Universal // 1999 // 109 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // August 26th, 2004
Four repackaged versions of the disc you probably already own promoting a new sequel you probably don't want to see.
Let's get right to it: this is a money grab. Clearly, Universal has dollar signs in its eyes as it release four new versions of Pitch Black, now with the title of the 2004 sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick clumsily pasted on in antecedent awkwardness. With no apparent intent other than to confuse consumers while gobbling up retail shelf space, shoppers are now forced to fumble over a widescreen unrated version, a full screen unrated version, a widescreen rated version, and a full screen rated version of this previously-released and well-regarded DVD. Although the packaging promises exciting new Riddick content, there's nothing here worth buying (again) and you'll probably find the original release you already own is far superior. Oh, this one also came with a coupon for a free movie ticket to The Chronicles of Riddick but it had already expired by the time I cracked open the keep case. Nice.
Tragedy strikes a chartered space flight when the vessel is riddled by a meteor shower, killing many onboard and prematurely awakening the crew from their cryo-sleep. Captain Carolyn Fry (Radha Mitchell, Dead Heat) struggles to navigate the crippled craft to the surface of a barren planet, one that is perpetually swathed in blinding daylight courtesy of the orb's three suns. Only a handful of survivors are left now, including space marshal William Johns (Cole Hauser, 2 Fast 2 Furious) and his hulking prisoner-in-tow, Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel, The Fast and the Furious, xXx). When Riddick breaks free, the displaced space travelers fear the wrath of the brutal killer yet quickly discover they share this planet with legions of voracious winged creatures who roam the surface of the planet during the extended eclipse that occurs once every 22 years. Can you guess when the next eclipse is due? While the unpredictable Riddick can see in pitch dark (thanks to a "shine job" he finagled in the slam), the other survivors can only see their impending doom.
Okay. This review isn't about the merits of Pitch Black as a film because this release isn't about the film at all -- it's all about promoting the 2004 sequel. Surely you already know about this film and the fact that it's quite derivative of so much that has gone before it. You may even be among the Pitch Black apologists who argue that the genre has been picked clean of fresh new ideas and, therefore, this film should be pardoned of its liberal leveraging of other genre mainstays (the likes of Alien and Aliens, The Road Warrior, and even a touch of disaster escape show, The Poseidon Adventure), and that's fine. The film works reasonably well, does a decent job of shrouding its CGI nasties in mystery and darkness, and serves as an excellent vehicle for the imposing and reasonably capable Vin Diesel. As a whole, the film makes for a fine DVD release...back in October 2000, that is.
The original release, also available in rated and unrated versions, did a fine job bringing this generally enjoyable scare fare to the medium, delivering what many called a reference quality transfer (it was really nice) plus an unnerving DTS audio track that convinced you those pterodactyl-like critters were lurking just behind your easy chair. Universal threw in some great extra features and the whole thing rounded out to be a nice package and an irresistible purchase for genre-mongers. This new release, however, only cheapens the franchise and seems to work hard to distract Riddick-ravers from the apparent inferiority of the new installment in this hopeful franchise. If you haven't already heard, the new film detours severely from all that made Pitch Black work well, opting to oust the threat of blood-thirsty beasts in deference for some sort of mythical framework that leaves the faithful feeling cheated. If you really wanna feel cheated, buy this unnecessary disc.
Granted, film lovers and DVD enthusiasts have willfully surrendered their wallets in order to buy the most updated, the most complete, and the most feature-laden discs of their favorite films, release after release after release (Evil Dead, anyone?) but when the newest release inexplicably backtracks and offers less than previous offerings, well what's with that? On this particular disc, you'll find the same transfer as that of the original release (it's still very nice, framed at 2.35:1 and sporting excellent color and detail) but it's nothing new. It has the same Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track but doesn't have the superior DTS track. What?! Well, it surely has some freaky extras that makes it all worth the price, right? Wrong. You'll find the same two audio commentaries as appeared on the previous release but you won't find the original trailer.
So the big new extras here are a mere five-minute introduction from director Twohy, a tepid "Chase Log" from Marshal Johns that recounts his capture of Riddick, and promo-heavy sales jobs touting the Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury animated feature and the Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay video game. Where are those vicious creatures now, the ones who should surround and devour the hacks who attempted to pass this release off as something new and exciting?
There's nothing here to rebut because there is no excuse for a ploy like this. If you don't already own this disc and would like to, shop carefully to be sure you get the format and features you truly want (I recommend finding the original release). If you already have the unrated release from 2000, you're doing just fine as it stands. Otherwise, I can't think of any reason why you should buy this disc, barring the fact that you could be a die-hard Riddick fan, a completist that must own everything that bears the big Diesel's likeness. If that suits you, more power to you.
There is nothing further to add. This is the sort of mercenary merchandising that boils my blood and gives me reason to doubt the longevity of any new film franchise. End of discussion.
Guilty, guilty, guilty. All the charlatans responsible for this apparent dupe-job are sentenced to a week on that three-sunned planet...a sentence to rightly be delayed until 22 years from now. Enjoy your stay.
Review content copyright © 2004 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio Commentaries
* Visual Encyclopedia
* Chase Log
* Official Site