Pitch Black

Pitch Black (1999)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Vin Diesel, Cole Hauser, Radha Mitchell, Keith David
Extras: Introduction, Commentary Tracks, Video Commentary, Featurettes, Side-by-side Comparisons, Interviews, Animated Film

"Pitch Black" is certainly not the most original horror-in-space movies out there, but it does have its redeeming qualities, and even more so when you watch this dark, brooding movie in high definition.

The movie takes us to a ship traveling through deep space with all its passengers in a cryo-sleep. Suddenly it is hit by shrapnels, debris from a rogue comet, ripping apart the vessel's hull, forcing the re-awakened crew to make an emergency landing on an undisclosed planet. Crashing the ship in the barren landscape of the planet, a mere handful of the passengers survive, including Riddick (Vin Diesel) a convict who was being transported to a high security correctional facility. Always keeping him under lock and key, his bounty hunter, Johns (Cole Hauser), tries to make sure Riddick has no way of escaping while the remaining survivors try to scour the desert planet for water and other means of survival. But Riddick does break free and disappears into the baking desert, sending ripples of terror through the survivors, as Johns tells them that Riddick is no ordinary criminal but a murderous killing machine. As soon as the first survivors turn up dead, everyone naturally suspects Riddick – until he is captured once again and explains to them that there is something much more dangerous lurking on this planet than him. "It is not me you have to be afraid of," he says, and in fact there are creatures living under the planet's surface, in the dark, afraid of the light, hungry and waiting. Not a problem, because with three suns, this planet never sees a normal night… and then a solar eclipse sends the planet into the darkest blackness imaginable!

While I enjoyed "Pitch Black," the fact remains that it is just another monsters on the loose, stalking and killing a group of herded-up humans film. Formulaic in some ways, the film nonetheless entertains and manages to keep viewers excited for a number of reasons. A big part of it is, no doubt, the remarkable cinematography of the movie that creates images that do seem otherworldly. From the bleached look of the desert environments that change hue with the change of the suns to the natural looking indoor shots, the film always creates an atmosphere that puts the viewer right there.

The film is well-plotted and paced, and gives you a fun ride as you guess who's going to be the next victim, dazzling viewers with some rapid and gruesome visuals when these deaths occur. It is exciting and entertaining all the way to the end, spectacularly translated into images and put into motion. Not novel, but certainly thrilling and dazzling.

Which brings us to the high definition transfer that Universal has prepared for this Blu-Ray release. And once again, dazzling would be the word that springs to mind. The presentation is brutal in many ways, rendering one of the most detailed images I have seen. Throughout the movie, the high definition manages do not only capture the movie's film-like look, but also to bring out a level of detail in the image that is spectacular and no-doubt adds to the overall experience of the film as it makes it look like a million bucks. Whether it is the desert shots, the interiors of the space ship or other locales, the costumes or the close-ups, the picture is thrilling you with subtleties that you might never have seen before – certainly not on DVD. Razor sharp at all times, the image also has a color reproduction and contrast that is remarkable. Colors are strong and vibrant, making sure they come across just as the director desired with vivid hues that are free of banding, noise or other artifacts. The contrast is staggering. For a film like "Pitch Black" in which many key scenes play in the dark and in which it is essential that the viewer can see into the shadows at times in order to see that and what is moving there, this high definition presentation is perfect. Every nuance in the shadows is perfectly rendered, adding to the suspense of the film as the dark is ominous and menacing. You always see enough to know that something is going on, but not enough to make out exactly what it is that is lurking there. Director David Twohy must be thrilled to see how reliably this transfer restores his film. Coming in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, "Pitch Black" is one of those films you have to see to understand what a difference high definition can make in the movie viewing experience in your own home. A showcase presentation through and through, it works so well, not only because it is an action film but also because it treads familiar territory so remarkably well making it fun to watch.

The audio on the disc is presented as an explosive and staggering DTS 5.1 HD Master Lossless track that will blow your mind. This track is brutally in-your-face with a wide frequency response and a deep bottom end. For best effect, surrounds are engaged almost constantly, but interestingly, the mix is not as overtly going for the cheap overpowering effects you might initially expect but instead opts to create an active soundstage that is realistic in its dynamics. With the uncompressed audio stream, the release ensures that you hear every tiny nuance and subtlety in the mix with absolute accuracy. Unlike many other action movies, even the explosive moments are not distorted and create a natural sounding presentation at all times. Dialogues are integrated perfectly and are always understandable even when whispered.

This Blu-Ray version also contains all the extras found on both of the previously released "Pitch Black" DVD versions. It starts out with David Twohy's introduction to the film and is followed up by two commentary tracks. The first one features writer/director David Twohy, actor Vin Diesel, and actor Cole Hauser. It is a bit disappointing that this rather weak commentary track has been recycled for the fourth time or so by now without having been replaced by a better track that offers more insight and maybe some "growth" as 10 years have passed since the making of the movie. Essentially the information on the track isn't bad, there just isn't enough as the track has a lot of gaps and silent moments.

The second commentary track features David Twohy, producer Tom Engelman, and visual effects supervisor Peter Chang, which fares significantly better as the conversation is much more lively and covers exciting aspects of the production while trying to make them accessible and understandable for everyone.

You will also find the "Chronicles Of Riddick Visual Encyclopedia" here as well as "Johns' Chase Log," the "Making Of Riddick" and "A View Into The Dark." All of these are featurettes covering various aspects of the story and adding a lot of background information the setting and the world of Riddick. Since the character is being extrapolated into a franchise, with the first sequel "The Chronicle Of Riddick" already being available, this makes a lot of sense to give fans a better understanding of the origins and intentions of the material. Especially "Johns' Chase Log" helps in that respect as it enters the universe at a point before the film, while "Dark Fury: Advancing The Arc," an animated film on the subject, adds further to it.

There are also some new bonus materials on this release, not found on any of the previous releases, such as the high definition "Pitch Black Raw" feature, giving you side-by-side comparisons to number of the special effects shots in the movie, comparing different stages of completion.

Also new on this release is a picture-in-picture video commentary track with interviews and additional behind-the-scenes footage.

With the BD Live enhancement viewers will get access to even more bonus materials through the Internet.

"Pitch Black" is what I thought it would be, an aliens-stalking-human-prey flick that is dark and explosive. But it is fortunately a bit more, as the story and in particular David Twohy's direction ensure that the material never feels tired or simply rehashed. It is a solid movie full of thrills that moves at breakneck speed at times, and one that barely gives you time to catch your breath. Best of all, on this Blu-Ray Disc you will be simply amazed at what you see, as the image and audio are pristine, detailed and amazingly rich. Check it out! It is a must-have disc for all scifi/horror action fans.