On the face of it, Pitch Black is not too different from any of a hundred clones of Alien (1979) a small group of people pitted for survival against a horde of black wasp-like creatures. (If anything, Pitch Black reminds of Screamers (1995) in its setting). However, in execution Pitch Black might be the best of all Alien clones. Unlike almost all other Alien clones, Twohy focuses on character as much as he does the central menace. Rather than the faceless complement of victims, Twohys line-up includes a serial killer, a drug-addicted bounty hunter, an Islamic priest, a girl runaway pretending to be a boy and the groups leader who starts by making the decision to kill the entire passenger list and does not want the position of leadership she is thrust into. The nearest we come to a cliché character is Simon Burkes antique dealer who is mostly played for prissy comic relief. Each character is given a set of flaws and secrets that the situation uniquely brings to the fore. Moreover, the group is cast with unknown faces, something that makes being able to guess who is going to survive a lot less sure. Of course, the character that ends up captivating is Vin Diesels serial killer. Diesel, who subsequently went onto become an A-list name on the basis of Pitch Black, gives a performance that seems to itch with the contained lethality of a prowling tiger. He is well served by David Twohys terse, tight dialogue and the character, its ambiguities and the situation that Twohy sets up with the group dependent on trusting him for survival, becomes utterly compulsive whenever Diesel is on screen.
Pitch Black is one of the few science-fiction films that create a believable alien world. Far too many science-fiction films are too conceptually lazy to ever do anything other than use an Earth-like setting. Twohy never goes as far as having a completely non-Earth like atmosphere but location shooting at the desert mining town of Coober Pedy in Australia the same locations used in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) and Red Planet (2000) provide a unique look. Twohy bleaches the colour out of the frame to create a sense of arid desolation under alien suns and there is one breathtaking effects shot with the various suns sinking behind the other planets into eclipse. Perhaps if one is to be a stickler they might wonder how an alien species like this might viably work in such an eco-system why evolution would favour a species that is allergic to daylight on a world that only sees nightfall every 22 years and what prey such a species might find to survive on on such an arid and lifeless world.
David Twohy does an intensive job directorially. Barely five minutes into the film, he has one riveted to their seats with an enthralling adrenalin-charged crashlanding sequence. The scenes with Vin Diesel stalking various cast members around the planet are intensively sustained he sneaking up behind Radha Mitchell with a knife, only to anticlimactically cut a lock of her hair; John Moore shooting a survivor thinking it is Riddick, only to move out of frame and reveal Diesel sitting on the lookout post in the background. Indeed, it is a disappointment when Vin Diesel stops hunting and joins the group. The night journey across the planet hunted by the creatures that are only kept at bay with the circle of torchlight is beautifully sustained. David Twohy has the ability of a great science-fiction writer to take one basic situation and compound it by putting as many twists on it as possible one character scrambling after a dropped object wrenching the luminescent cables out plunging them into darkness, the arrival of rain putting out the flares and so on. The characters in the film are never allowed a moments safety or respite. This is the way all science-fiction films should be.
Both David Twohy and Vin Diesel returned with two mostly worthwhile sequels, The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) and Riddick (2013). Twohy also oversaw a 30-minute animated short film The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury (2004), which explains what happens to Riddick between the first two films.