Release Date(s)2000 (March 31, 2009)
Studio(s)PolyGram/Interscope (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: C+
Pitch Black is one of those movies that sneaks in and out of theaters and no one much notices it, until the buzz starts to grow during its release on home video. After having a surprisingly profitable theatrical run in the phantom zone that is February movie season, our introduction to Richard B. Riddick made a bloody fortune on video, leading to a 2005 sequel that is also newly released on Blu-ray.
This first film tells the story of a deep space transport carrying people from all walks of life – pilgrims, children and even convicts – which crashes on a remote, seemingly lifeless planet after encountering a freak meteor storm. Unfortunately, the crash survivors quickly discover that the planet isn’t so lifeless after all and, when the system’s triple suns go into eclipse, the natives come out to play.
For a movie about darkness, Pitch Black is an incredibly stylized piece of work, utilizing strong primary colors as each of the triple suns lighting the world takes the stage before the lights go out. You really feel the heat of the alien desert, and the blown-out contrast only serves to emphasize that you’re standing on a truly alien world. The Blu-ray looks every bit as good as the previous HD-DVD edition, and I would say it actually looks better than its sequel in terms of overall fidelity, at least for the daylight scenes. Once the lights go out, the usual problems of shooting in near-blackness rear their heads, but director David Twohy filmed most of these on stages, and was able to control his light and exposure really well, resulting in some of the best night footage I’ve seen on Blu-ray. When he’s not as successful, the image can start to look a bit smeary, with a little more grain than you might be used to, but this is an actual print issue and not the digital compression. Still, Pitch Black is a low budget movie that doesn’t look it most of the time, and most fans should be pleased with the video quality of this disc.
The DTS Master Audio track is certainly a step up from the Dolby Digital Plus on the HD-DVD, which in and of itself was a boost from the original DTS DVD. On the other hand, the sound field is more front-biased than some mixes, and has less true directionality in the mix that you might expect. Thankfully, the low end is tighter, especially during the pounding drums of the chase scenes, and the dialog is more clear and free of distortion than on previous releases. The overall mix is good, but it does sounds a lot more like an 80s film in terms of sound design than a modern day actioner – not that that’s a bad thing given the genre it’s aping.
Universal has been gifting Blu-ray owners with extras upgrades on their recent releases, and such is the case here as well. New to Blu-ray edition is the welcome Pitch Black Raw Picture-in-Picture track, that shows the original, un-doctored footage (including lots of bluescreen) in a PiP box. One thing that’s missing (that Fox does with their BD profile 1.1 features and that I’d love to see other studios do more) is the ability to allow even profile 1.0 player owners to access the PiP material in full screen apart from the film. Also available is a more standard Universal-style PiP track, in which good documentary footage is cut up to make it interactive during the film. I’ve never been a fan of this, much preferring the long-form features that Universal used to do on their collector’s edition DVDs back in the day. Beyond that, you get commentaries and a number of EPK featurettes from the original DVD. None of it is particularly gripping – Pitch Black has never had really good extras on disc. Missing from the DVD is the Pitch Black Rave Party (I don’t think anyone’s going to cry over it) along with the film’s theatrical trailer (the absence of which is more irritating). The disc also includes both the theatrical and director’s cut versions of the film.
Pitch Black embraces all the things (particularly hiding the monster in the shadows, Alien-style) that make a great classic horror film, the character dynamics from a good slasher film, and an anti-hero that ends up being as charismatic as anyone else onscreen. Riddick acts almost as an amoral observer to the goings-on here, while never turning off the viewer, because you know that he knows what’s right inside... even if he sometimes ignores it. Pitch Black is a modern classic that dares to be different, and succeeds.
- Jeff Kleist