Region 2 (UK) Edition - Reviewed by Mark Frost

DirectorDavid Twohy

Starring:  Vin Diesel, Rhada Mitchell, Cole Hauser, Keith David, Claudia Black


Re-released to coincide with the upcoming epic sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick. Pitch Black is the original, low budget exercise in suspense and shocks that is fast becoming a cult favourite.

The film opens with the staple sci-fi shot of a spaceship floating serenely through space, (not the last time the Alien films will cross your mind whilst watching). The hyper-sleeping crew are rudely awoken by a meteor shower which rips through their craft, killing the captain and sending them off course to crash-land onto the surface of an inhospitable desert planet.

Picking up the pieces, the remaining crewmembers, led by the apparent hero-pilot Fry (Rhada Mitchell), begin to search for signs of life, water and a means to get off the planet.

Hampering their efforts is a mysterious convict named Riddick (Vin Diesel), who escapes the supervision of mercenary Johns (Cole Hauser), causing panic amongst the others as dead bodies start to pile up.

The three suns of the permanently day-lit planet do Riddick no favours - as he has undergone eye surgery in prison to allow him to see in the dark – and he is quickly captured. But the passengers’ fortunes take a turn for the worse as a freak eclipse engulfs the planet, leaving them at the mercy of strange murderous creatures which only come out in the dark.

Riddick’s fellow passengers now turn to him for help, hoping that his gift for seeing in the dark will guide them to safety.

At first, the signs are not good for Pitch Black. The characters are decidedly one-note, having usually just a single character trait to disguish them from each other, and the script retreads familiar ground covered by countless films, including the aforementioned Alien. But what caught my eye before it was released was the name of the director, David Twohy. I had thoroughly enjoyed two of his previous films: Timescape starring Jeff Daniels, and the Charlie Sheen vehicle The Arrival. Both had a marvelous atmosphere, and treated the high-concept sci-fi subject matter with respect and a straight face.

The same quality is brought to Pitch Black, with an impressive understanding shown in the scriptwriting and filming conventions of what makes this genre work on screen. From the ‘anti-hero’ protagonist, to the knowing casting (The Thing and They Live veteran Keith David), to following the Cat People rule of what is not seen is more unsettling – Pitch Black pushes all the right buttons.


The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1. The bad news is that this is the same transfer that was used on the previous release of Pitch Black. The good news is that the transfer was - and still is - fantastic.

The initial scenes on the planet are hard to call, as the director uses the device of bleaching the picture in single hues depending on which coloured sun the character is facing. This stylised look betrays the budget limitations somewhat, but would disguise multiple sins as far as the picture is concerned.

These fears are dispelled as soon as darkness falls. The sharpness of the image is excellent – achieved with no discernable edge enhancement. The black levels – essential to this film (hence the title) - are very impressive. Faces jump out from the blackness, with superb contrast and skin tones. The latter scenes, which are played out in rain and bright highlights, look incredible. The layer change, which comes at 61:09, is quite noticeable as it interrupts the atmos and freezes the action briefly. The average bitrate is 6.89Mb/s, rarely dropping below 5Mb/s.

The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 format, at 384kpbs. It’s an impressive track, with energetic steering and good use of the surrounds, but maybe a touch heavy up front. The meteor shower of the opening sequence is the best audio workout – which, with a good system, will impress greatly.

Sadly the R2 disc does not include the DTS track of its R1 equivalent, which was predictably more immersive, with better bass presence and improved channel separation. Vin Diesel’s tones reverberate just that bit deeper with the DTS track. Not to worry, the DD 5.1 is more than adequate. 


This updated release misses the chance to expand to two discs –what we get instead is a selection of mostly pointless and sometimes bizarre features.

Starting with the menus, they are massively improved from the plain, badly designed original release. Now we get a fully animated 3D rendering of the orrery, the machine used to replicate the movement and alignment of planets in Pitch Black. It is much more in keeping with the tone of the film than the previous menus.


An introduction by David Twohy (2’23”)

The director, very unconvincingly, is hunched over an editing suite telling his editor how to cut a scene, before turning to the camera to introduce us to Pitch Black. Within seconds, he gets off track and goes into autopilot promotional mode to sell us the upcoming The Chronicles of Riddick.

It reminded me of those awkward clips from the 50’s where stars were called upon to announce their films to the movie going public. “Hello there, my name is Burt Lancaster and I think you’re going to love this monument in motion pictures…” Twohy is wisely cut off here seemingly in mid-stream, before getting the chance to witter on until the tape runs out.


Preview of ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’ (9m)

If you see this before the sequel, then it is the best feature on this disc – afterwards it is the most redundant. As it says, the first nine minutes of the film is presented in all its glory – looking like a cross between The Empire Strikes Back, Dune and Battlefield Earth. The clip is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) format, with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio (at 192kbps).


The game is on (1’46”)

A preview of the game Escape From Butcher Bay. Narrated by Vin Diesel, this game looks very impressive and looks to serve as a prequel of sorts to the original film. This game seems to be the Pitch Black property gaining the most admiration.


The Johns Chase Log (14’10”)

A pointless text-based feature recounting the days before the original film begins, where the mercenary Johns reads from his diary of how he captured Riddick. It employs the same visual design and sound effects as the machine Harrison Ford uses in Blade Runner to view photographs. I can’t see many people making it to the end of this.


The Chronicles of Riddick visual encyclopedia (4’41”)

This is a preview of the complete encyclopedia, which will inevitably appear on The Chronicles of Riddick DVD. If you haven’t seen the sequel, then the few subjects covered will make little sense. As with the Johns Chase Log, this feature is narrated by Cole Hauser, obviously a bit short on his rent that month.


Dark Fury: Advancing the Arc (1’28”)

A sneak peek at the manga-style animated release, which bridges the gap between Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick in much the same way the comic book Chasing Dogma did for Chasing Amy and Dogma. You’ve just got time to say “that looks pretty cool” before it is over.


A view into the dark (4’04”)

A look ahead to The Chronicles of Riddick, in which David Twohy talks about the character of Riddick as the ultimate anti-hero as if it had never been done before. A few appealing clips of The Chronicles of Riddick conclude this quick and flimsy featurette.


The Making of Pitch Black featurette (4’11”)

Voice-over man helpfully informs us that Pitch Black is coming soon, even though we saw it three years ago.  This is nothing more than a fluffy EPK in which interesting behind-the-scenes shots flash past and talking heads tell you that you have ‘never seen anything like this before’. Sound familiar?


Feature Commentaries

There are two commentary tracks, both carried over from the earlier release.

The first track is by David Twohy, Vin Diesel and Cole Hauser. The director and stars sit back and watch the film with us, occasionally chipping in with ‘I like this shot’. Not the most engaging commentary ever recorded but worth listening for several nuggets of interesting information, such as the reason for the bleaching process was to hide the bad weather, and that the filming location was the same as used for Mad Max.

Annoyingly, they continually discuss scenes that were removed which didn’t go down too well in testing, including an alternative opening sequence. I can only wonder why these deleted scenes are not present on this DVD edition, as they have now had two chances to dig these out.

I noticed some distortion on this track, as if a crackling record is revolving in the background. 

The second track is by David Twohy, producer Tom Engleman and visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang. The better of the two commentaries, simply for the fact that Chiang is on hand to explain the impressive effects devised for the film.


Three trailers are included, for The Chronicles of Riddick, Thunderbirds and Van Helsing.

Annoyingly, this updated DVD is missing the two theatrical trailers for Pitch Black that were on the previous release. Also absent are the production notes, cast biographies and the footage from the Raveworld Pitch Black event.

Whilst the omissions are needless, personally I’m glad that Raveworld has been banished, as this was one of the most tenuous and space-wasting extras I’ve ever seen on a disc.



Pitch Black is on the way to becoming a modern classic. Moments such as the unleashed creatures circling in the sky as the purple light fades is as chilling and effective as anything seen in Hitchcock’s The Birds.

A seemingly weak and derivative plot is exploited to wring out every genre convention and expectation, often reversing them, leaving you with an energetic ‘B’ movie better than most ‘respectable’ alternatives.

The disc is disappointing in that the extras are filler material at best, and the disc misses out on the R1 DTS track (just as the original UK release did, compared to the R1 version), but the superb quality of the picture and sound is what really matters, and Pitch Black delivers.

The Pitch Black Special Edition is a must-buy for anyone who doesn’t own the previous release, but it's better to have the US disc if you want the best available version.




The Chronicles of Riddick - Film Review

The Chronicles of Riddick - DVD Review












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