Pitch Black, 2000.
Directed by David Twohy.
Starring Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, and Keith David.
Arrow Video brings Pitch Black to 4K with a newly remastered print and a couple new bonus features, along with a ton of stuff ported over from previous releases. And, like Criterion loves to do, they included a booklet with a couple essays and some content from the old promotional website. It’s a worthwhile purchase for Riddick fans.
Pitch Black, released in 2000, may be a cult film, but it’s notable for launching Vin Diesel’s career as well as proving that it’s possible to introduce a new science-fiction franchise. Sure, the studios want to rely on tried-and-true favorites whose names begin with “Star,” as well as anything based on a best-selling novel or comic book, but it’s nice to see them roll the dice too.
In some ways, Pitch Black is a bit of a throwback. Rather than go all out with a CGI fest, director and writer David Twohy (Ken and Jim Wheat were co-writers) took an approach that’s similar to the movie Alien, where the thrills involve not knowing what’s going to jump out at the characters. Like Alien, the film opens with the characters in cryo-sleep on the commercial transport ship Hunter-Gratzner. They quickly end up on an unknown planet when an accident kills the captain and forces an emergency landing.
Most of the passengers and crew die in the crash, but Diesel’s character Riddick, a hardened convict being brought back to prison after an escape attempt, is on the loose. The survivors also soon learn that while the planet is currently bathed in constant light from its three stars, a once-every-28-years eclipse will soon plunge it into darkness, and its main inhabitants are terrifying creatures that can kill someone in seconds.
So what’s worse, dealing with a convicted felon or those beasts? Conveniently, Riddick’s eyes were altered to allow him to see in the dark, so the survivors have no choice but to hope they can trust him to help them escape. There’s an abandoned geological research settlement and an intact dropship nearby, but the spacecraft’s batteries are drained, so they’ll need to salvage what they can from their ship to repair it and leave.
Like many movies of its ilk, most of Pitch Black’s characters exist so they can be killed one by one. However, the ones who get some development also have some shading to their characters, such as docking pilot Carolyn Fry (Radha Mitchell), who was tempted to sacrifice part of the Hunter-Gratzner to save herself after the accident. William J. Johns, the war veteran who was bringing Riddick back to prison to collect a bounty, is a morphine addict who claims to be a police officer after the crash. And, yes, Riddick isn’t just some maniacal convict, although he doesn’t prove himself to have a heart of pure gold either, which is a nice departure from cliche.
This new 4K release from Arrow continues to demonstrate that they, along with Kino Lorber, are leading the way with celebrations of classic films that Criterion won’t necessarily touch. (Well, yeah, Criterion did do an Armageddon release.) Twohy supervised a 4K remaster of the movie that’s a solid upgrade over the previous Blu-ray releases, but it does reveal the imperfections of some of the visual effects, which may look sub-optimal to viewers who are used to the stunning movie achievements of the past decade.
As far as I’m concerned, though, that’s part of the charm of a movie like this, and I wouldn’t have wanted Twohy to pull a George Lucas and create a Special Edition of Pitch Black. And to be clear: nearly all of the effects hold up quite well. There are just a couple spots where they don’t quite hit the mark.
Arrow also remastered the additional three minutes of footage for the Director’s Cut that’s available here too. Much of it is inconsequential, but there are a few moments that help explain the characters more. Twohy explained that didn’t need to be in the film because test audiences wanted to get to the monsters part of the movie faster, but, you know, maybe test audiences don’t always know everything.
There’s a nice lineup of bonus features on this 4K disc, along with a booklet that includes two essays and Black Box Reports, which are supplemental in-universe pieces written by a fictional crash investigator and originally included on the Pitch Black website. (Remember when that was a thing?)
Most of the bonus stuff was ported over from previous releases (I don’t know if all of it is here), but Arrow did commission two new things. One is Nightfall: The Making of Pitch Black, a 24-minute interview with Twohy that does a nice job of covering the film’s development and production.
The other is dubbed Black Box and consists of five audio-only interviews with cast members Rhiana Griffith and Claudia Black, cinematographer David Eggby, visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang, and composer Graeme Revell. They were handled that way due to the current pandemic, but footage from the film helps supplement the talking points.
The rest of the bonus content was previously available:
- Two commentary tracks, one with Twohy and cast members Vin Diesel and Cole Hauser, and the other with Twohy, producer Tom Engelman, and effects supervisor Peter Chiang. As you might imagine, the first track has a “Remember doing this?” quality to it, although it was recorded 20 years ago, so the memories were fresher then. The second track, also 20 years old, gets into more technical details. Both are worth a listen.
- Behind the Scenes(18 minutes): Also from 2000, this is a standard set of interviews with the cast and crew, mixed with on-set footage.
- Pitch BlackRaw (12 minutes): Included on the 2009 Blu-ray release, this is a look at the special effects, comparing the miniatures and animatics to the final product.
- The Making of Pitch Black(5 minutes): A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it EPK (electronic press kit) that’s similar to the Behind the Scenes featurette.
- 2004 Archive Bonus Features(14 minutes total): This is a batch of content from the 2004 Special Edition DVD release. Twohy introduces it, and it includes a promo for what was then the upcoming sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, some short animations that serve as a Pitch Black prequel, and a visual encyclopedia for the sequel, which deepened the world of the film and gave more depth to the main character.
- The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury(35 minutes): Directed by Peter Chung of Æon Flux fame, this is an animated short that bridges Pitch Black and the sequel. Also included are nearly an hour of bonus materials associated with it, including an interview with Chung. To be honest, I wasn’t as into the Riddick mythos as some folks, but if you’re part of that crowd, you’ll love all this stuff.
- Beyond the Movie(73 minutes total): The bulk of this is the 44-minute Into Pitch Black, which was a promotional piece created for the SyFy Channel way back when. There’s also the 21-minute Raveworld: Pitch Black Event, which was about the raves created to also promote the movie in 2000. (I’m sensing a theme here.) Finally, Slam City is an 8-minute motion comic that covers Riddick’s prison escape, as well as the surgery that gave him night vision. Honestly, it’s the only worthwhile bit of content here, since the other two are really only here to serve as a glimpse into how movies were promoted two decades ago.
Image galleries and trailers round out the platter. Oh, and note that the case sleeve is reversible, so you can decide whether it’s daylight or, of course, pitch black.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★