#260 Cover feature - Pitch Black

Director David Twohy and star Vin Diesel interviewed by James E Brooks

Also in the issue: Radha Mitchell and Cole Hauser interviewed, and Alan Jones' full review

Pitch Black's shipwrecked survivors

The Dark Age

Pitch Black combines eerie settings and film trickery to produce a truly alien world...

Selected from the new-look,
expanded Starburst #260

Writer-director David Twohy is in top form with the major US hit movie Pitch Black, creating a motion picture that sets a very human story in the midst of an extremely alien world with very alien terrors.

Pitch Black starts in Space, but quickly ends up grounded in completely unfamiliar terrain when a spacecraft carrying a motley assortment of passengers is forced to crash-land. The survivors notice the three suns overhead, apparently baking the world in perpetual daylight. Then they spot an abandoned human colony with no sign of what happened.

Do be afraid of the dark

The mystery becomes clearer, though, when a rare conjunction of the planet and its suns throws the world into complete darkness, letting loose a lethal and nightmarish lifeform whose viciousness has no limit. Young pilot (Radha Mitchell of High Art) is suddenly forced to place the survivors in the hands of a convicted murderer (Vin Diesel, see right) whose ability to see in complete darkness may be their only hope.

The project first came to Twohy as a spec script by the Wheat brothers, from production company Interscope. “I think they wrote two drafts of the script before I got it", says Twohy. "Interscope just felt that there was a good premise there, but that it wasn’t being exploited correctly. I agreed with them. I probably wrote three drafts of the screenplay to get to a shooting version. The Wheats had the broad strokes in place in their script – the desert planet, a big nightfall, the big solar eclipse, and then the emergence of the baddies. But the characters in their drafts weren’t like the characters you end up seeing in the film.”

Rising above the genre

Following his perception that filmed Science Fiction lacks the depth found in other genres, Twohy set out to rise above the standard he saw in such movies. “I wanted to try and do something with the characters that you don’t normally see in a Science Fiction film – I wanted to give the people in the story a character arc. Usually the gold standard of the genre – which would probably be Alien – uses pretty much stock characters that are reactive and don’t really change any from beginning to end. My characters do, though – certainly Riddick [Diesel] does and Fry [Mitchell] certainly does, too.

"Also, [Lawman] Johns’ [Cole Hauser] character has sort of a secretive arc. So I wanted to bring all those things that are the purview of a straight drama to a Science Fiction piece. It’s that kind of character evolution that keeps me interested in a film over the course of the two years that I will be working on it. And if it’s not there, I can’t be interested in it.”

Twohy’s characters don’t operate in a vacuum. Nearly as much a character as the people onscreen is the outdoor setting that gives Pitch Black its eerie setting. For a truly alien look, Twohy and the producers cast their gaze southward to Australia. There, they found Coober Pedy, an isolated town of 2000 last seen as the setting for Mad Max III: Beyond Thunderdome. Its desiccated landscape and odd-looking formations provided everything that Twohy had hoped for in crafting his extraterrestrial tale of survival. “It is the opal mining centre of the world,” Twohy says. “There simply aren’t too many places in the world where you can find a 360 degree view of desolation; this place certainly fit the bill..."

Images © USA Films
Feature © Visual Imagination 2000. Not for reproduction

Vin Diesel

Vin Diesel as Riddick in Pitch Black

Stars as Riddick, who proves to be very different to how he first appears...

At 32, Vin Diesel’s career seems to be following the sort of upward trajectory which will make him the first new star of the 21st Century. Though virtually unknown before Saving Private Ryan, he’s currently enjoying the sort of success which can only come through a rare combination of talent, judgement and good luck.

First, there was The Iron Giant, which won rave reviews that more than made up for its disappointing box office performance, and now there’s Pitch Black, Diesel seems to have a knack for picking the right project.

According to Diesel, the appeal of his Pitch Black character Riddick was that “he’s not the person we expect him to be when we first meet him.” When introduced, Riddick lives up to his reputation as a brutal killer who intimidates the other survivors of the crash, and Diesel heightened this effect by deliberately isolating himself from the rest of the cast. But there’s more to the convict than his menacing first impression.

“When I first read the script, the character jumped right off the pages at me: he was one of the best characters I’d come across in a long time. Anyone who has ever been judged harshly will relate to Riddick.”

Perhaps due to his ambiguous ethnic background, Diesel’s particularly attracted to characters who aren’t quite what they appear at first glance – particularly gentle giants like The Iron Giant. That’s a thread which stretches back to his earliest film roles, in his own movies Strays and Multi-Facial, the latter of which led directly to his role in Saving Private Ryan. After seeing Diesel’s directorial début at the 1995 Sundance Festival, Spielberg created the part of Private Caparzo specifically for the actor.

As a director himself, Diesel knows talent when he see it, and is quick to praise David Twohy’s approach. “He's such a hard worker. He was totally dedicated, and we just felt compelled to stand behind him. He was always there well before we arrived, and was the last to leave at the end of the day.

“He was also very receptive to everyone’s ideas and was prepared to incorporate those ideas – in much the same way as Steven. I feel very fortunate to have worked with Steven and David.”

It's "the first Science Fiction triumph of the new Millennium", says Alan Jones. Get 12 pages of coverage of Pitch Black, when you buy Starburst 260