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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Pitch Black (Blu-ray)
Pitch Black (Blu-ray)
Universal // Unrated // March 31, 2009 // Region A
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Michael Zupan | posted March 11, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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I'm going to be perfectly honest here. I'm not exactly a fan of Vin Diesel's acting abilities, and hell, I haven't even enjoyed most of the films he's been in. We've seen this happen in Hollywood before though, right? Some actor continually underwhelms throughout the course of their career, but sometimes a single role emerges that's bound to solidify their name in Hollywood forever. That role for Diesel was that of Riddick in Pitch Black. Who ever thought a new action icon would emerge from a modern sci-fi action/thriller such as this?

A bounty hunter by the name of Johns is responsible for transporting the most notorious criminal in the universe, Riddick. He's not exactly the kind of criminal you want to follow into a dark alleyway. One of the things that makes the interstellar criminal such a terrifying adversary, is that he can see in the dark perfectly. He had an operation done on his eyes in order to enable such a gift, but he needs to keep a pair of special goggles on at all times, because he can't see a thing in brightly lit areas.

Accompanying them on the intergalactic ride are a few of Johns bounty hunting underlings, antique dealers, the pilot, and a stowaway. Unfortunately, an accident on the ship causes it to crash land on a nearby planet, and when things come to a grinding halt, Riddick is nowhere to be found.

The unknown planet is sort of a mixed blessing for the survivors. Survival immediately becomes the most pressing issue, as the planet is nothing more than a desert wasteland. Finding food and water almost seems impossible. The sandy rock they landed on is lit by three suns, which means wandering out in the desert is practically a death wish. The only bright side to their predicament are the very same suns that seem to curse them, as Riddick's Achilles' heel can be easily exploited, that is if he's found.

A murder is seemingly done by the hands of Riddick, but a little detective work determines there's a nasty horde of creatures that live in a cave system under the planet. They, like Riddick, also seem to prefer the dark. However, a model of the unique three sunned solar system reveals a thirty day solar eclipse is imminent. There's not enough time to fix the ship, and the creatures underground are hungry. This twist of fate turns the hunted into the hunter, as Riddick's night vision is the only thing standing in the way between being lunch, and surviving.

The premise itself isn't exactly unique, and the obvious 'coincidence' linked between Riddick's eyesight and the creatures love of the dark is borderline clumsy. This movie seemed like it would have sounded absolutely terrible on paper, but director David Twohy (The Arrival, Below) somehow made it all work.

I found one of the finer aspects of Pitch Black to be its pacing. The movie starts off with a bang, but slows down to a crawl as everyone is trying to figure out what happened. As time progresses, the Riddick character is used to tease the audience into thinking more exciting things are to come. Other than that, the progression to the solar eclipse that ultimately sends the characters into a world of hurt is fairly steady. Twohy had a knack for feeding the audience a little more excitement each time things were just beginning to get dull. Once the aliens are unleashed from the darkness, the movie turns into a thrilling and stylish rollercoaster of madness.

Once the aliens are able to ascend, it's hard not to like the main characters we're left with. Carolyn Fry, the pilot, is emotionally strong and helps the audience to feel what she's going through. Riddick, well, I really don't have to say much about him, do I? This character in particular is responsible for some of the coolest alien ass kickings we've ever seen in night vision, and he's not afraid to rumble with anything!

Not only are the characters and pacing on point, but the cinematography is pretty sick throughout most of the film. Twohy really brightened up the scenes during the nearly eternal daytime quite a bit, as opposed to making it look as natural as a desert scene from Star Wars or something. The planet is being lit up by three suns, and the different hues that are used for each as they take priority in the sky are beautiful. Once the aliens are able to run rampant and feast, the cinematography is bumped up a notch to present some really fantastic sequences with Riddick.

There's really no doubt about it, Pitch Black could have, and probably should have been an awful movie. If you strip away the perfectly portrayed Riddick and the style the film has behind it, you pretty much get a basic monster flick. Fortunately the right people were behind the camera, as well as in front of it, making Pitch Black one of the few science fiction films since Aliens to do a survival situation against extra terrestrials right.


Video

Encoded at 1080p using the VC-1 codec, the 2.35:1 image for Pitch Black is certainly impressive enough, although it's not quite perfect.

A lot of the film features a ridiculously blown out contrast on purpose, so the audience can further understand the reality of how intense the suns are for the characters. Despite this however, the blacks seem to be nearly flawless during daylight scenes, and the black levels don't crush once the solar eclipse sets. Considering all the tricks that were played on our eyes throughout the film with both extremely light and extremely dark elements, I'm very impressed on how the transfer came out.

The film seems to retain a natural look of grain in many of the scenes that weren't heavily processed, although there are numerous occurrences that have fairly excessive grain. It's hard to judge if the grain showing any compression issues however. I honestly can't tell most of the time if what I'm judging on a still frame is grain or macro-blocking, but I'm leaning towards the latter. It's not going to be noticeable in motion however, and the occurrences I was able to (sort of) detect were minimal. I think the main issue some of these scenes suffer from, are being a little too sharp. This would be from the processing of the film however, as no ugly EE has been added.

The film doesn't look as sharp as some of the other films you'll find on Blu-ray, but there's a lot of detail that can be seen throughout. It's not a perfect transfer, but it's close enough for a film like this.


Audio

The Blu-ray release of Pitch Black includes a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, which will most likely have DTS audio purists rejoice, and it's a much more impressive experience than I was expecting.

I figured it was going to deliver on the bass, but lack in the directionality department. How wrong I was! There's plenty of pleasing moments with the bass as I expected, and the directional field was really impressive. When the aliens come out and start eating people like Ritz crackers, you can hear them everywhere. Even minor sound effects show pinpoint accuracy.

The sound for the effects is pretty dynamic on a realistic level. The explosions and other louder moments of the film will fill the room, but it's never overwhelming just for the sake of being so. The dialogue is also clean and clear throughout all the action, which is a plus.

I no longer have the HD-DVD for reference, but this is certainly a better audio experience than I remember for Pitch Black. The film is all about effect and style, and it's nice to finally have the experience a film like this deserves.


Extras

The first thing you'll notice when you pop this disc into your Blu-ray player, is that you're given the option to watch either the unrated director's cut, or the theatrical. Two additional scenes (not alien bashing related) fill out an extra three minutes on the director's cut, and in my opinion, really don't change the film enough to worry about. My advice is to stick to the director's cut. An introduction to the film by David Twohy is also present on this disc.

Commentary with Writer/Director David Twohy, Vin Diesel, and Cole Hauser - This is an incredibly boring track. You would think with three guys in a room together, there'd be a lot of discussion going on. Unfortunately, it was practically like watching the movie, but with a toned down soundtrack. With how important a role this was for Diesel, and how much stylized work Twohy put into this film, you would think they'd have quite a bit to talk about, and enthusiastically at that!

Commentary with Writer/Director David Twohy, Producer Tom Engelman, and Visual Effects Supervisor Peter Chang - Perhaps these guys had a better chance to bond behind the camera as opposed to the mix of people snoring through the first commentary track. These guys are just down and out excited to be talking about the production aspect of the film, and if you choose one commentary, make this your one and only stop!

The Game Is On - Way to port over an extra that's about a video game from a dead console, Universal! Why not give us an up to date game featurette, since, you know, a new Riddick game is coming out?

Johns' Chase Log - I personally didn't think Johns was a really interesting character, or a believable adversary for Riddick in the least. That being said, you can understand why I didn't find this personal diary of the characters journey to find Riddick to be all that interesting.

The Making of Pitch Black - At only five minutes in length, how can anyone possibly hope to hear the depth they desire in a making of featurette?

Dark Fury: Advancing the Arc - This is an advertisement piece for the animated Riddick adventure that was meant to tie the two Riddick films together. Without Dark Fury appearing on Blu-ray, what's the point of including it on the Blu-ray release? It just goes to show that Universal isn't paying attention. I know people can still get this on DVD and everything, but do we want to settle for that at this stage of the game?

The Chronicles of Riddick Visual Encyclopedia - Once again, we get to hear an in character Johns ramble on. Why not combine this chat with the Johns' Chase Log featurette? Each of these features are only a couple of minutes in length, and if there's one thing that gets tiresome quick, it's returning to a menu every couple of minutes and realize you could have done a better job at the extras design yourself!

A View into the Dark - Yet another promotion for another Riddick product. This time it's for the follow up film.

U-Control - The first feature under U-Control is Pitch Black Raw, and shows the audience in a silent picture-in-picture box, primitive CGI to end result comparisons. The other is simply called Picture-in-Picture, and shows some cast and crew interviews, as well as behind the scenes footage, all while watching the movie. Neither of these picture-in-picture tracks fill the entire length of the film, and you can in fact turn both of these features on at the same time since they don't seem to overlap. This is light-years behind what other studios are showing with their video commentaries. Not only that, but I can't help but wonder why these features weren't combined. If they don't play at the same time, then why not?

All in all, pretty much the entire set of features on this disc are just awful. For the exception of the second commentary track, skip as much of this as possible.


Overall

Pitch Black may have been a primitive concept in storytelling, but boy does it work. The roles of Riddick and Carolyn were perfectly suited for the players that brought them to life. Combine that with fantastic cinematography and unique action visuals, and Pitch Black earns the right to say it's one of the science-fiction monster flicks that got it right. I'm not a fan of Vin Diesel, but this movie completely sold me on the Riddick character, so don't let the name attached to the film scare you away! If you were suckered into seeing the (in my opinion) below average Chronicles of Riddick without catching this flick first, you don't know what you're missing.

The visual and audio presentation for this film isn't the best I've ever seen, but it's far more impressive than I ever could have expected. Unfortunately, the extras are equivalent to taking a dump in the woods, and being expected to wipe with a pine cone... backwards. I definitely recommend this release though, which is a shame, because with some better extras I easily could have given this a higher recommendation.
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