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Another month brings us yet another re-release. To coincide with the upcoming theatrical release of The Chronicles of Riddick, Universal Home Entertainment has reissued the film that introduced the world to the gravel-voiced psychopath Richard B. Riddick— Pitch Black. Only it’s not called Pitch Black anymore. What with this being a movie tie-in and all the studio has decided—in its infinite wisdom—to add the ‘Chronicles’ prefix as with the animated sequel Dark Fury. A touch of the emperor’s new clothes methinks, especially as we still don’t get the unrated cut. With that said, it’s been a while since I saw the film and I was actually looking forward to revisiting the Riddick character.

Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black, The

Feature


As the film opens, a cargo vessel transporting a crew of around forty passengers is making its way through the infinite expanses of space. The crew are rudely awoken from their hyper-sleep by a micro-meteor show that rips through their ship, killing the captain and hurling them off course towards a desolate desert planet.

After a somewhat less than perfect landing, the remaining crewmembers and civilians—led by pilot Carolyn Fry (Rhada Mitchell)—begin the search for water and a means to escape the inhospitable planet. Their efforts are hindered by the presence of a mysterious convict named Riddick (Vin Diesel), who escapes from the custody of his mercenary jailer, Johns (Cole Hauser), causing widespread panic amongst the group.

When one of the passengers dies in suspicious circumstances, all signs point to Riddick. However, when a celestial convergence plunges the planet into darkness the survivors discover that there is more to fear on this world than Riddick. A group of ravenous, winged beasts were responsible for the earlier killing, and the endless night of an eclipse provides these nocturnal creatures with the cover they need to finish the job.

Ironically the salvation of the group lies with Riddick himself. In order to survive inside of the maximum security prisons where he’s spent most of his life, Riddick’s eyes have undergone a surgical shine job that allows him to see in the dark. It is due to this unusual ability that Riddick’s fellow passengers have no choice but to turn to him for help in securing a way off of the barren wasteland on which they’re stranded. But can they really trust a convicted murderer?

Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black, The

Video


Universal presents Pitch Black in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, complete with anamorphic enhancement. One might expect a restoration job for a re-release such as this, but from what I can ascertain this is not a new transfer. This isn’t a particularly big deal, as the visual elements of the disc are still very impressive.

Colour rendition is excellent, especially the flesh tones, and I particularly enjoyed the bleaching/coloured filters use to distinguish between which of the three stars was in the sky. The transfer also handles extremes in contrast very well, moving from extremely harsh, bleached out daylight to the total darkness of an eclipse without incident. Because so much of the action occurs in the dark the film positively demands consistent black levels, and I’m happy to report that they are virtually flawless. Shadow delineation is also excellent, providing just the right amount of murkiness without obscuring anything of importance.

However, the image falls short of perfection due to numerous film artefacts that litter the print. These range from almost innocuous little scratches to downright obvious flecks of black and white. If a little time had been taken to clean up the print this could have been something really special, but as it is the transfer is still mighty impressive considering it’s over four years old.

Audio


The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a front heavy affair, but that doesn’t stop it from being engaging, particularly during the opening scenes. As the ship hurtles towards the planet in an out of control spin the speakers come to life with the rushing of the atmosphere, klaxons, panicked screams, and flying debris, placing you right in the middle of the action. Score, effects and dialogue are extremely well balanced throughout, and there’s some great use of the LFE during the action sequences. The score itself generates exactly the right kind of atmosphere, and the impressive use of surround continues throughout the film with the eerie creature noises, storms, and so on. All in all this is impressive stuff, but I can’t help but wish the DTS track from the region one release had been included.

Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black, The

Extras


When you pop the disc into your DVD player the first thing you’ll be greeted with is a nine minute preview of the forthcoming sequel The Chronicles of Riddick, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo audio. The clip actually makes the film look fairly interesting, and includes characters that were briefly introduced in the animated prequel Dark Fury. Obviously the appeal of this feature is going to fade when the film is released in the UK, but for now it provides a nice little teaser. Oh, and don’t worry, you can skip it if so desired.

The disc menus themselves are really rather good, and depict several of the scenes from the film (such as the planetary convergence). I didn’t see the original release of Pitch Black, but my understanding is that these 3D rendered menus are a vast improvement over the original disc’s efforts.

The disc contains two commentary tracks, both of which appeared on the earlier release. The first of these tracks features commentary from director David Twohy and actors Vin Diesel and Cole Hauser. The track is driven Twohy, with reasonable input from Diesel, but I think they needed to periodically prod Cole Hauser with a stick to keep him awake. It’s not a particularly engaging affair, with frequent periods of dead air and little in the way of banter. They do discuss some of the changes made to the opening of the film, as well as a few scenes that were removed, but this only makes the absence of deleted scenes even more annoying. Although there is most certainly some decent information to be gleaned from this commentary track, I had a hard time keeping myself awake long enough to find out.
 
The second commentary is provided by David Twohy, producer Tom Engleman and visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang, and focuses on the technical aspects of the film. This is the better of the two commentaries for those looking for some insight into the filmmaking process, as special effects supervisor Peter Chiang is on hand to explain things. I was pleased to find that both commentaries are also subtitled—a nice touch.

An Introduction by David Twohy runs for a little under two and a half minutes, and features the director playing out a rather unconvincing skit before turning his attentions to introducing the film. However, it takes him about two seconds to wonder completely off topic and start shamelessly plugging the upcoming sequel instead of the movie at hand. This makes the title pretty redundant, but at least there are a few shots of The Chronicles of Riddick running on a monitor in the background.
 
Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black, The
Next up we have The Game Is On, which runs for a little under two minutes. This is similar to the feature on the Dark Fury DVD, and provides a look at the upcoming Riddick video game Escape from Butcher Bay. One of the main differences is that the trailer is narrated by Vin Diesel himself, but it also appears to use some slightly different footage from the game. I’m no expert when it comes to PC games, so I’m not in a position to judge its relative merits. However, I’m told the graphics are Doom 3 quality, and it does look quite impressive first person shooter.

I had high hopes for The Making of Pitch Black, until I discovered it only ran for a little over four minutes. When all is said and done this is nothing more than promotional fluff, featuring only the most basic of behind the scenes footage and interviews. What relevance this has after four years is anyone’s guess, but hey, it saves the producers of the DVD from having to come up with any original material! To top it off it doesn’t even have narration from the original ‘Voiceover Man’, just some effeminate rip-off.
 
The Johns Chase Log is a bizarre feature that recounts the days leading up to the events in the film from John’s point of view, and how the mercenary originally captured Riddick. The feature is partially text-based, but also features an animated star map and narration from Cole Hauser.

Dark Fury: Advancing the Arc runs for around a minute and a half and takes a sneak peek at the animated sequel/prequel that bridges the gap between the two films. The featurette includes interviews with writer Brett Mathews and animator Peter Chung, but it’s too short to really give any real insight. At least there are a few clips from Dark Fury to whet the appetite…

The Chronicles of Riddick Visual Encyclopedia is an extremely short preview of the full, expanded feature set to appear on the Chronicles of Riddick DVD. Again, this feature is short that it leads me to question why they even bothered including it. Oh wait, padding. As with The Johns Chase Log, this feature is also narrated by Cole Hauser.
 
The four minute A View into the Dark is yet another promotional item for the upcoming sequel in which David Twohy talks about the character of Riddick. There a few cool shots of the new film, but ultimately this is just another insubstantial bit of padding.
 
Three theatrical trailers are also included, for Thunderbirds, Van Helsing and The Chronicles of Riddick. Finally, we have a web-link to the Chronicles of Riddick Website.

Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black, The

Overall


This is my second viewing of Pitch Black, and I was pleasantly surprised by both the quality of the film and the presentation of the DVD itself. Audio-visual elements are very impressive, especially given their age, and the disc has been put together with some excellent menus. However, where the disc really falters is the bonus content, which is disappointing to say the least. The commentaries are easily the best of the supplements, but even those are relatively dry and un-involving, and the rest of the features are little more than promotional fluff for spin-offs such as the anime, the game, and the sequel. Even when taking this into consideration I don’t hesitate to recommend this disc to fans of the film who never got around to picking it up on DVD. However, if you own any of the previous releases there really is little point in splashing out on what is essentially the same thing in a different box.


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