THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK: PITCH BLACK -
Region 2 (UK) Edition - Reviewed by Mark Frost
Vin Diesel, Rhada Mitchell, Cole Hauser, Keith David, Claudia Black
Re-released to coincide with the upcoming epic sequel,
The Chronicles of Riddick. Pitch Black is the original, low
budget exercise in suspense and shocks that is fast becoming a cult
opens with the staple sci-fi shot of a spaceship floating serenely through
space, (not the last time the Alien films will cross your mind
whilst watching). The hyper-sleeping crew are rudely awoken by a meteor
shower which rips through their craft, killing the captain and sending
them off course to crash-land onto the surface of an inhospitable desert
the pieces, the remaining crewmembers, led by the apparent hero-pilot Fry
(Rhada Mitchell), begin to search for signs of life, water and a means to
get off the planet.
their efforts is a mysterious convict named Riddick (Vin Diesel), who
escapes the supervision of mercenary Johns (Cole Hauser), causing panic
amongst the others as dead bodies start to pile up.
The three suns of the permanently day-lit
planet do Riddick no favours - as he has undergone eye surgery in prison
to allow him to see in the dark – and he is quickly captured. But the
passengers’ fortunes take a turn for the worse as a freak eclipse engulfs
the planet, leaving them at the mercy of strange murderous creatures which
only come out in the dark.
fellow passengers now turn to him for help, hoping that his gift for
seeing in the dark will guide them to safety.
the signs are not good for Pitch Black. The characters are
decidedly one-note, having usually just a single character trait to
disguish them from each other, and the script retreads familiar ground
covered by countless films, including the aforementioned Alien. But
what caught my eye before it was released was the name of the director,
David Twohy. I had thoroughly enjoyed two of his previous films:
Timescape starring Jeff Daniels, and the
Charlie Sheen vehicle The Arrival. Both had a marvelous atmosphere,
and treated the high-concept sci-fi subject matter with respect and a
quality is brought to Pitch Black, with an impressive understanding
shown in the scriptwriting and filming conventions of what makes this
genre work on screen. From the ‘anti-hero’ protagonist, to the knowing
casting (The Thing and They Live veteran Keith David), to
People rule of what is not seen is more unsettling – Pitch Black
pushes all the right buttons.
The film is
presented in anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1. The bad news is that this is
the same transfer that was used on the previous release of Pitch Black.
The good news is that the transfer was - and still is - fantastic.
scenes on the planet are hard to call, as the director uses the device of
bleaching the picture in single hues depending on which coloured sun the
character is facing. This stylised look betrays the budget limitations
somewhat, but would disguise multiple sins as far as the picture is
are dispelled as soon as darkness falls. The sharpness of the image is
excellent – achieved with no discernable edge enhancement. The black
levels – essential to this film (hence the title) - are very impressive.
Faces jump out from the blackness, with superb contrast and skin tones.
The latter scenes, which are played out in rain and bright highlights,
look incredible. The layer change, which comes at 61:09, is quite
noticeable as it interrupts the atmos and freezes the action briefly. The
average bitrate is 6.89Mb/s, rarely dropping below 5Mb/s.
soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 format, at 384kpbs. It’s an
impressive track, with energetic steering and good use of the surrounds,
but maybe a touch heavy up front. The meteor shower of the opening
sequence is the best audio workout – which, with a good system, will
Sadly the R2
disc does not include the DTS track of its R1 equivalent, which was
predictably more immersive, with better bass presence and improved channel
separation. Vin Diesel’s tones reverberate just that bit deeper with the
DTS track. Not to worry, the DD 5.1 is more than adequate.
release misses the chance to expand to two discs –what we get instead is a
selection of mostly pointless and sometimes bizarre features.
with the menus, they are massively improved from the plain, badly designed
original release. Now we get a fully animated 3D rendering of the orrery,
the machine used to replicate the movement and alignment of planets in
Pitch Black. It is much more in keeping with the tone of the film than
the previous menus.
An introduction by David Twohy
director, very unconvincingly, is hunched over an editing suite telling
his editor how to cut a scene, before turning to the camera to introduce
us to Pitch Black. Within seconds, he gets off track and goes into
autopilot promotional mode to sell us the upcoming The Chronicles of
me of those awkward clips from the 50’s where stars were called upon to
announce their films to the movie going public. “Hello there, my name is
Burt Lancaster and I think you’re going to love this monument in motion
pictures…” Twohy is wisely cut off here
seemingly in mid-stream, before getting the chance to witter on until the
tape runs out.
Preview of ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’
If you see
this before the sequel, then it is the best feature on this disc –
afterwards it is the most redundant. As it says, the first nine minutes of
the film is presented in all its glory – looking like a cross between
The Empire Strikes Back, Dune and Battlefield Earth. The
clip is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) format, with Dolby
Digital 2.0 audio (at 192kbps).
The game is on
A preview of
the game Escape From Butcher Bay. Narrated by Vin Diesel, this game
looks very impressive and looks to serve as a prequel of sorts to the
original film. This game seems to be the Pitch Black property
gaining the most admiration.
The Johns Chase Log
text-based feature recounting the days before the original film begins,
where the mercenary Johns reads from his diary of how he captured Riddick.
It employs the same visual design and sound effects as the machine
Harrison Ford uses in Blade Runner to view photographs. I can’t see
many people making it to the end of this.
The Chronicles of Riddick visual
This is a
preview of the complete encyclopedia, which will inevitably appear on
The Chronicles of Riddick DVD. If you haven’t seen the sequel, then
the few subjects covered will make little sense. As with the Johns
Chase Log, this feature is narrated by Cole Hauser, obviously a bit
short on his rent that month.
Dark Fury: Advancing the Arc
A sneak peek
at the manga-style animated release, which bridges the gap between
Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick in much the same way
the comic book Chasing Dogma did for Chasing Amy and
Dogma. You’ve just got time to say “that looks pretty cool” before it
A view into the dark
A look ahead
to The Chronicles of Riddick, in which David Twohy talks about the
character of Riddick as the ultimate anti-hero as if it had never been
done before. A few appealing clips of The Chronicles of Riddick
conclude this quick and flimsy featurette.
The Making of Pitch Black featurette
man helpfully informs us that Pitch Black is coming soon, even
though we saw it three years ago. This is nothing more than a fluffy EPK
in which interesting behind-the-scenes shots flash past and talking heads
tell you that you have ‘never seen anything like this before’. Sound
There are two commentary tracks, both
carried over from the earlier release.
track is by David Twohy, Vin Diesel and Cole Hauser.
The director and stars sit back and watch the film with us, occasionally
chipping in with ‘I like this shot’. Not the most engaging commentary ever
recorded but worth listening for several nuggets of interesting
information, such as the reason for the bleaching process was to hide the
bad weather, and that the filming location was the same as used for Mad
they continually discuss scenes that were removed which didn’t go down too
well in testing, including an alternative opening sequence. I can only
wonder why these deleted scenes are not present on this DVD edition, as
they have now had two chances to dig these out.
some distortion on this track, as if a crackling record is revolving in
track is by David Twohy, producer
Tom Engleman and visual effects supervisor
Peter Chiang. The better of the two commentaries,
simply for the fact that Chiang is on hand to
explain the impressive effects devised for the film.
trailers are included, for The Chronicles of
and Van Helsing.
this updated DVD is missing the two theatrical trailers for Pitch Black
that were on the previous release. Also absent are the production notes,
cast biographies and the footage from the Raveworld Pitch Black
omissions are needless, personally I’m glad that Raveworld has been
banished, as this was one of the most tenuous and space-wasting extras
I’ve ever seen on a disc.
is on the way to becoming a modern classic. Moments such as the unleashed
creatures circling in the sky as the purple light fades is as chilling and
effective as anything seen in Hitchcock’s The Birds.
weak and derivative plot is exploited to wring out every genre convention
and expectation, often reversing them, leaving you with an energetic ‘B’
movie better than most ‘respectable’ alternatives.
The disc is
disappointing in that the extras are filler material at best, and the disc
misses out on the R1 DTS track (just as the original UK release did,
compared to the R1 version), but the superb quality of the picture and
sound is what really matters, and Pitch Black delivers.
The Pitch Black Special Edition
is a must-buy for anyone who
doesn’t own the previous release, but it's better to have the US
disc if you want the best available version.
The Chronicles of Riddick - Film Review
Chronicles of Riddick