By Marc Bernardin
Updated October 13, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

There’s a word that you’re not likely to hear in conjunction with your average bloated Hollywood sci-fi flick: economy. Why spend $1 million when you can spend $100 million? Why show one spaceship when you can show a thousand? But for his lean, mean interstellar thriller Pitch Black, director-cowriter David Twohy (The Arrival) trimmed away all the usual flab and turned a bare-bones idea into a chilling example of storytelling economy.

A wounded transport ship crash-lands on a barren, sun-bathed desert planet, and the motley crew of survivors — led by the backup pilot (indie ingenue Radha Mitchell), a Muslim holy man (sci-fi vet Keith David), and a posturing bounty hunter (second-generation genre hunk Cole Hauser) — have to worry about not only the serial killer (buff badass Vin Diesel, from Boiler Room and Saving Private Ryan) who escaped after impact but the lethal land sharks that prowl when darkness falls. Did I mention there’s an eclipse on the horizon? Intense and intelligent, unpredictable and inevitable, Pitch Black is the kind of wise entertainment that James Cameron used to make before he went supernova and John Carpenter used to craft before he went daft. A-