Case Number 16024


Universal // 2000 // 112 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // March 30th, 2009

The Charge

There's a new reason to be afraid of the dark.

Opening Statement

No one could have anticipated a film called Pitch Black would not only launch the career of relative unknown into the stratosphere, but also deliver a fine little sci-fi romp that holds its own in an overcrowded genre. So how do Riddick and his friends fare in hi-def? Let's have a look.

Facts of the Case

When a merchant vessel is damaged in a meteor storm and forced to crash land on a desolate uncharted planet, little do the crew and passengers realize there's something far more sinister in store for them than the escape of their convict cargo Richard Riddick (Vin Diesel). Isolated and alone, all they can do is wait, and pray for morning.

The Evidence

I'm sure there is no shortage of Vin Diesel critics in the world. A good friend of mine actually refers to him as "Dim Weasel" and I can see the point. Many moviegoers find him two-dimensional and a one trick pony. Diesel is good at being the tough guy, the loner, the guy who likes to ride the edge, but the last time I checked, we need actors like that in our movies. Without a bad guy or a loose cannon, where's the sense of drama or conflict? At the risk of getting flooded with angry emails, I actually don't mind Vin Diesel as an actor and he's been lucky enough to find roles and characters that fit him like a glove. Like other famous action film anti-heroes -- Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), Mad Max (Mel Gibson), Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) -- Richard B. Riddick quickly wins over the audience and gets the job done.

Despite director David Twohy's assertions to the contrary, there really wasn't a lot new about Pitch Black, when it hit theaters in 2000. Fans of the sci-fi genre could recognize elements of Alien, Predator, and other genres classics almost immediately. One thing the film did well, however, was bundling those elements together and taking them in new directions. It's human nature to be afraid of the dark, but what could be more terrifying than a deadly creature who not only functions in total darkness, but thrives in it? Like Predator, which introduced audiences to an alien who literally saw its prey in a different way, the creatures of Pitch Black not only see in a new way, but use that sonar-like sight to hunt. So while there are many familiar elements, there is enough of a new approach to create an interesting sci-fi film.

As a fan of the film, I'm delighted that Pitch Black on Blu-ray is visually stunning; especially during the daylight scenes where the bleach bypass process -- also used in Minority Report, Saving Private Ryan, and Fight Club -- creates a picture almost entirely drained of color. Fine detail is solid, reproducing the pebbles and sand of the alien landscape and the grotesque skin of the film's creatures in stunning clarity. Given many of the unconventional shooting styles and effects used, this isn't a truly reference-quality picture, but it certainly reproduces cinematographer David Eggby's vision better than any of the previous DVD releases. It should also be noted that both the theatrical version and the unrated extended version are included here.

On the audio front, the DTS-HD 5.1 audio track is a near-perfect complement to the 1080p picture, immersing the viewer in creepy atmospheric effects, razor-sharp dialogue, and Graeme Revell's appropriate, if understated score. The main theme is still stuck in my brain from seeing the film in the theater and it's a treat to hear it again in such a well-balanced presentation.

In stark contrast to the impressive audio and video presentation is the almost insulting lack of substantive extra features. This is a pet peeve of mine. If you're going to rob consumers by releasing multiple versions of the same title -- and by my count there have been at least five DVD versions of Pitch Black including this one -- studios should at least have the decency to include new or additional features to warrant the upgrade. The same commentary tracks, the same shamefully short and blatant sequel-promo-billed-as-featurette clips, and the same other pointless mishmash of extras you can read about in the other DVD Verdict Pitch Black reviews. Sure, they're all gathered together here, but they're still pathetic. If you haven't heard them before, the commentary tracks are really the only semi-valuable content. The BD exclusive "Pitch Black Raw" and "Picture In Picture" features allow viewers to access "making of" and behind the scenes clips, but there are only a handful and they offer nothing of any real substance.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

What did I say about the extra features again? Oh, right...BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Closing Statement

For fans who have waited to make the purchase, it's easy to recommend. If you already own one of the several previous DVD releases, I'm hard-pressed to recommend you add this to your collection. If you're a fan of extra features and supplements, you'll likely be disappointed with the dog's breakfast of lackluster features and shameless sequel promotional material you'll find billed as "special." All that said, Pitch Black is a great popcorn sci-fi romp that fares well on Blu-ray.

The Verdict

Riddick is back in hi-def and the a/v presentation doesn't disappoint. But as extra features go, Universal should be ashamed at how they've treated this release.

Review content copyright © 2009 Kent Dixon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 90
Audio: 90
Extras: 50
Acting: 85
Story: 90
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile
Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)

* English (SDH)
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Director Introduction
* Commentaries
* Featurettes

* IMDb

* Official Site