• Pitch Black (Arrow Video) 4K UHD Review

    Pitch Black (Arrow Video) 4K UHD Review
    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: September 1st, 2020.
    Director: David Twohy
    Cast: Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, Keith David, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, Claudia Black
    Year: 2001
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    Pitch Black – Movie Review:

    A reasonably low budget (the picture was made for twenty million, which is low by major studio standards!) sci-fi/horror film shot in the middle of nowhere in Australia, David Twohy’s 2001 film Pitch Black wound up doing quite well at the box office and has since seen two follow up movies (one live action, one animated) and a couple of video game spin-offs.

    The film follows a few passengers on a space ship that crash lands on a remote planet devoid of any obvious life forms. The survivors of the crash – a devout Muslim named Abu al-Walid (Keith David) and his two young travelling companions, the ship’s pilot Carolyn Frye (Radha Mitchell), a pre-teen named Jack (Rhiana Griffith), a woman named Sharon (Claudia Black), an antiquities dealer named Paris Ogilvie (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), a bounty hunter named William Johns (Cole Hauser) and his captive wanted criminal, Richard Riddick (Vin Diesel) – find themselves in pretty dire straits. There isn’t any water and there’s no one around to help them and on top of that Johns has got the entire group convinced that Riddick, who has killed a few people in his time and who has had his eyes surgically altered to allow him to see in the dark, will slit their throats.

    When some strange creatures make themselves known and the survivors find that a lunar eclipse is going to throw the entire planet into a blackout, it looks like they only way they’ll be able to get off the planet alive is with Riddick’s help, and time is definitely running out…

    While the film became a success and launched a fair bit of ‘Riddick Mania’ by way of cash in’s and spin offs, Pitch Black itself is a really lean, efficient, no bullshit horror movie. It’s refreshingly low concept – it’s really little more than the story of a group of people trapped in the dark and surrounded by monsters – and it cuts right to the chase making no apologies. Riddick is a complete bad ass in the movie, making for one of the coolest anti-heroes of the last few years, and Vin Diesel, love him or hate him, is awesome in the part.

    David Twohy may have gone on to make a bit of an ass of himself - ranting about the high concepts that he had for the character and generally taking everything way, way, way too seriously - but with this picture he really did do a fantastic job. The picture is tense, exciting, and technically impressive and while it borrows from Aliens at times, it’s scary and fun. The bulk of the characters may be as thin as paper but the setup is good enough and the tension thick enough that you probably won’t care that you don’t really get to know anything about anyone. What makes the movie work is the unsettling relationship that develops between Riddick and everyone else left alive on the planet, and how those relationships twist and turn as he becomes the only one who can save them. This keeps us pretty happily on the edge of our seat for the better part of the picture and it all leads up to a solid and fairly unexpected ending.

    The follow up film, The Chronicles Of Riddick, was a bit of a misfire but Pitch Black is still a rock solid thriller and it holds up surprisingly well even if some of the digital effects look dated by modern standards.

    Note that like Universal before them, Arrow Video has included both the theatrical cut and the unrated cut of the movie on this Blu-ray release, the differences being that the unrated cut has three minutes of character extension bits thrown in that really don’t change much at all.

    Pitch Black – 4K UHD Review:

    Pitch Black comes to UHD in a 4k transfer framed at 2.35.1 widescreen in an HEVC / H.265 encoded 2160p with HDR10 and Dolby Vision enhancement and it looks pretty damn good. Detail and color reproduction, particularly in the picture’s many very dark scenes, is considerably improved over the older Blu-ray and DVD editions and there’s quite a bit more detail to take in here as well. Texture is quite impressive, particularly in the scenes that are devoid of digital effects where you can really appreciate the wardrobe and set design on display, while black levels look nice and deep throughout. There are no issues with any noticeable noise reduction or edge enhancement and the picture is free of visible compression artifacts. A natural amount of film grain is visible but there’s virtually no real print damage here to gripe about, the elements used were clearly in very nice shape in that regard. Flesh tones look very good too. While the color tinting in some scenes softens things up maybe just a tad here and there, that’s how the film has always looked – and was intended to look – so it’s kind of dumb to complain about that. Overall, Arrow has done a very nice job here, Pitch Black looks really good on UHD, here’s hoping we see more releases from them on this format in the future.

    The English language 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, in the film’s native English, sounds pretty kicking! Optional subtitles are provided in English only. It would have been nice to get an Atmos track included here but the DTS-HD offering, even if it doesn’t take full advantage of the format, still provides a very impressive and immersive surround sound experience. There’s a lot of rear channel activity, particularly with the placement of the score and the effects work but also with the dialogue as well, and the levels are nicely balanced throughout the film’s running time. There are no problems with any hiss, distortion or sibilance and the strong low end will give your subwoofer a bit of a workout during a few key scenes.

    Extras start off with the first of the two archival commentary tracks that have been ported over from past home video releases. In the first track, Vin Diesel, Cole Hauser and David Twohy periodically talk about their work on the film but just as frequently sit in front of the mics with little or nothing to say. There’s a lot of dead air present in this track, which is unfortunate. The second commentary, with Twohy, producer Tom Engleman and SFX guru Peter Chang is much more interesting as it features a constant, steady stream of discussion about the picture. It’s got a bit of a technical slant to it which might put people off but those who really want to know what went into making the picture should enjoy this talk, as it gets pretty in-depth in spots and is a genuinely interesting talk overall, though Twohy comes off as pretty pretentious at times.

    There are also a lot of new featurettes included exclusively on this release starting with Nightfall: The Making Of Pitch Black, a newly filmed interview with director/co-writer David Twohy. In this twenty-four-minute interview, Twohy covers getting his break in the film industry, his appreciation for sci-fi movies, the dichotomty of Riddick's character and the arc that the script explores, making the film in Australia with a twenty-million dollar budget, dealing with the studio and some of the disagreements that they had, casting the film, what he was looking for when scouting locations, the importance of the use of color in the film, what it was like on set and qutie a bit more.

    Black Box: Jackie's Journey, a newly filmed interview with actor Rhiana Griffith that runs twelve-minutes and starts with her talking about how she got into acting after a string doing modelling as a kid. She then talks about her training, early auditions, getting the part in Pitch Black and what it was like on set, getting along with the cast and crew on the shoot, her thoughts on her character, the harsh landscape where the movie was shot, the use of technology in the movie and how everyone worked together behind the scenes to bring it all together.

    Next up is Black Box: Shazza's Last Stand, a newly filmed interview with actor Claudia Black that runs just over seven-minutes. Here she talks about auditioning for the film after the lead role had already been cast and securing the role of Shazza during the audition. She talks about Twohy’s vision for the character, her thoughts on genre films in general, how cold it was on set during the shoot, doing television work in her career, her thoughts on the importance of Vin Diesel’s work in the picture, the effects feature in the movie and her thoughts on the movie overall.

    Cinematographer David Eggby is up next in the new Black Box: Bleach Bypassed, a featurette that runs eleven-minutes. He talks about how he got to know Twohy when they both worked on Warlock, Twohy’s knowledge of astronomy and photography and its importance on his work, working with him to ensure that he got the visuals that the director wanted for the feature, the trickiness of shooting so much of the movie ‘in the dark,’ the use of fiber optic cables in the picture, thoughts on the creature design in the picture and how while this was a tricky shoot he enjoyed every second of it and how it wound up being a nice boost for his career (even if he remains better known for shooting Max Max, and rightly so).

    Black Box: Cryo-Locked is a new thirteen-minute interview with visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang who starts by talking about the influence of Star Wars on his love of film and effects work before then going on to talk about how he came to work with Twohy, the creature design featured in the picture and the work that was required to bring the designs to live on a somewhat limited budget, the differences between working on the creature effects versus the environmental effects versus the spaceship effects, needing to sell the idea that this story takes place on a very unusual planet, some of the tricks that he used in his work on the picture, having to give the actors enough ‘information’ for them to respond to when working with digital effects, using miniatures on the film and more.

    The last of the new featurettes is Black Box: Primal Sounds, a new interview with composer Graeme Revell that runs just over eleven-minutes. He talks about becoming a musician by accident after not making it as an economist and working in a mental asylum! There he started a music therapy class, got into making industrial music and learned to work with minimal means to create soundscapes, getting to work on Dead Calm and The Crow, connecting with Twohy and working with him to get what he wanted into the score for Pitch Black, the specifics of scoring for science fiction, his thoughts on the creatures used in the movie and the way they’re depicted on screen, his involvement in the pre-production process, having to pair things down for the shoot, the influence of the silent era on his scoring work, how the ‘sound’ of the creatures wasn’t sorted out until late in the post production process and how happy he is with the way that the movie turned out given its budgetary limitations.

    From there we move on to previously seen The Making Of Pitch Black, which is an all too brief segment that lets Twohy, his cast and some of the crew members talk very briefly about the movie. It’s way too short to be of much use. A second archival piece, simply titled Behind The Scenes, carries over the picture-in-picture material that was included on the 2009 Blu-ray release from Universal Studios. It’s made up of eighteen-minutes of cast and crew interviews as well as a nice selection of footage shot on set during the making of the movie. Pitch Black Raw, which is taken from the second picture-in-picture track from that aforementioned 2009 release, shows off twelve-minutes of comparison footage contrasting early CG tests and the final footage from the film, along with some interesting test footage and the like.

    Arrow has also included a bonus feature here in form of 2004’s The Chronicles Of Riddick: Dark Fury, the animated short film that was directed by Peter Chung that bridges the gap between the events in Pitch Black and the events in The Chronicles Of Riddick. Presented in 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen in standard definition with English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and optional English subtitles, this thirty-five-minute movie opens Riddick (voiced by Vin Diesel) and the two other survivors of Pitch Black, Jack and Imam, in a spaceship. They soon run into some problems when Jack (voiced by Rhiana Griffith) and Imam (voiced Keith David) are abducted by some bounty hunters, led by Junner (voiced by Roger Jackson), that answer to a woman named Antonia Chillingsworth (voiced by Tress MacNeille). Riddick learns what happened and soon figures out that Chillingsworth has a strange hobby: she collects criminals from across the galaxy and turns them into statues! Given Riddick’s infamy, it only makes sense that she’d want to add him to her collection. It’s a decent enough short worth checking out.

    There is a separate set of extras included for this film, starting with Animatic To Animation, which is the entire thirty-five-minute feature presented in animatic form without any voice or music overtop. It's interesting to see for a few minutes but anyone outside of hardcore animation junkies will probably want to watch the entire movie in this unfinished form. Advancing The Arc is a ninety-second piece with writer Brett Matthews talking about how this piece connects the two features. Chung appears here as well and we get a little bit of behind the scenes footage from the animation studio. Bridging The Gap is a nine-minute piece that is a very clip-heavy, promotional behind the scenes piece that features minimal input from Chung. More interesting is the five-minute Peter Chung: The Mind Of An Animator piece, where he's interviewed briefly about his interest in animation, how he got involved with it and what inspired him. Into The Light is a quick five-minute piece where Twohy shows up and offers his thoughts on the characters in the movie.

    Carried over from the 2004 special edition release are Johns’ Chase Log (a surprisingly dull piece in which Cole Hauser narrates his chase of Riddick to the point where we meet up with them at the beginning of the movie), The Chronicles Of Riddick Visual Encyclopedia (more narration from Johns over top of a glorified still gallery), a brief introduction from David Twohy and A View Into The Dark is another promotional piece, this time talking about how awesome the film’s sequel is (it really doesn’t have much to do with Pitch Black).

    The Beyond The Movie section contains three separate extras, starting with Slam City, an eight-minute motion comic created by Brian Murray and Twohy for the official Pitch Black website way back when. Despite the fact that the animation here is a product of its time and the 2001-ere web, this is kind of cool. Into Pitch Black is a forty-four-minute TV special that the Sci-Fi Channel made to promote the film when it hit theaters. Vin Diesel reprises his role as Riddick in this piece, in a 'non-canon' story where he investigates what happened in the movie. It was obviously made on a pretty modest budget and honestly isn’t very good but it’s interesting to see it included here for the sake of completion. The basic premise is that a cop is asked by his superior to find Riddick alive with some help from a female bounty hunter who quickly ascertains that something isn't as it seems in terms of what happened when Riddick and the others were stranded on the planet in Pitch Black. This section also contains a featurette called Raveworld: Pitch Black Event that shows off twenty-one-minutes of footage from a dance music even that was put on to promote the film. There’s lots of footage here of DJ’s doing their thing, clips from the movie, dudes with glow sticks and laser light shows.

    Rounding out the extra features the UK, green band and red band trailers for Pitch Black, a trailer for The Chronicles Of Riddick, a trailer for Riddick and a trailer for the X-Box game Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, four different image galleries, menus and chapter selection.

    Note that as this review was based on a test disc, we can’t comment on any physical aspects of this release. Maybe it’s got great packaging and a rad booklet, maybe it doesn’t.

    Pitch Black – The Final Word:

    Pitch Black is a really solid sci-fi/action/horror hybrid that offers plenty of thrills and features some pretty solid acting from the principal cast members. Arrow has done a great job bringing it to UHD with an excellent transfer, strong audio and a whole lot of extra features old and new.

    Click on the images below for full sized Pitch Black Blu-ray screen caps!