The magic word for today is “contrivance.”
In Pitch Black, today’s magic word has a special resonance since every element of the film is based on contrivances. What exactly is a contrivance? Well, Mr. Webster defines a contrivance as “an artificial arrangement or development.” All of Pitch Black is artificially arranged and/or developed.
Take, for instance, the story. A deep space vessel transporting passengers and a dangerous convict crashlands on a desert planet, the convict escapes and a perilous game of cat-and-mouse begins while the passengers race to find water and avoid being killed. That’s a story in an of itself. However, the discovery of ravenous subterranean monsters with a fatal allergy to sunlight on a planet with three suns is shamelessly contrived. It gets even better. Our space travelers just happened to crash on the planet hours before a triple solar eclipse that occurs once every 22 years, unleashing the fury of ravenous subterranean monsters, bloodthirsty for whatever creatures are currently residing aboveground.
Conflict would seem intrinsic to the above situation. Not to Pitch Black’s filmmakers, who apparently thought that being gnashed into bits by the Bat Beasties of Sirrus Bakta 5 wasn’t conflicting enough. Instead, they contrived to pit each character against each other with a series of meaningless disagreements, pointless arguments and incessant debates. Note to screenwriters and directors: not every situation needs to have No Exit slathered on top of it.
As though the characters and their limitless bickering weren’t annoying enough, we’re forced to witness precious moments of unimportant and cliched backstory. The backstory couches a disturbingly ham-fisted parallelism between the convict and the monsters, the ship’s captain--guilt-ridden for almost jettisoning the passengers to save her own life--and the mercenary bounty hunter, the convict and the mercenary bounty hunter, the convict and the guilt-ridden ship’s captain, the mercenary bounty hunter and the monsters, and the monsters and the monsters.
Perhaps the only contrivance that actually works is director David Twohy’s visual style, but it’s completely bailed on after the first ten minutes of the film.
Contrivance stars Vin Diesel as the convict, Radha Mitchell as the ship’s captain, Cole Hauser as the mercenary bounty hunter, and Keith David as a Muslim hoodoo man.