‘Pitch Black’ 4K UHD Blu-Ray Review – Vin Diesel Thriller Gets Outstanding New Upgrade

Vin Diesel has not always been the megastar lead of some of the biggest franchises in modern cinema. One of his earliest leading roles was the start of a franchise that continues to remain dear to his heart after all of these years. David Twohy’s 2000 science fiction horror film Pitch Black gave Diesel his first iconic role in Riddick, an antihero criminal who has surgically altered eyes that allow him to see in the dark. The film was a sleeper hit in theaters, and it developed quite a cult following that grew large enough to justify turning this standalone tale into a full-blown futuristic universe. Diesel is an actor who completely invests himself in the characters he originates, and this passion has kept his fanbase coming back for more with each new installment. As we await the long-discussed fourth entry into the Riddick universe, the good folks at Arrow Video have released a newly restored version of the film that started the entire journey. 

Pitch Black takes place in the distant future and focuses on the inhabitants of a spaceship that is transporting passengers in cryostasis. When debris from a comet rips through the ship, the surviving crew members have to make an emergency landing on a nearby planet about which they know nothing. The death of the captain in the chaos thrusts docking pilot Carolyn Fry (Radha Mitchell) into a position of leadership that she is not particularly excited to take up. The passengers are made up of a disparate group of people including Abu ‘Imam’ al-Walid (Keith David), a muslim teacher traveling to New Mecca, a strong-willed teenager named Jack (Rhiana Griffith), a bounty hunter named William Johns (Cole Hauser), and various other prospectors and merchants that make good fodder for the forthcoming nightmare. The most infamous passenger is the notorious criminal Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel), who is being transported by Johns to prison to collect his bounty. The passengers are worried about getting off this new planet that is bathed in perpetual daylight, while also fearing that they are not safe with Riddick around. Little do they know that Riddick will be the least of their problems at the end of the day. 

Pitch Black does an excellent job of getting you up to speed with all of the characters while parsing out interesting nuggets of background information that makes these individuals more three dimensional. Character motivations are stated early on in the film, but their actual actions often reveal something a bit more complicated about what is transpiring between everyone. After a few members go missing, the truth of the planet starts to reveal itself to these survivors; they are on a planet of killer creatures that are being kept at bay by their photosensitivity. Unfortunately for them, they have landed on the planet right when an eclipse is about to bathe the planet in darkness. The only way they might survive is if they trust Riddick to use his killer instincts and ability to see in the dark to get them out of harm’s way and off the planet. The remainder of the film plays out in typical horror movie fashion with passengers being picked off one by one as they try to reach their destination. Even if you can see the basic outline for how things will shake out, it is executed in a way that is pretty thrilling, especially when coupled with the nightmarish creature design that conjures up some hair raising moments. 

What Pitch Black lacks in narrative inventiveness, it makes up for in the other fronts. This film has stronger characterization and performances than many films of this type. Vin Diesel may not be winning any Academy Awards anytime soon, but he is a solid badass as Riddick. Even if they did not originally plan for additional films beyond this one, they gave the character enough nuance that it was clear that more tales could easily be told with him. Radha Mitchell delivers a strong performance as the morally complex leader who has some secrets that haunt her. Cole Hauser delivers a solid performance as the villain you want to punch in the face. The film also excels in its brilliant choices when it comes to cinematography. The film has a very distinct look that kind of throws you off balance as you attempt to acclimate to this unyielding new environment. When you do finally get to the darkness-covered latter half of the film, the subtle touches that are employed to create perspective along with building tension are something at which to marvel. The film may not be a landmark in the genre, but it offers up a pleasing amount of thrills with some engaging characters and mesmerizing photography. Pitch Black is simply a lot of fun, and it comes as great news that it has endured well enough to be given the respect it deserves. 

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Video Quality

Arrow Video provides a brand new 4K UHD Blu-Ray of Pitch Black derived from a restoration of the 35mm original camera negative scanned at 4K resolution. This presentation is simply a knockout from the opening moments of the film. The black levels are especially strong in this presentation, staying deep and inky with great detail. When compared to Blu-Ray, the 4K version allows for more depth, clarity and stability to the image. This is a film with a very particular visual style full of overblown highlights and intentionally bleached images, but this presentation provides the best looking version of that underlying source material. The white levels are pushed to their limits, and they are able to keep the image stable with some excellent use of HDR. The textural detail on display in the film, especially in the ship, is truly miraculous. Subtle patterns in the production design are resolved really well in a way that gives a real definition to certain objects. As one of the first 4K UHD Blu-Ray releases from Arrow Video, this serves as an excellent starting point for a company that is sure to be releasing many more exciting titles in the format in the future.

Audio Quality

This 4K UHD Blu-Ray comes with a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that makes the film extra thrilling. Pitch Black has a lot of great atmospheric effects that engage the surround speakers including mechanical noises and environmental effects. Dialogue comes through clear in the front channel without being overwhelmed by any sound effects or score. The track has a good sense of directionality with sounds always coming from the appropriate channels. The movie is filled with some thrilling moments of action, which puts the low end to work quite often. The Graeme Revell score provides the perfect atmosphere for this mysterious planet, which fills the speakers well. There are no issues with fidelity or damage to the track. This audio presentation is pretty fantastic even without an upgraded audio mix to go along with the video upgrade. 

Special Features

  • Director’s Cut: The disc includes the option to watch the Theatrical Cut or the Unrated Director’s Cut that runs three minutes longer. These mostly consist of small little character moments, so it is really dealer’s choice when it comes to which one you choose. It does not make a huge difference either way. 
  • Commentary #1: Director David Twohy and stars Vin Diesel and Cole Hauser provide a lively track which focuses a good deal on the story and performative elements of the film. Anyone who knows Diesel knows he gets passionate about his films, and that passion comes through in this track. A very fun listen. 
  • Commentary #2: Director David Twohy, producer Tom Engelman and visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang provide a track that focuses more on the technical aspects of the film. This is a stylistically distinct film, and it is interesting to get some insight into how they pulled it off. 
  • Nightfall – The Making of Pitch Black: A newly filmed 24-minute interview with director David Twohy in which he discusses developing the film, his fight to cast Vin Diesel, recruiting the other actors, shooting in the outback of Australia, how they used darkness to their advantage and more. 
  • Black Box – Jackie’s Journey: A new 12-minute interview with Rhiana Griffith (Jack) in which she discusses how the character changed from the script to the film, her experience shooting on location, how much it meant to her to see the finished film and more. This is an audio interview over footage from the film. 
  • Black Box – Shazza’s Last Stand: A new 7-minute audio interview with Claudia Black (Shazza) in which she discusses how she had to fight not to have dreadlocks, her experience with science fiction, the harsh shooting locations, the themes of the film and more. 
  • Black Box – Bleach Bypassed: A new 11-minute audio interview with cinematographer David Eggby in which he discusses his relationship with David Twohy, how he brought the bleaching process to the film, his input on the creature design and more. 
  • Black Box – Cryo-Locked: A new 13-minute audio interview with visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang in which he discusses his background, his approach to creating this new world, how the atmosphere inspired the design of the world, how they developed the creature’s movement and more. 
  • Black Box – Primal Sounds: A new 12-minute audio interview with composer Graeme Revell in which he discusses his background, how he developed his sound working at a mental institution, how his music lends itself to the sci-fi and horror genres, how he tried to tie the music to character arcs and more. 
  • The Making of Pitch Black: A five-minute archival piece that takes a look at the making of the film with the cast and crew. This is not as informative as some of the new material, but there are some interesting on-set interviews that are worth checking out. 
  • Behind The Scenes: An 18-minute archival piece that was originally a picture-in-picture extra on the 2009 Blu-Ray release which gives you the best archival interviews with the main cast members such as Vin Diesel and Radha Mitchell. 
  • Pitch Black Raw: A 12-minute archival piece which gives you a look at the early version of the models, pre-production sketches and visual effects and how they compare to the final product. 
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  • 2004 Special Edition Features
    • An Introduction By David Twohy: A nearly three-minute interview with the director in which he explains how the film connects to The Chronicles of Riddick and how the story has evolved from the horror origins. 
    • A View Into The Dark: A four-minute featurette that likewise talks about the connection of Pitch Black to The Chronicles of Riddick. The best part of this one is the insight provided by Vin Diesel. 
    • John’s Chase Log: A six-minute collection of animated diaries narrated in-character by Cole Hauser that fleshes out the events prior to Pitch Black a bit further in an interesting way. 
    • The Chronicles of Riddick – Visual Encyclopedia: A two-minute look at elements from the film once again narrated in-character by Cole Hauser. 
  • The Chronicles of Riddick – Dark Fury: A 35-minute animated short film which features the vocal talents of Vin Diesel, Keith David and Rhiana Griffith. This is a very entertaining feature that should be essential viewing for any fan of the franchise. This is the first time the short has been available in high definition, which alone makes it one of the best supplements in this package. 
    • Animatic To Animation: A full-length comparison of the initial animatics for the animated property compared to the final product. 
    • Advancing The Arc: A minute-and-a-half look at bringing these characters to life in animated form. 
    • Bridging The Gap: A nine-minute look at why the creative team wanted to tell this story and how it helps broaden the universe while acclimating fans to the current timeline in Chronicles of Riddick
    • Peter Chung – The Mind Of An Animator: A five-minute featurette in which director Peter Chung discusses where he draws his inspiration, what he wanted to accomplish with the film and more. 
    • Into The Light: A five-minute look at expanding the world of Riddick beyond Pitch Black with the cast and crew. This mostly focuses on the events of The Chronicles of Riddick
  • Beyond The Movie
    • Slam City: An eight-minute motion comic prequel created by Brian Murray and David Twohy done for the film’s official website.
    • Into Pitch Black: A 44-minute television special created for the Sci-Fi Network that gives a non-canon look at the investigation into the events of Pitch Black. This features a brief appearance from Vin Diesel, but it is mostly filled with no-name actors. 
    • Raveworld – Pitch Black Event: A 21-minute promotional featurette documenting a dance music event intended to promote the film with appearances from some notable DJs of the time. 
  • Trailers: Arrow provides trailers for Pitch Black (UK Trailer/Green Band/Red Band), The Chronicles of Riddick, Riddick and Escape From Butcher Bay
  • Image Galleries: A collection of production stills, concept art, special effects renderings, storyboards and publicity material. 

 

Final Thoughts

Pitch Black is a film that works really well as a standalone feature, as well as an unexpected franchise launcher for Vin Diesel. The film is not high art, but it is really well made and a blast to just throw on and have some fun for a couple of hours. Vin Diesel puts a lot of passion into the character which does end up elevating the film in the end. Arrow Video has delivered a really stunning 4K UHD Blu-Ray with a top notch A/V presentation and a dizzying amount of special features. Fans of the animated Dark Fury short film will also be glad to finally be able to own that in high definition. If you are a fan of the franchise, this should be considered an essential purchase. Highly Recommended 

Pitch Black is currently available to purchase on 4K UHD Blu-Ray and Blu-Ray. 

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the 4K UHD Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Arrow Video has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

 

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