In the year 2000, before the world started standing in line for tickets to the latest “Fast & Furious” film, a genre flick hit theaters. It was “Pitch Black,” directed by David Twohy and starring Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, and Keith David.
The story is set in the future as a spacecraft takes travelers to different planets. On the trip are an Imam and his followers, a merchant, some teenagers, the crew of the ship, and more. Richard B. Riddick (Diesel) is also on board; he’s a dangerous criminal whose eyes have been surgically altered to see better in low light, so he wears goggles in the sun.
The ship crashes on a desert planet that never sees darkness … that is, until an eclipse happens. Darkness falls, and creatures reveal themselves, and they are very excited about snacking on humans.
Though the film had a small budget with some unknown actors, it became a cult hit, spawning a sequel, “The Chronicles of Riddick,” in 2004 and a third film, “Riddick,” in 2013, both directed by Twohy. Not only that, but there was a short animated film, a prequel, a video game, and even a publicity website.
In a 2000 interview with fandom.com (via IGN), Twohy credits the Internet for the popularity of the first film, fueled by the website he helped design.
‘The producers expected more fall-off after the first week’
2000 was still the early days for Internet marketing, but David Twohy explained that was part of the film’s success. He said:
“Internet buzz helped make ‘Pitch Black’ a successful film. The film outperformed expectations — it made $14 million the first week and debuted in fourth place. The next week it was in fifth place and is expected to remain there this week. The producers expected more fall-off after the first week. They thought the film would only appeal to a genre audience. But clearly, we’re pulling in more than just the hard-core science fiction fans. We’re getting a more general audience, more of the thriller audience as well.”
The film ended up nabbing $53 million off of a $23 million budget, according to Box Office Mojo, which is excellent for a film no one thought would do well. It’s also an early story of Internet campaigns. We’re totally used to viral websites, social media marketing, and constant updates from actors and filmmakers, but back then, it was still a novelty.
Give the fans something extra
David Twohy was a big part of the film’s marketing, including helping design the website pitchblack.com. (It’s not around anymore, in case you were about to go look for it.) Twohy told Fandom:
“[The website is] a dramatic video presentation in and of itself. There’s also a 20-page animated comic to go with it. We wanted to attract the fans and give them more than just the usual trailer, the usual scenes from the film. In both the website and in the Sci-Fi channel [now SYFY] one-hour special, there’s original programming that works in the scenes from the film. But both the website and the television special are original works, meant to be creative and to give the fans something extra.”
That last line in Twohy’s quote really stands out to me. For better or for worse, studios and directors have been listening to fans and trying to give them what they want. As a fan, that’s an incredible thing and something that wasn’t really feasible before the age of the web. It can turn on studios, however, with everyone now scrambling to be heard and getting really angry about anything that doesn’t fit with their own headcanon. Still, the sentiment is lovely, despite that. After all, the whole idea is entertaining the fans. It warms my heart a lot to hear a director talk about his campaign this way.