts out as a criminal. He starts out as a convict and, within this small core of survivors, is subject to the prejudices and all of the judgmental stuff that goes on in society in general. But the survivors are forced to depend on this convict, and that raises an interesting question: When push comes to shove, do you rely on the killer?”

It seems that Diesel isn’t alone in his estimation of the character, which has so far spawned a sequel film revolving around him, two videogames, an animated feature and several cameos in other properties. Where it all started, however, was Pitch Black. The film revolves around a commercial transport vessel that crashes on a planet due to its passing through the tail of a rogue comet while the crew were cryogenically frozen for the trip. At first, the survivors think that the biggest threats to their existence are their water supply and the escaped serial killer, Riddick. However, after several of their number die, it becomes clear that something else stalks the world, something that only comes out at night. With the advent of a total eclipse, the film changes from a slow-paced exploration of science fiction into a tense and harrowing horror film, where the group is inexorably picked off one by one.

To create the sense of isolation necessary for a film of this type, the cast and crew made the not-insignificant exodus to the remote town of Coober Pedy in the Australian outback, located roughly 526 miles from Adelaide. “Coober Pedy was very overwhelming to see, let alone shoot in,” said Diesel on the commentary track for the film. “I like it, you know. It’s good for focus but there’s really nothing out there except for kangaroos and rocks. It gets to your head a little bit.” The location had, of course, been previously used for films such as Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, but it wasn’t the desert that proved to be some of the largest pitfalls on the set.