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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BluRay Review: Pitch Black



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#1 of 6 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted April 11 2009 - 08:32 AM

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Blu Ray Title: Pitch Black
Disk Release Date: 31 March, 09
Rated: R and Unrated on one disk
Screen format: 1080P High Definition Widescreen, 2.35:1
Studio: Universal
First theatrical release: 19 February, 2000
Previous releases on disk: Multiple, including a 2007 HDDVD and several Anamorphic DVD releases
Director: David Twohy
Starring:Vin Diesel, Raoha Mitchell, Cole Hauser and Keith David
Sound Formats: English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 for Unrated Version, R rated cut is English, French and Spanish DTS 5.1
Length: 1 hour 52 Minutes unrated, 1 hour 49 minutes R, on one BD-50
Subtitles: English, Spanish and French



Note: Utilized portions of my review of the Rated R Directors Cut HD DVD review as a baseline for this re-review.

Plot: 4.5/5

Pitch Black is the inaugural film in the Chronicles of Riddick, which now spans two feature films, an animated direct to DVD, and two videogames. 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 surprise 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 off-planet from the rock Riddick, his captors and other space travelers have found themselves stranded on before it’s too late, as the indigenous monsters they find themselves up against can see in the dark and they have been hungry for the last twenty years.

Even if he makes it out alive, Riddick still has the rest of the crew to deal with or its back to the slammer he goes. The rest of the survivors provide a great springboard for Ridding to play against, from Cole Hauser’s drug addled yet deadly bounty hunter Johns to Radha Mitchell’s leading lady Fry. But it is the always superb Keith David who steals the show here as the pious holy man, Imam Abu al-Walid.

I had actually 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. When I got to review this movie in high def on HD DVD I flip flopped on those initial thoughts and today I find myself of a much bigger fan of both the film itself and its terrific visual style.

Even tho the surprise twists that seemed clever on first viewing (if a bit cliché) don’t hold up so well on repeat viewings, and the films coincidence upon coincidence pile up, i found that the best solution is to remind yourself that this is a popcorn action flick, and don’t ask too many questions or take it too seriously. Riddick is now a bonafide franchise for Diesel, spanning several different film genres including horror, jailbreak, action and sci-fi. None of this would have been possible if it wasnt for the success of Pitch Black however, and while it may seem like a mix of other greater films, particularly Alien and Aliens, the story stands on its own and Diesel’s Riddick is the bad guy that audiences can feel so good in loving.

Sound Quality: 3.5/5

On the audio side of the house, while the sound track is not quite as startling as some other recent action films, it likewise 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, Diesels signature growls and one-liners come through in perfect clarity, and while some on HTF have noted a few sequences sounded like they were off center I found that this effect seems to have been intentional as a way to make the sound stage seem wider as many sequences have the cast members traveling in a long caravan type line. Sonically my favorite scene has to be the crash landing, as the visual havoc that plays out on scene is matched by the emotion of the awakened crew and the rush of the violent atmosphere ripping past them. Graeme Revell contributes an under-appreciated score here, with orchestral movements and synthesized sweeps working together to provide a constant backdrop to both the action on screen and the motivations of the principle characters.

Visual Quality: 4.5/5

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 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 a new twist 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 especially given its age and the budget that it was originally filmed on. While I have not compared this version to the HD DVD it looked absolutely great on both my flat panel and on the projector, showing off some grain but looking perfect to the original film elements without any artificial sharpening or damage/pops/scratches showing through.

Extra Features: 3/5

PB adds to the pack of extras that were already available on DVD and HDDVD by adding two new sets of U-Control content, one series entitled ‘Pitch Black Raw’ (which shows behind the scenes sequences including some green screen and other effects shots in new light) and the other a traditional PIP track that has pop up interviews with cast and crew that don’t focus quite as heavily on the effects. A nice addition and all are marked by a chapter selectable menu choice, which isn’t perfect but it works. On the more traditional side we have multiple commentary tracks, a special introduction sequence by Director Twohy, a standard ‘making of’ featurette, A ‘visual encyclopedia’, a look at the animated side story and more, including a look at the first video game. It’s a nice batch and a good sign that Uni is starting to add new content to the HD-DVD double dips!

Overall: 4/5 (not an average)

Pitch Black is an enjoyable popcorn flick in the tradition of Aliens, with some derivative plot points but style to burn. This BluRay amps up the content from the HD-DVD release and should be a lot easier to swallow for those looking for justification on a repurchase. Note that this disk is purchasable in a two-pack with simultaneously released Chronicles of Riddick and together they make a great point-counterpoint regarding the arc of the Riddick story.

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#2 of 6 OFFLINE   Johnny Angell

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Posted April 11 2009 - 04:10 PM

Comments on the board indicating a problem with varying audio levels gave me concern about this disc. Now after reading your review, I am going to reconsider. This is a favorite movie of mine. Perhaps this was a B movie but it reached A status as far as I'm concerned.
Johnny
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#3 of 6 OFFLINE   Ron-P

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Posted April 11 2009 - 06:05 PM

I am one who noticed the varying audio levels, especially during the first half of the film, it's quite noticeable. I've got it ready to return to the store in hopes it's just a bad disc, but others have noticed it as well.
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#4 of 6 OFFLINE   Johnny Angell

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Posted April 17 2009 - 04:25 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ron-P
I am one who noticed the varying audio levels, especially during the first half of the film, it's quite noticeable. I've got it ready to return to the store in hopes it's just a bad disc, but others have noticed it as well.
I just watched the BD and had I not been listening for it, I would have not noticed a problem with the audio. This is, of course, just my take on it, but for an action movie, the actors don't raise their voices very much. As the lead in the movie, Riddick doesn't talk loud at all, even when angry.

I guess I don't think there's a problem at all. The voices are clear and when the voices were low in volume, the characters were speaking that way. If they had boosted the volume of the dialogue when producing the disc, I wouldn't have minded. I will admit that at no point did I feel the need to turn down the volume.

This movie portrays characters under great pressure. The director chose to have them speak with intensity but not with volume.

This is now a buy for me.
Johnny
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#5 of 6 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted April 19 2009 - 08:12 AM

Rereading this thread I wish I had included a 'Recommended' tag on it, so consider it done tho the title won't say it!

Sam

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#6 of 6 OFFLINE   Phil Carter

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Posted April 24 2009 - 02:27 AM

Thanks for the great review, Sam!

I had an odd experience with these films -- saw "Riddick" in theaters and loved it, then finally went and rented "Pitch Black", which I had avoided up till then because of the horror/aliens thing (I still can't watch "Alien" because of all the alien-jumps-out-at-you scenes). I discovered the horror elements weren't anywhere near as bad as I thought they were, and that I actually LOVED the film.

Bought both of them on DVD and loved 'em, and can't wait to see the improved picture quality on Blu. Like you, I think this is a fun summer popcorn flick. No deep statements here, just a fun movie. And that's just fine.

cheers,
Phil
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