- Jul 6, 2003
The Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 112 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Audio: English - Dolby Digital 5.1; English – DTS 5.1
June 1st, 2004
While writer/director David Twohy’s (The Arrival) Pitch Black does not necessarily break new ground in the science-fiction/terror genre, its “inspired borrowing” from films like Alien makes for a fun and suspenseful movie experience! And thanks to unusually deep character development for an interstellar fright fest, and the amount of effort put into creating a realistic alien world for the characters to get stranded on, this film is more interesting and intelligent than most entries in the genre.
True, some aspects of the plot do defy logic a little bit, and there are some liberties taken with the laws of physics, but no more so than in similar films, and certainly not on a scale that makes the movie un-enjoyable. Better still, Twohy’s writing is generally smarter than what one might expect from a sci-fi thriller, and he very wisely refrains from reaching for goals that he could not attain with this cast, budget, and script. Judging from the final product, he was attempting to create a film that would engage, excite, and frighten viewers, and I think that in that regard Pitch Black is a success.
The events in Pitch Black, unfold at an unspecified time in the future, and open (as most sci-fi flicks do) with a ship making its way through the vastness of space. The particular freighter in question, the “Lucky 18”, is carrying approximately 40 passengers to their destination when debris from a rogue comet breeches the ship’s hull. The crippled ship is ultimately pulled into the gravitational field of a nearby planet despite the best efforts of pilot Fry (Radha Mitchell), and ultimately crash-lands on the planet, killing all but nine of those aboard.
Among the motley crew of survivors are a mercenary named William Johns (Cole Hauser) and Riddick (Vin Diesel), an escaped convict/murderer that Johns has captured. Aside from his criminal past, what differentiates Riddick from the others is his ability to see in complete darkness, and as soon as this is mentioned, you just know the ability will come in real handy later on! J Anyway, after gathering their wits, the survivors search the harsh, barren environment around them, in hopes of finding sustenance, water, or shelter.
When the survivors first set out, the two stars that illuminate the planet hinder their progress, by making the planet’s surface temperature stiflingly hot. Still, they press on, hopeful that once the planet’s twin-suns set, the resulting drop in temperature will make their search less taxing. Unfortunately, the group’s hopes are dashed when the system’s third star peaks out from the horizon, dispelling the notion that there is a “night” on the planet they have been stranded on.
It is at this point that the plot’s only real contrivance emerges, with the group’s discovery that darkness occasionally visits this forsaken world. This phenomenon comes to light when they stumble across an abandoning mining colony, and uncover information about an eclipse that plunges the planet into complete darkness every 22 years. Coincidentally, it has been about 21 years and 364 days since the last eclipse!
Once the eclipse finally veils the planet in shadow, scores of winged nocturnal creatures emerge from nearby catacombs to feed, and boy are they hungry! Luckily for the humans, although these agile, armored creatures are strong enough to cut a person into ribbons in only a few seconds, they do have a weakness…extreme vulnerability to light sources. It is just a question of whether or not the survivors will live long enough to exploit it. The pace really picks up from hear on out, and as the survivors transition from struggling to find shelter to struggling to escape these deadly predators, Fry and the others pin their slim hopes for survival on Riddick and his strange ability to see in total darkness.
Essentially, Pitch Black is a straightforward survival horror story, and to its credit, it never tries to be anything more than that. Other aspects of Pitch Black are anything but simplistic, however, especially its carefully crafted look, which is beautifully realized by the creative special and visual effects work by Peter Chang and wonderful cinematography by David Eggby. In order to realize the desolate, eerie look of the planet, the film was processed with a “bleach” technique, which makes the image appear to be washed out. Pulled off expertly by the filmmakers, this process really creates the illusion that the characters are on an alien world with three suns, instead of in the Australian Outback!
The techniques used to bring the creatures to life (a mixture of CGI effects and puppeteers) are also very well done. Director David Twohy avoided most of the perils of CGI use by keeping most of the CGI creatures away from the camera, by having them fly in packs, and by placing them in very dark environments, so the computer effects are not as noticeable. Conversely, the creatures that appear in close-ups are a blend of CGI and puppetry that sufficiently suspends disbelief.
Finally, as the tension mounts, Twohy does a fair job of keeping viewers guessing which character(s) will live, and whether Riddick will help any of them, right up until the credits roll. As I touched on at the opening, the most impressive thing about this movie is how it does not take itself too seriously or fall victim to the poor writing that has plagued many recent sci-fi action pictures. If you like survival horror, or sci-fi action flicks, you have probably already seen Pitch Black, but if it managed to skip by you somehow, give this film a chance! It may not be the most original film out there, but I believe it has more style and substance than the vast majority of the sci-fi action films that have been released in the past decade or so.
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
In a word, the image quality for Pitch Black is superb, so I am not at all disappointed that Universal did not update the transfer for this re-release! Just as before, the film is presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), and looks very film-like, with basically no compression artifacts or edge enhancement to detract from the film’s unique look.
Blacks are deep and noise-free, which is crucial, since the last 40 minutes of the film takes place in near total darkness. Earlier in the film, whites are brilliant and clean, and colors are also well drawn, which makes the way the different suns bathe the planet in varying shades of light seem eerily beautiful.
The print used is also very clean, with only a nominal amount of specks on it, and I probably would have missed those were I not looking at the image so intently. Finally, the image boasts exceptional sharpness and detail throughout. In short, this is/was a superb transfer of a visually stunning film! Certainly one of Universal’s better efforts!!!
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
This re-release of Pitch Black contains the same excellent, well-balanced surround mixes that Universal endowed it with in its previous DVD incarnation. To be more specific, the soundstage is both huge and ambient, frequency response is wonderful, and dialogue is rendered cleanly throughout the feature.
The surround channels also come into play frequently, particularly during the crash of the spaceship early in the film, and whenever the planet’s indigenous residents are creeping around. Similarly, bass response is fantastic, which means you should be able to “feel” the aforementioned spaceship crash and some of the film’s more frenetic action sequences. I should point out that most of these aurally exciting sequences come during the second half of the film, once the aliens come out of their catacombs. The first half is less aggressive, consisting mostly of dialogue and the score, which is balanced nicely against speech and sound effects.
In comparing the Dolby Digital track against its DTS counterpart, I find the DTS track has slightly more precise imaging, and more pronounced definition of subtle audio details. For me this greater sense of realism intensified the film experience even more. Either choice, however, offers an impressive presentation of a very creative and well-executed surround mix!
Audio Commetary #1
The first audio commentary for Pitch Black (included on the previous DVD) features the musings of writer/director David Twohy, Vin Diesel, and Cole Hauser. Unfortunately, all three of these individuals spend a lot more time watching the film than providing insight into it, so the commentary ultimately becomes an exercise in boredom. Cole Hauser, in particular, does not speak much at all during the feature.
This is really too bad, because when the trio does choose to exercise their vocal chords, their comments are quite interesting. Specifically, Twohy and Diesel provide some insight into the process of capturing some of Pitch Black’sset pieces on film, and pointing out subtle details that viewers may not have picked up on. Occasionally, Hauser will chime in as well, and talk about his experiences on the set while shooting certain sequences. It is during these segments of the commentary, most of which do have something to offer, that one wishes the trio would have been more vocal.
Audio Commetary #2
The second commentary, provided by David Twohy, producer Tom Engelman, and visual effects supervisor Peter Chang, is a far more engaging and informative experience. More specifically, the trio provides a wealth of insight into the technical aspects of the film, including how the unique “bleached” look was achieved. Even more impressively, David Twohy makes sure to phrase things in such a manner that even a nincompoop like me could follow the discussion.
As you might expect, there is also some insight into the film’s themes and characters offered as well. Of the two commentaries, this one is far and away the better one.
An Introduction by David Twohy
In this brief bonus feature, director David Twohy talks a little bit about the differences between Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick, and proclaims that he was not necessarily planning a sequel while the first film was in production.
The Making of Pitch Black
Not only is this “making-of” featurette extremely brief (5 minutes), it is also extremely fluffy! About the only thing that viewers will learn is that the film was shot in a remote area of Australia.
A View Into the Dark
Over the course of a “View Into the Dark”, David Twohy talks about his film Pitch Black, and its anti-hero Riddick, and actor Vin Diesel briefly comments on what it was that drew him to the Riddick character. Subsequently, the duo speak a bit about the mythology of the universe Riddick lives in, and the effort to infuse The Chronicles of Riddick with things that audiences have not seen before.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Visual Encyclopedia
The “Visual Encyclopedia” contains bits of information about:
--- Orrery (a narration the distinction between light and dark)
--- Mercs (a narration about the role of mercenaries)
--- Slam (a narration about the maximum security prisons placed on inhospitable planets)
--- The Chronicles of Riddick (contains concept art, and that the viewers look for the “expanded” encyclopedia on the future The Chronicles of Riddick DVD.
In my honest opinion, this feature is lame (because it is both uninformative and way too short), and definitely not worth the time needed to browse through it!
The Game Is On
This extra is a promotion for the upcoming “The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay” video game (rated M for Mature).
Dark Fury: Advancing the Arc
For less than a couple of minutes, Bret Matthews (writer) and Peter Chung (director) chat about the challenge of creating the animated The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury animated film.
Johns’ Chase Log
“Johns’ Chase Log” is a brief diary of mercenary William Johns’ pursuit of Riddick. There are entries (narrated by Cole Hauser) for 16 days of the presumably 76 days the pursuit lasted for, with the final entry (day 76) being about Mr. Johns and Riddick boarding the Lucky 18 space freighter. All in all, I suppose this does adds a little bit more depth to the William Johns character, and briefly outlines his pursuit of Riddick, but it is nothing to get excited about.
(on a five-point scale)
Movie: :star: :star: :star: :star: 1/2
Video: :star: :star: :star: :star: 1/2
Audio: :star: :star: :star: :star: 1/2
Extras: :star: :star: :star:
Overall: :star: :star: :star: :star:
THE LAST WORD
I really like Pitch Black, and its gorgeous visuals and enthralling soundtrack are rendered splendidly by this DVD. Then again, they were when this film was first released on DVD what seems like ages ago. So where does that leave us? With the extras, of course, some of which have been newly created for this re-release.
In a nutshell, here is the problem. The new extras are just not very informative or interesting! The “Riddick Encyclopedia” is a joke, Johns’ Log is pretty boring, and the previews for the animated Dark Fury and “Escape From Butcher Bay” video game are not what I would call bonus features. Moreover, the “major extras”, i.e. the commentaries, are both available on the previous DVD. As such, if you already have Pitch Black in your collection, you are probably covered, unless you really love the new cover art enough to double dip!
On the other hand, if you are a sci-fi action nut, and have yet to see this film, I really think it is worth a look! And just to sweeten the pot, retail copies of this re-release will include a movie ticket for The Chronicles of Riddick! In consideration of this, I “recommend” this re-release of Pitch Black to those who do not already have the previous copy in their libraries.