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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 10/10/00



Pitch Black

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Pitch Black

Pitch Black
2000 (2000) - USA Films (Universal)

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A-/C-

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A/A+

Specs and Features

109 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 59:00, at the start of chapter 10), Amaray keep case packaging, director/actor commentary (with director David Twohy and stars Vin Diesel and Cole Hauser), effects commentary (with Twohy, producer Tom Engelman and VFX supervisor Peter Chiang), "behind the scenes" featurette, 2 trailers, production notes, Raveworld.net Pitch Black "event" video, cast & crew bios, film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 EX & DTS 5.1) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English



Pitch Black: Unrated Director's Cut Pitch Black
Unrated Director's Cut - 2000 (2000) - USA Films (Universal)

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A-/C-

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A/A+

112 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:02:38 in chapter 10), Amaray keep case packaging, director/actor commentary (with director David Twohy and stars Vin Diesel and Cole Hauser), effects commentary (with Twohy, producer Tom Engelman and VFX supervisor Peter Chiang), "behind the scenes" featurette, 2 trailers, production notes, Raveworld.net Pitch Black "event" video, cast & crew bios, film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 EX & DTS 5.1), subtitles: English and French


You know, there's nothing I like more than a savvy little Sci-fi thriller. A Sci-fi flick that's smart, with some great effects (low-budget or not) that doesn't pretend to be anything more than what it is. That's Pitch Black in a nutshell. The plot is simple as all get out. A freighter is travelling through space with its crew and passengers in hypersleep, when it accidentally passes through a comet's tail and suffers a series of hull breaches, which kill its Captain. The ship is knocked off course, into the atmosphere of an alien planet, and it's docking pilot, Fry (played by Radha Mitchell), manages to crash-land the ship in such a way that 9 of the 40+ people on board survive (in one of the coolest special effects sequences I've EVER seen on film). So there they are, stuck on an alien planet with limited supplies and little hope of rescue - pretty bad right? Well it gets worse. One of the passengers who survived is a psycho-killer escaped convict (played by Vin Diesel) who was being transferred back to prison... and now he's loose somewhere. But that's not even the worst of it. The planet is routinely bathed in the light of the system's three stars, but it seems that once ever 28 years or so, an eclipse plunges it into complete darkness. And that's when the shit hits the fan... because the planet's only major life forms are nasty little creatures with razor-sharp claws and teeth that only come out to play in the dark - think fast-flying piranhas and land sharks quick as cheetahs. How's that for a cool premise?

Pitch Black was co-written and directed by none other than David Twohy, who previously wrote and directed another nifty little Sci-fi flick, The Arrival. Twohy also helped to pen the screenplays for G.I. Jane, Waterworld and The Fugitive. One of the reasons that this film is so effective, is that Twohy keeps it nice and simple, and he knows that what you don't see is infinitely more scary than what you do. You're only really asked to buy into one plot contrivance - the fact that the ship just happens to crash on the day before the 28-year eclipse. Otherwise, it's a pretty straightforward "survival of the fittest" yarn. I was also surprised at the depth of each character - these aren't the most well-rounded characters you'll ever see, but for this type of flick, there's more to each character than meets the eye. The special effects are excellent - particularly the creature effects. These aliens are some strange little mothers, straight out of Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials. The acting also isn't half bad. Mitchell plays her character very well, and though I've never been a huge fan of Vin Diesel, I really liked him here. And the pair are backed by a good supporting cast, which includes Claudia Black (of TV's Farscape), Cole Hauser and Keith David.

On DVD... well, let's talk good first. There are two versions of Pitch Black on DVD - an unrated director's cut and the theatrical version (we'll get to the differences in a minute). On both, the anamorphic widescreen video is very nicely rendered, with excellent contrast and black level detail (a good thing, because more than half of the film takes place in the dark). There's some very light film grain visible, but only minor artifacting and edge enhancement. My biggest complaint would be that the film looks a little soft at times. But the color is really excellent, which is important, as much of this film was developed using a "skip bleach" process to simulate the high-contrast, blue-red light of alien suns. The audio is even better. This disc includes a very good Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, which is full of atmospheric and directional audio effects and tricky panning - again important because, given the darkness, much of your impression of what's going on around you (particularly with the alien creatures) is based on subtle sound cues. The low frequency in the mix is excellent, dialogue remains clear at all times and composer Graeme Revell's nifty score is well represented. Both versions of this disc also include a terrific DTS 5.1 soundtrack, which really opens up and intensifies the experience. The ambiences, creature sound effects and panning are more natural and subtle, without losing their punch. And the crash sequence that starts the film? It'll rock your sound system but good. This is one of the best DTS soundtracks I've heard in a while, ranking right up there with another new Universal title, U-571.

Both discs also feature the same extras, which are largely lame-ass. This is a film that absolutely deserved collector's edition treatment from Universal, but what you get leaves you wanting. There are two commentary tracks, one with director Twohy and stars Cole Hauser and Vin Diesel and the other with Twohy, producer Tom Engelman and VFX supervisor Peter Chiang. The effects commentary is interesting at times, but is pretty tech-talky. The actor commentary is also interesting, but it's VERY low key, owing to the laid-back personal demeanors of Diesel and Hauser. I had a hard time sticking with both tracks. I'm glad I did, because these are ultimately good commentaries - it's just you don't want to listen to them if you're in need of a nap, because you'll be asleep by chapter 2. The disc also includes a pair of good trailers for the film. But that's the end of the good on these discs. The 5-minute, EPK-style featurette sucks and the Raveworld.net piece turns out to be nothing more than a crappy 20-minute music video made using poor-quality video footage of a trio Pitch Black-themed rave parties. Why Universal thinks fans of this film would care about it is beyond me. Where's the special effects featurette on the crash sequence? Where's the creature effects featurette? Where's the gallery of production artwork? I mean, there had to have been a million things that Universal could have included on this disc. This is a MAJOR missed opportunity in my book. And that Raveworld.net thing is definitely on my list of worst all-time DVD extras. Yikes!

Now... as I said, there are two different versions of this film. Here's the difference: the unrated director's cut includes about 3 minutes of additional footage - two new (but brief and non-violent) scenes and MAYBE a few additional seconds of carnage. The difference are slight. The unrated director's cut also omits the French Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track that the theatrical version has (but it has French subtitles which the theatrical version doesn't have - go figure). Near as I can tell, those are the only differences. I definitely recommend the director's cut.

I really enjoyed Pitch Black in the theaters and it really looks and sounds great on DVD. Sadly, with the exception of the commentaries, these extras are about as interesting as watching paint dry. But what can you do? The film is still well worth checking out and there's no better way to do that than on DVD. Pick it up expecting a fun little Sci-fi thriller and that's exactly what you'll get.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


Pitch Black (unrated)


Pitch Black (R-rated)


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