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Pitch Black is a frustrating movie. It has some excellent qualities, and some terrible qualities; what is clear is that they don’t average out to a mediocre movie, but rather a movie that could have been truly outstanding – but isn’t.

The story is fairly straightforward: A space freighter carrying both cargo and passengers (including a dangerous criminal on his way to a high-security prison) encounters difficulty en route and crashes on an arid, apparently lifeless planet scorched by the constant light of three suns. Of course, the planet turns out to be much more dangerous, and much more complicated, than it looks... setting the scene for an action-adventure movie with some interesting special effects.

Pitch Black
The filmmakers get a lot of things right in terms of setting the scene and creating an atmosphere of a truly alien planet. The special effects are reasonably well done, but it’s the cinematography that is probably the best part of the movie. The image is tinted to show how things would look in the light of the alien suns: sometimes red, sometimes bluish, sometimes a washed-out yellow. It’s dramatic and memorable, and gives a true feeling of being on an alien world.

On the other hand, the two story lines feel like they were simply tacked on to each other, possibly by the marketing department. The attempt at complexity and meaningful character interaction falls painfully flat in the absence of good writing and any real concept of effective characterization. None of the main actors are particularly convincing, and the less said about the character of the criminal (played by Vin Diesel), the better.

Pitch Black
So we have a movie with cinematography and special effects, and some truly imaginative moments, but that falls fatally short in the script and acting department.

The picture quality is excellent. It’s an anamorphic transfer with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Images are sharp, with good color, giving full justice to the gorgeous cinematography in the planet’s sunlit phase, and providing good contrast in the eclipse phase. The movie does include some challenging scenes in terms of image quality: on the one hand, there are scenes of full, flooding light with almost no shadows, and on the other hand, there are scenes with small sources of intense light surrounded by complete blackness. The transfer copes very well with both circumstances, and shows good detail.

Pitch Black
The sound is also good, with both DTS and Dolby 5.1 soundtracks. The movie makes good use of the soundtrack, both at the beginning with the intense crash-landing scene, and later in the movie with the alien sound effects. Essentially, if you like the movie, you’ll be very pleased with the transfer.

The extras are a mixed bag. There are two commentaries, one by director David Twohy and actors Cole Hauser and Vin Diesel, and another by producer Tom Engelman and visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang. The making-of featurette is disappointing, as it’s essentially just promotional, and very brief at that. I was really hoping for a more in-depth look at how the special effects were done. There is a very odd “Raveworld Pitch Black event” feature, which consists of footage from parties thrown at the release of the movie; at 20 minutes, it’s about 15 minutes too long. The extras also include theatrical trailers for the movie.