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Pitch Black (4K Ultra HD)
It is hard to believe Pitch Black was released in theaters twenty years ago this past February. I remember seeing the David Twohy-directed film with a buddy and digging it. The early 2000s was not exactly a horror-film renaissance, but Pitch Black is better than much of its contemporary competition. Starring a then relatively unknown Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell and Cole Hauser, Pitch Black offers action, thrills, developed characters and interesting world building. Diesel plays future franchise star Riddick, a witty convict with the survival skills to keep a group of survivors alive after their shuttle crash lands on a planet inhabited by fearsome creatures. Twohy, who also co-wrote the screenplay, understands that less is often more, and keeps the antagonist creatures in the dark for much of the film. Pitch Black may not reach the heights of classics like Alien, but it remains an effective science-fiction thriller two decades after its debut.
Notorious convict Richard B. Riddick (Diesel) remains awake in cryostasis as his fellow passengers on the Hunter-Gratzner shuttle sleep. Aboard are Carolyn Fry (Mitchell), the ship's docking pilot; William Johns (Hauser), a law enforcement officer transporting Riddick to prison; Abu "Imam" al-Walid (Keith David), a Muslim preacher, and his three sons; and several other settlers and vagabonds looking for new homes. Meteoroids strike and damage the ship, killing the captain in the process, and Fry is forced to make an emergency landing. During the frantic descent, Fry attempts to detach the passenger compartment but is stopped by her co-pilot Owens (Simon Burke), who is also killed. Once on the ground, those left alive discover the planet has three suns that keep the surface basked in continuous daylight. Riddick has escaped, and Johns, revealed to be a morphine addict, becomes paranoid. The group stumbles upon the remnants of a previous settlement, including a geological research facility and shuttle with drained batteries. A member of the party is soon killed by an unseen party and Riddick is suspected, but it soon becomes clear that the humans are not alone on the planet and darkness is coming.
Right of the bat, Pitch Black pulls away from the pack of generic sci-fi films with its developed characters. Twohy writes Riddick as cocky but complex; there is more to Riddick, whose eyes were surgically altered to allow him to see in the dark, than is initially apparent. Riddick has dirt on both Johns and Fry and uses it against them, causing them to lash out at each other instead of banding together against the alien foes. The lead performances here are quite good, and the colorful supporting cast does well, too, particularly a young Rhiana Griffith as child survivor Jack. Pitch Black hit the year before The Fast and the Furious, which made Diesel a household name. Although he had a small part in Saving Private Ryan and led the excellent Wall Street drama Boiler Room, this film was my introduction to the actor. It is clear from his Riddick performance why Diesel became a star, as he commands the screen throughout.
Twohy fought Universal and largely won on the issue of revealing too much of the photosensitive alien creatures. These aggressive killers are capable of flight and have distinctive, sharply contoured heads with vicious bites. Keeping these creatures literally in the dark for much of the film increases the suspense in the finale, when much of the action is seen through Riddick's altered eyes. The film also excels at making its $23-million budget appear much greater. The action is fairly impressive for the budget, and the cinematography from David Eggby, of Mad Max fame, is often hypnotic. The Riddick character ea ed two more films, The Chronicles of Riddick and Riddick, that made him an action star, but Pitch Black works perfectly well as a standalone film. Nicely shot and acted, Pitch Black offers plenty of thrills and a surprising amount of dramatic heft, making it one of the better science-fiction efforts of its era.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Previously available on Blu-ray from Universal, Pitch Black makes its 4K debut from Arrow Video with a remastered 2.35:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer from a native 4K source and offering Dolby Vision and HDR10. Per the set's included insert booklet, the original 35 mm camera negative was scanned in 4K resolution, and Twohy supervised the color grading. This is a substantial improvement over the previous Blu-ray release, and the 4K transfer offers excellent fine-object detail and texture. There are some really cool colors and shading in this film, and the transfer handles these, including spots of extremely high contrast grading, expertly. The interior of the shuttle in the opening scene offers excellent detail, and the image has that 3D pop viewers expect from mode cinema. Outdoor landscape shots are crisp and deep, and every pore and spot of blood is visible in character close-ups. The film's grain is refined and looks good in motion; gone are the pesky edge halos of the previous releases. The HDR pass offers bold, nicely saturated colors, inky blacks, and impressive shadow detail. A couple of nighttime sequences do present grain spikes and some black crush, but I suspect this is an inherent source issue.
I am not sure if this 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, with optional English SDH subtitles, is recycled from previous releases, but it is largely effective. Dialogue is crisp and clear, without crowding or distortion, and the score is layered appropriately. The mix does offer effects panning to the surrounds during action sequences, and ambient effects also make use of the entire sound field. The mix feels a bit more front-loaded than 2020 surround mixes, but the initial crash sequence and climax with swarming aliens are sonically impressive thanks to substantial LFE support.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release is packed in a clear, slightly thicker 4K Ultra HD case. The artwork is reversible between blue and orange-tinted images, and the included insert booklet offers technical information, an essay and production stills. Arrow has also released a remastered Blu-ray version of Pitch Black, but, as has become the norm for them, that disc is available separately and is not included in this 4K release.
Arrow includes both newly created and legacy bonus content, making this a comprehensive set. The disc includes the option to watch the theatrical cut (1:48:06/4K) or the director's cut (1:51:45/4K), with additional character development. You get an Audio Commentary by Director David Twohy and stars Vin Diesel and Cole Hauser and an Audio Commentary by Director David Twohy, producer Tom Engleman and VFX supervisor Peter Chiang, both of which appeared on earlier releases. Nightfall: The Making of Pitch Black (23:51/4K) is a newly shot interview with Twohy; Jackie's Jou ey (12:02/4K) is a new interview with actor Griffith; Shazza's Last Stand (7:14/4K) is a new interview with Claudia Black; Bleach Bypassed (13:00/4K) is a new piece on the effects and color processing, with remarks from Eggby; Cryo-Locked (13:00/4K) offers recent remarks on the VFX from Chiang; and Primal Sounds (11:28/4K) offers new insight from composer Graeme Revell.
Archival bonus content includes The Making of Pitch Black (4:46/HD), Pitch Black Raw (11:38/HD), which originally appeared as picture-in-picture content on the older Blu-ray release; an Introduction by David Twohy (2:24/HD); A View Into the Dark (4:05/HD), which connects this film to the sequel; Johns' Chase Log (6:08/HD), about events that occurred before this movie; and Visual Encyclopedia (1:42/HD). Next, you'll find The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury (34:48/HD), which his an animated sequel that connects this film to The Chronicles of Riddick and its own supplements: Animatic to Animation (32:45/HD); Advancing the Arc (1:29/HD); Bridging the Gap (8:31/HD); Peter Chung: The Mind of an Animator (5:03/HD); and Into the Light (5:04/HD).
Next up are Slam City (8:04/HD), a motion comic; Into Pitch Black (43:55/HD), a SCI-FI Network special; Raveworld: Pitch Black Event (20:37/HD); a host of Trailers (13:35 total/HD); and Image Galleries.
David Twohy's Pitch Black has erned its following since it debuted in 2000. This Vin Diesel-led science-fiction thriller offers great action and surprisingly strong characters. Arrow Video has now released a definitive 4K Ultra HD edition, with an excellent transfer and numerous supplements. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.