This month, Arrow Video is releasing a lot of its titles in 4K ultra HD. Among them is the 2000 classic Pitch Black, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and which has since spawned a multimedia franchise centred on its antihero, Riddick. To celebrate, STARBURST had the chance to talk to Pitch Black star - and legendary actor - Keith David, who reprised his role of Abu 'Imam' al-Walid in the sequel The Chronicles of Riddick. With 320 acting credits spanning over 40 years, David is one of the most prolific figures in genre entertainment, making his name in John Carpenter’s The Thing and They Live, as well as lending his voice to an array of animated characters. We borrowed a brief moment of David’s time to talk about his memories working on Pitch Black, how he feels it compares to roles he has had since, and why he thinks it continues to have such an appeal.
STARBURST: We’re here talking about the 20th anniversary of Pitch Black. Looking back, what's your fondest memory of making the film or watching the film?
Keith David: Oh well, I have great memories of making the film. I remember that there was so much of the film that was done in post. I never saw what the monsters looked like. When you’re making that kind of sci-fi, there’s a lot of simulations and things that you know definitely get taken care of after the movie after the main photography has been shot. So seeing it all put together was exciting. It really was. That’s one of the things that still fascinates me about the movies - angles. It only has to appear a certain way. It doesn't have to necessarily be that way. And the way people do their movie magic never ceases to amaze me
Did you approach your role in any particular way? Did you go in with any particular mind-set for it?
Well, I’ve played many priests and preachers, but I'd never played an Imam. An Imam… I guess he’s like a bishop in the Muslim community. So I started doing a lot of research on Islam, and it was quite wonderful a lot of the things that I discovered. Of course all the major religions share a commonality; and that's one of the things that I discovered was the commonality of our different belief systems. It was very interesting to me that both in Pitch Black and in the sequel, the enduring religion in the end was Islam. That’s the one that went out into space. Which only goes to show you how dangerous and wrong it is to lump a people into a generality, because you've had some bad experience with Muslims and whatever society, then you know you blanket them as all bad people because most Muslims are very, very peaceful people.
Why do you think the film, which has went down as a classic as many of your films have, has retained such a loyal following? What do you think fans of the film continue to get out of watching it?
I mean it’s a great ride. The one thing I learned doing The Thing… Kurt Russell, Richard Masur, and Charlie Hallahan - they were all quite big sci-fi buffs. I think if I remember correctly, Kurt might have done some script doctoring at some point. They knew craft-wise about scriptwriting and especially with science fiction, it’s the case of ‘I’ll believe anything you tell me as long as you keep with the premise that you set up’. You have to be honest to the story. Once you've set up a promise then, as long as you're true to that, we’ll go along for the ride. The movie only starts to break down when you start saying ‘well, the monster does this, this, and this’ and then all of a sudden he starts doing other things. And sometimes even that can work depending again on the premise that you set up. In a bad hokey movie, it just falls apart and you say ‘ah that’s not what you said in the beginning.’ But other times, if you see the way they can make adaptations, you kind of go ‘oh, wow. That’s why he was able to do that’ and you get that feeling. But here, I think we stuck pretty much with what the premise was and that was it. That's a good thing, you know.
Movies we enjoy the most are those like you were just talking about, that manage to take something that on paper can feel so fantastical and unbelievable and managed to convince you that not only is it genuine but it matters. Coraline, where you voiced the Cat, was one of this writer’s favourite films growing up. And that I think is a really good example. It took something that on paper seems so wildly imaginative and it makes you care deeply about it because it only goes as incredible and out there as it needs to, to keep you on board with it. At least that's how I've always looked at that film. Is that why you think Pitch Black still has a lot of fans? They keep getting something out of it and appreciate its fantastical elements?
Yeah. It's like when you read a book again, and when you see the movie the second, the third time, you always see something that you seem to have missed the first time. In your periphery, in your mind, you'll say ‘I remember seeing that, but I didn’t realise it meant that’. It’s quite a wonderful feeling. When you can look at it and still get something else out of it.
How do you think the role compares to others you've had in the past. We know you said you've played a lot of preachers of the equivalent of preachers in your career - Greenleaf recently finished up - so how does it compare?
Well, first of all, I got to explore what it was like to speak English as a second language. That was a task I set for myself because I think Abu’s native tongue was Arabic. So in Pitch Black, I got to experiment with a little bit of Arabic. And it’s funny because I had an uncle who I think he was stationed in Morocco when he was in the air force. So when he came back he spoke a little Arabic. So I enjoyed that part of it. Whenever I hear Arabic spoken now, I keep my ears tuned and sometimes think ‘oh, I can say that’ or ‘I know that.’
Has much of it stayed with you?
Some of it has. I’d have to go back and review my notes!
You were, of course, in the follow up as well, The Chronicles of Riddick, which was in terms of the scale anyway a much bigger film since Pitch Black proved to be a hit; bigger budget, more visual effects… how is it taking the same character back, knowing that you have the success of the first film to build on and that the new film had a lot more weight and money thrown behind it?
It was great to see how they expanded the story; people growing up, people growing older, you know? I understand that they [Vin Diesel and David Twohy] are coming up with another one. I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to be in it except maybe like Obi-Wan Kenobi coming back as a ghost or memory or something, which would be nice. I love the way they fit him back in, and keep him woven into the story. So it would be interesting.
Looking ahead, as we mentioned earlier Greenleaf has finished up recently. Will we get to see that show in the UK?
If you haven’t seen it yet, it should be coming soon. It’s on Netflix.
Some other things you have coming up include The Seventh Day and Horizon Line. Are you able to tell us anything new about that?
I’ll have to keep The Seventh Day closer to the vest right now. What I can say right now is that it’s coming. Horizon Line… that one should be coming out soon too. So just look out for it, it’s coming out.
Lastly, what do you think the most important thing about Pitch Black is now it has been rereleased? If someone was to watch it now for the first time, what would you want them to think?
That there are more things out there. To quote Shakespeare, ‘there are more things in heaven and earth… than are dreamt of in your philosophy’. So, be aware. Because there could be things out there that you didn’t count on.
That’s the joy of a science fiction movie.
Yeah, that is the great joy of science fiction, because it is as real as your imagination.
The Ultra HD 4K and Blu-ray of Pitch Black are available now. Check out our review here. All five seasons of Greenleaf are now available on Netflix UK.