Title: The Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black
Rated: Unrated Director’s Cut
Screen format: Widescreen 1080p/480i/480p 2.35:1
Studio: Universal Pictures
Year first released: 200
Previous DVD releases: Multiple prior Rated R and Unrated releases
Director: David Twohy
Starring: Vin Diesel, Raoha Mitchell, Cole Hauser and Keith David
Sound Formats: Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 and DD 2.0
Length: 1 Hour, 52 Minutes
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Pitch Black is the inaugural film in the Chronicles of Riddick, which now spans two feature films, an animated direct to DVD, and a videogame. Richard B. Riddick is the series’ antihero protagonist, one mean motor scooter who makes no bones about his violent past or his commitment to only himself. Besides his brawn, stealth, fighting ability and capability to break out of just about any prison, Riddick has one other handy trick, surgical implants allow him to see in the dark. Which is handy, since Pitch Black finds Riddick stranded on a planet destined to be in the dark for a while. And on this planet, baaaad things come out at night. In Pitch Black, it’s a race to get airborne again before it’s too late, and - even if he makes it - Riddick still has the rest of the cast and crew to deal with or its back to the slammer he goes.
I had originally seen Pitch Black on standard def cable, and not been too impressed with the visuals, but had liked the story. While it was released on DVD, I never picked it up but was suitably impressed with the audio and video of the sequel (which is awkwardly named The Chronicles of Riddick with no subtitle) on DVD and on HD Cable. Seeing this movie again, in high def, I flip flop slightly on those initial thoughts.
The visuals in standard def actually made me like this movie less than it deserved on the first go around. In standard def (and in chopped full screen!) the visuals seemed to be a bit low budget, and while the "high contrast look" worked, it just looked like it was done cheaply. In high definition the effects are truly breathtaking, showing no sign that this feature was budget constrained. The signature high contrast in the stark sunlit sand really gives it a sharp look and shows off that the artistic range that was pushed by both the director’s and cinematographer’s vision. The action sequences in the dark planet surface and the deep space vehicle shots (especially the crash!) give a nice counterpoint to the burning sun shots. The bottom line is that this is a really gorgeous looking film.
On the audio side of the house, while the sound track is not quite as startling as some other recent action films, it holds its own. Particularly in the action sequences, we’ve got some real nice deep rumbles and while there isn’t a constant use of a full sound stage, there is effective use of all 6 channels for pan effects when appropriate. Of course, Diesel's signature growls and one-liners come through in perfect clarity.
Unfortunately, the surprise twists that seemed clever on first viewing (if a bit cliché) don’t hold up so well, and when coincidence upon coincidence pile up, the only solution is to remind yourself to not ask too many questions or take it too seriously. As those who jeered my review of Doom will attest, I've got a higher tolerance for suspension of disbelief than many. If you can get past the leaps of logic, Pitch Black is an enjoyable popcorn flick in the tradition of Aliens, with some derivative plot points but style to burn.
For this Quick Look I haven’t had a chance to go through any of the extras, but they seem to be near identical to the previously released Unrated DVD version but fit into the standard HDDVD “Always Available” menu system. So, if you’ve seen them there you won’t get any new surprises. One strange thing to note is that while the other studios have chosen to give a nice splash screen that uses artwork for the film in these menus, Universal has chosen to use an animated Universal Logo. More evidence that despite the delays getting HD DVD and Bluray to market that there was a lot of rushing going on.
This HD-DVD release is probably one of the best choices Universal could have selected, its not their most high profile release but it has great sound and video quality, plus they have a history of adding new content to it already, and the consumer is expecting a bigger and better release down the road as the tech matures. Grab Pitch Black to show off the capability of HD-DVD, but don’t be shocked if there is another more feature packed release down the road, probably in time to coincide with the inevitable Chronicles of Riddick 3.