GORE IN THE STORE
PITCH BLACK ****
Directed by David Twohy.
Starring Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, Keith David, Rhiana Griffith, Claudia Black.
Horror/Action/Sci-Fi, USA/Australia, 111 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray and 4K UHD by Arrow Video on 17th August 2020.
It was going to happen eventually and now it has – Arrow Video have released their first true 4K disc into their catalogue, and for their 4K debut they have chosen a movie that may not be the first that comes to mind when you think about special effects extravaganzas to show off the blistering UHD colour palette – the title does give it away somewhat – and also comes from a strange period in effects technology, when the scope was there but the tech wasn’t quite up to snuff, but once the huge spaceship crawls across your screen during the opening scene of 2000s PITCH BLACK you know that, if nothing else, you are in for a visual treat.
After the movie has shown us the intricate details and striking colours of said craft it is straight down to business as the cryosleeping crew are woken by the crashing and smashing of small meteors punching holes in the ship’s hull, forcing the crew to make an emergency landing on the nearest planet, which just happens to have three suns and is in a constant state of daylight.
Helpful for the remaining crew because they happen to be transporting a prisoner named Riddick (Vin Diesel – THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS), a cunning and dangerous criminal who has had his eyes surgically altered so he can see in the dark, which makes the constant daylight a bit of a disadvantage for him when he isn’t wearing his dark glasses. Nevertheless, Riddick escapes from the crashed ship and begins to misbehave amongst the scattered crew, who include pilot Fry (Radha Mitchell – ROGUE), Muslim preacher Imam (Keith David – THE THING) and Johns (Cole Hauser – 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS) amongst others, but before long they realise that Riddick isn’t the only menace they have to put up with as Fry discovers an underground cave full of fanged flying creatures who are also quite handy when it is dark. Unfortunately, during figuring out how to escape the planet it becomes clear that a total eclipse is imminent, meaning the creatures will come up to the surface to hunt and that Riddick may be the only person who can help get the crew through this nightmare.
Despite the obvious immediate comparison to ALIENS, PITCH BLACK only really shares an action-oriented tone with James Cameron’s movie, with this script painting Riddick to be the big bad and the creatures merely incidental, although it also shares a lot of DNA with John Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK as well – there is more than a touch of Snake Plissken to Riddick. With that in mind it is easy to see why this has become Vin Diesel’s signature role as the character of Riddick plays to Diesel’s strengths, i.e. looking mean and moody and not saying very much, and it is up to Radha Mitchell, Keith David, Cole Hauser and the other stragglers to create the tension with infighting, character revelations, paranoia and mistrust. Such is the case that the characters who aren’t Riddick fall back a little into stereotype in the way they are written despite some solid performances, especially from Radha Mitchell who gives an earnest portrayal of somebody thrown into a situation they are not prepared for and is forced to show leadership.
But at its heart PITCH BLACK is a B-movie and not as concerned with characters and arcs as it is with action, flair and impressive visuals, and director David Twohy has a lot of visual trickery at his disposal as our characters fight to find a light source against the darkening skies. Using the POV of the creatures as well as Riddick’s own colourful vision when he removes his glasses, the movie often feels like a video game as the action is viewed from several different perspectives, and whilst many movies from this period have not aged gracefully when it comes to CGI and optical effects, PITCH BLACK holds up surprisingly well, especially now those pinks, purples and greys pop out of the screen in glorious 4K.
For their 4K debut Arrow have loaded the disc with more extras than BEN HURR, featuring both the Theatrical and Director’s cuts of the movie as well as porting over the special features from the 2004 DVD release that include a visual encyclopaedia of sequel THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK and an introduction by director David Twohy. There are also archive audio commentaries by Twohy, Vin Diesel and Cole Hauser, and Twohy, producer Tom Engelman and visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang, plus brand new interviews with various cast and crew including David Twohy, Radha Mitchell and composer Graeme Revell, THE MAKING OF PITCH BLACK featurette and a comparison between the early CGI effects tests and the final product. Not enough? Well, you also get JOHNS’ CHASE LOG, a short prequel narrated by Cole Hauser, THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK: DARK FURY, an animated short featuring the voices of Vin Diesel and Keith David that is set between PITCH BLACK and THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK and has its own bonus features, plus many other bits and pieces to delve into if you are of such a mind. Regardless of the main feature, you cannot deny Arrow haven’t dug deep and given value for money with this package.
As a score for PITCH BLACK as a movie on its own you can knock off half a star to the rating above as despite its ambitious production values it is really a polished B-movie with a B-movie script and all the pitfalls that come with that, raising a few questions that aren’t deal breakers when it comes to overall enjoyment but do make you ask them anyway.
But regardless of how good the movie is the presentation cannot be faulted and for a movie that originally rode in on the crest of the DVD wave back in that format’s infancy it still looks remarkably fresh, with one or two projected landscape shots noticeable if you really wanted to be picky. Hopefully this release will mark the beginning of other forays into the world of 4K as Arrow have done a top notch job with the restoration, and for future viewings of PITCH BLACK this is the definitive version to watch. Perhaps the sequels will get the same treatment...