A sci-fi/horror sleeper hit that birthed a franchise and launched the career of a new action movie icon, Pitch Black holds its own today as a nerve-shredding creature-feature in which the monsters outside finally meet their match against a monster within.
When an intergalactic transport ship crashes on a remote desert planet with no sign of help on the horizon, the survivors, led by Fry (Radha Mitchell), band together to find a way back home. Among the passengers is Riddick (Vin Diesel), a convicted murderer being transported by marshal Johns (Cole Hauser) – and now freed of his chains and on the loose. But as a solar eclipse plunges the planet into total darkness, a threat even worse than Riddick reveals itself, and the last humans standing may have to form an uneasy truce with the cunning fugitive (whose eyes have been surgically altered to see in the dark) to last the long night.
Boasting crackerjack direction and a whip-smart script by David Twohy, as well as a star-making performance by Diesel, Riddick’s first outing is freshly unleashed in an illuminating, brand new 4K restoration, with hours of exclusive bonus content.
Arrow Video presents David Twohy's Pitch Black on 4K UHD, delivering the film on a triple-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The film has been encoded at 2160p/24hz and has been sourced fram a brand new 4K restoration conducted by Arrow, which in turn was scanned from the 35mm original camera negative. This disc includes both the theatrical version and the director's cut through seamless branching.
This marks my first review of a 4K UHD Blu-ray disc, and while I have seen several titles on the format, I’m still admittedly feeling my way through things. Still, while I'm trying not to be overzealous about things it’s hard not to be thrilled with what Arrow’s disc delivers here. Both versions of the film look absolutely superb here. The image is incredibly sharp and crisp with an extraordinary amount of detail. You can make out individual stones in long shots of the barren desert landscape along with pores in close-ups of the actors’ faces. Even the stubble on Riddick’s head sticks out. Arrow has smartly left film grain intact and it’s cleanly rendered and natural. Surprisingly, grain can get fairly thick and heavy in a handful of shots, even leading to an odd stippling effect in one quick dark shot, but it remains natural looking.
Black levels and colours are the real stand-out feature here, though. The first half of the film takes place in a fairly bright landscape that is supposed to be lit by three suns. In one direction the light is very hot and orange, and the other direction has a colder, blue look. The look of the film during this portion can be very intense, particularly the blue sequences, the look of which were apparently created using a photo chemical process called “skip bleach,” but it looks amazing. The image comes dangerously close to being blown out during these parts, but it never reaches that. Everything is still sharply defined and clean and the fine details are still visible.
The last half of the film takes place in the dark, and apparently the only light source for these sequences was whatever was onscreen at that moment. These sequences have never looked as good as they do here. The black levels are deep and rich and the range in the shadows is incredible, finer details still visible when allowed. These dark sequences can also have intense lights in the middle of them, and again, like the intense bright scenes, these lights never blow anything out. They’re clean and don’t bleed into the blacks, and some shots involving blue and green lights just look gorgeous because of this. The blacks and the colours are probably the biggest benefits gained from a 4K presentation.
Arrow’s restoration is also incredible, cleaning up things nicely, though I was rather surprised at the number of print flaws that remain. Though really clean most of the time, there are still a surprising number of specs and scratches, even hairs. They’re few and far between but when they’re there they can be clearly visible. Still, the film has never looked anywhere near this good, at least on video, and I was pretty thrilled with the end results. It’s a very sharp, very film-like presentation.
Arrow includes the film’s 5.1 surround soundtrack, presented here in DTS-HD MA. It’s a very sharp, very dynamic presentation, as one would expect for a science-fiction/monster film. Dialogue is clear and sounds natural, and Graeme Revell’s score fills the environment effectively, booming when it needs to with effective bass. The opening crash sound pretty good, with excellent splits, and the monster attacks, which finds them sweeping around the viewer, are impressive. Sometimes it can still be a bit front heavy, the mix not spreading out as much as it could, but it’s still a fun and active mix.
Arrow packs on a lot of material onto this edition, and it looks like they’ve gone to great lengths to make sure they’ve included as much as they can from the previous releases of the film, though some of it probably wasn't worth saving.
The disc starts things off with both audio commentaries that were recorded for the original 2000 DVD editions of the film (the theatrical and uncut versions were released separately): one featuring director Twohy and actors Vin Diesel and Cole Hauser, and then a second track featuring Twohy, producer Tom Engelman, and effects supervisor Peter Chiang. The second track is the far more technical one, going over the production timeline and then going over the design and look of every element of the film. The first track is the looser of the two as the three recount shooting the film, the development of the Riddick character, and how ideas were shared and developed upon between them. There is also quite a bit of talk about editing, making things clearer for audiences, and why scenes were cut from the director’s cut (basically, test audiences wanted to get to the monsters quicker as most of the cuts were done in the first half).
The commentaries are included with both versions of the film, basically edited in a manner to flow seamlessly during the theatrical version where material is missing. Either way, both tracks end up being surprisingly informative and entertaining and are worth listening to if you haven’t done so yet.
Arrow then records several new interviews for this release. Things start off with a new 25-minute in-person one with director David Twohy. He covers some of the ground covered in the commentaries but he does delve more into how he came to the project (after being pigeonholed into being a sci-fi director after a couple of films) and then explains the difficulty in getting funding. One push was for a big star, and Twohy explains they actually did get a big-name interested, but Twohy felt he was “a dick” and he would have rather not made the movie than make it with that guy (he doesn’t say who it was). He also talks a bit more about the area they filmed in (near a “rough” town) and the “skip bleach” process that was performed on the negatives to get the look he wanted (all with a nervous studio looking over him). Impressively the content here doesn’t repeat a lot of the material in the tracks (or elsewhere in the release) and he’s a bit more forthcoming here. The only disappointment is he doesn’t talk about any of the sequels, which I would have almost expected.
There are then separate interviews for actors Rhiana Griffith (12-minutes) and Claudia Black (7-minutes), cinematographer David Eggby (11-minutes), effects supervisor Peter Chiang (13-minutes), and composer Graeme Revell (11-minutes). All of them are products of COVID quarantining as they were conducted over conferencing software, though without the use of video.
Griffith and Black recall how they came to be cast, with Griffith’s contribution probably being the most intriguing of the two since her character was changed around after she had been hired. She was also the youngest and the most awe-struck by the whole production. She was also awe-struck by Vin Diesel himself, recalling that she thought he was the “coolest.”
Before he gets into the film’s score, Revell recounts the unorthodox path that led him to get into music (involving economics and a mental asylum), while Eggby and Chiang get incredibly technical in their interviews, Chiang talking about the mix of practical and computer effects and then Eggby talking about the “skip bleach” process that was done to get the film’s look. Surprisingly, like the Twohy interview, most of the material is new and not covered in the other features, at least to the same extent it is here.
The new material unfortunately ends there (I would have half-expected a Stephen Thrower interview as well, or someone else) but I rather enjoyed going through it. Unfortunately, the new material just makes the mediocrity of most of the remaining material, all taken from older Universal releases, far more obvious.
There’s an archival making-of from 2000 that runs about 5-minutes, which is nothing more than a promotional piece, followed by 18-minutes’ worth of behind-the-scenes footage. The behind-the-scenes footage isn’t terribly insightful, though features some interview footage with Diesel explaining how he wanted to expand the character (this interview was more than likely recorded around the time the sequel Chronicles of Riddick was filmed). Arrow also notes this footage was taken from Universal’s U-Control picture-in-picture feature from their Blu-ray edition, and has just all been edited together here. Having it all here in an edited form just highlights how much of a gimmick features like that can be.
Arrow next groups together features that were made for the 2004 DVD edition of the film, which came out before Chronicles of Riddick was released. Since it's obvious the DVD was only reissued to capitalize on the sequel, it sadly means most of the new features only exist to promote the then-upcoming film. The only worthwhile features here (and I use the word “worthwhile” somewhat loosely) is maybe Johns’ Chase Log and Chronicles of Riddick: Visual Encyclopedia, both of which expand on the world the film takes place in. The latter, running 2-minutes, explains the background of the mercenaries and the prisons, while the Chase Log (which is animated text narrated by Cole Hauser), running 6-minutes, is a recounting of Johns’ long chase in capturing Riddick after he escaped from prison. Somewhat frustratingly, despite how the character is always being touted as a “real bad guy,” he was caught by Johns because he was helping children. The hell??
The other features—an introduction by Twohy (over 2-minutes) and A View into the Dark (4-minutes)—are promos for the sequel, featuring Twohy and others explaining how he wanted to go a different route with the new film. There is also an overview of the plot with clips and that’s about it.
What might be of real interest to fans, though, is the next section, which is devoted to the short animated film The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury, which was only previously available on its own DVD edition released around the time of Chronicles of Riddick. The 35-minute film was made as a sort of bridge between Pitch Black and Chronicles of Riddick, probably to prepare audiences for the very different tone of the new film: Pitch Black is more of a creature-feature while its sequel is more of an action-adventure. This film is a mix of both. Picking up right where Pitch Black left off, the survivors (including Riddick) are picked up by a ship carrying mercenaries. Once they realize who Riddick is, he’s made to prove his worth to them or else suffer an unpleasant form of imprisonment.
The film moves at an okay pace and the animation (a mix of hand drawn and CGI) is serviceable (though I sense a limited budget there). But it suffers from one big problem I have with the sequels: Riddick just isn’t that interesting a character to build a franchise around. It’s mentioned in the commentaries and new interviews that Riddick was added in to the script to lift the script above a generic creature-feature, feeling it gave the film a more interesting angle. And I think that’s true, for the most part, but outside of being an antihero there’s not much else there, and I almost feel the filmmakers felt this way because the third film, Riddick, went back to the creature-feature roots (it was basically Pitch Black with a bigger budget).
It's still a great addition, though, and I think fans should be thrilled at its inclusion. They should also be happy to know that it is presented in 1080p high-definition, a big upgrade since the DVD was (in freaking 2004) NOT anamorphic! On top of that, it also looks pretty good.
Arrow also carries over all of the features from the DVD for Dark Fury, including the entire animatic for the film, which also has the voice acting (though no music or sound effects). It also features Advancing the Arc (a 1-minute intro), Bridging the Gap (an 8-minute making-of) and then a 5-minute interview with director Peter Chung, where he discusses what he loves about his chosen career. There’s also Into the Light, which is really nothing more than a 5-minute promotion for Chronicles of Riddick.
The next section is a curious one, and I both love it and hate it. The reason I love it is because it’s a fascinating bit of nostalgia, but then I hate it because the material is mostly terrible. The worst is Raveworld: A Pitch Black Event, which is literally just 21-minutes worth of footage from a freaking rave promoting the film. The next worst is Into Pitch Black, a 45-minute promotional television film made for the Sci-Fi Channel in 2000. The premise features an investigator looking for Riddick after the events in the film and that’s pretty much it (though there’s a double-cross, I guess). It’s not very good but the low-budget nature (and how it keeps editing in footage from the film randomly) is actually somewhat charming.
The better feature is an 8-minute animated web comic that was featured on the film’s website. The 2000-era web video (which even includes the “next” arrow one would have clicked to continue the video) chronicles how Riddick got his enhanced eyes that allow him to see in the dark. It’s not a great video in and of itself (I mean, does it really matter how he got his enhanced eyes?) but I love that Arrow went to the effort to preserve it because material like this is in real danger of being lost.
The disc then closes with some standard features: three trailers for the film, including the UK one and the American green and red band trailers (I’m actually not sure why it’s a red band trailer, though); the trailer for Chronicles of Riddick and Riddick; and then the trailer for the 2004 video game Escape from Butcher Bay. There is then an image gallery featuring production photos, storyboards (over 170), concept art, and promotional material (including home video).
First printings will also include a booklet, which starts things off with a short intro by Twohy, written for a 1998 draft of the script, explaining how the focus of the film shouldn’t be on the monsters. Simon Ward then writes an essay about the film’s creatures (even bringing up Lovecraft), which is then followed by production notes written for the film (and these may be the same notes that appeared as a text feature on Universal’s original DVD editions). There is then a reprint of a 2000 Starlog Magazine article covering Vin Diesel (featuring an interview with the actor) written by Marc Shapiro followed by more website content: “Black Box Reports” presents a report on the crashed ships black box. Arrow had originally announced that this edition would also feature a slip cover, but due to a printing error (I believe) this is not the case. There is reversible cover art, though, presenting an alternate version of the default cover art.
In all, I’m impressed with how Arrow has gathered together previous material, including website content, but unfortunately most of this material isn’t terribly good. At the very least, the commentaries, the new interviews, and the short animated film, make up for any other shortcomings.
Arrow’s 4K restoration and presentation really delivers in the end, the stronger colours and blacks benefitting the film’s visual style. The archival supplements can be a bit weak, but Arrow’s new content does make up for it. Overall, Arrow makes a very strong 4K debut with this edition.