A sci-fi-horror sleeper hit that birthed not only a whole franchise but also launched the career of action star Vin Diesel, Pitch Black has been remastered by Arrow Films for its 20th Anniversary, available to buy on both Blu-ray and 4K UHD Blu-ray formats.
When the intergalactic transport ship Hunter-Gratzner crashes on a remote desert planet with no sign of rescue, the survivors – led by Fry (Radha Mitchell) – band together to find an escape. However, one of the passengers – a convicted murderer named Riddick (Vin Diesel) – has escaped his chains and is on the loose. Worse still, Fry discovers that the planet is about to be plunged into a Solar Eclipse, and with limited light sources, the crew will be plunged into total darkness – wherein lurks a sinister alien race of predators. With no other option, Fry must make a deal with Riddick – whose eyes have been surgically altered to see in the dark – to lead the crew off the planet before they are picked off, one-by-one…
The opening sequence starts the film off with a bang, but it’s not until half-way through that Pitch Black really hits its stride. It takes some time for the characters to be effectively introduced and for the story to get going, but the initial mystery is very interesting, and helped by the lack of clunky expository dialogue explaining the futuristic setting. Vin Diesel immediately asserts a dominant presence over the film as Riddick in a terrific performance (and one of Diesel‘s best), while Radha Mitchell carries the film as Fry, our Ripley-esque lead heroine. The rest of the ensemble cast have strong personalities, but the two leads ground the film and its story. Fry is determined to keep everyone alive, and Riddick is the only one capable of leading them to safety – even if nobody can trust him. It’s a great dynamic to carry the film, but this only really kicks into gear half-way through once the Solar Eclipse happens.
The predator creatures that stalk the planet constantly lurk in the darkness, with only brief glimpses, allowing them to remain menacing and mysterious. David Eggby‘s cinematography keeps the focus on the characters’ reactions with limited light sources and lots of darkness in the eclipse scenes, while the “daytime” scenes are shot with high exposure, creating an uncomfortable haze and showcasing the terrific production design by Graham Walker. There are moments when Pitch Black feels a bit like a Syfy B-movie – which aren’t helped some of the unnecessarily dramatic fast-paced edits and shaky camerawork – but the stellar design work and terrific performances carry the story throughout.
Of course, the big selling point with Arrow Film’s new release of Pitch Black is the 4K remaster. For this review I was able to watch the 4K UHD disc itself, and I was very impressed with the picture quality. There’s a terrific level of detail, and the new HDR (High Dynamic Range) grade – available in both HDR10 and Dolby Vision – adds a lot of depth to the cinematography. The opening shot of the spacecraft Hunter-Gratzner looked almost 3D, while the night-time scenes really benefit from the wider colour gamut. The visual effects work mostly holds up thanks to some great compositing by the original creative team, but there are a few moments that don’t hold up so well with the higher resolution. The sound mix is available in Dolby 5.1, but there is no Dolby Atmos 7.1 mix for hardcore fans. I did notice some varying sound levels on my set-up (mostly some lines of dialogue being noticeably quieter than others), but that could vary depending on your sound system.
Arrow have also remastered the director’s cut of Pitch Black, which runs at three minutes longer, and – in a surprising, but welcome move – have included all of this release’s special features on the 4K disc, as opposed to a bonus Blu-ray disc. Naturally, the quality of these special features will vary, but Arrow Films have provided new interviews with director/co-writer David Twohy, actor Rhiana Griffith (Jack), actor Claudia Black (Shazza), cinematographer David Eggby, visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang and composer Graeme Revell. A variety of special features from earlier releases of Pitch Black are also included, as well as a fantastic reversible daytime/nighttime cover by Luke Preece. The first pressing of this release also includes a collectors’ booklet – featuring new writing by Simon Ward on the film’s creature designs (including a new interview with creature designer Patrick Tatopolous); original production notes and information from the film’s official website; an archive interview with Vin Diesel from Starlog magazine; and a collectable O-card with the nighttime variant artwork by Luke Preece.
Overall, this is a stellar release from Arrow Films for a pretty solid sci-fi/horror flick; Riddick fans should be very pleased with such a comprehensive and seemingly definitive release of Pitch Black, while the 4K remaster is well worth checking out for home video enthusiasts. Perhaps we might even see 4K remasters of the film’s sequels: The Chronicles of Riddick and Riddick.