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  Directed by
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  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • German: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English, German, Dutch
  Extras
  • 2 Theatrical trailer
  • 2 Audio commentary
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Featurette
  • Production notes
  • Filmographies

Pitch Black

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 104 mins . G . PAL

  Feature
Contract

"The Scariest Sci-Fi Thriller in Years!" "Nightmarish!" "Hip, Sexy and Scary as Hell!"

I don't know about you, but I feel hyperbolic quotes like these on the covers of DVDs should be taken with a grain of salt. This isn't the second coming of Alien or Night of the Living Dead we're talking about here. Rather, it's just a decently-assembled, slightly-nonsensical B-grade bit of fun, shot in Australia with a cast largely made up of local talent.

"Australia's Own" Radha Mitchell stars as space pilot Fry, who is awoken from cryo sleep when her transport ship is struck by meteors from a comet while travelling through a tri-star solar system. She barely succeeds in crash-landing the stricken vessel on a strange, barren planet surface, and the surviving passengers take stock of their situation.

The most obvious problem is the convict on board, Riddick (Vin Diesel), a violent escaped murderer who had his eyes surgically enhanced to assist night crime. Johns (Cole Hauser), the bounty hunter transporting him back to prison, is determined to keep him safely contained, but it soon becomes apparent there is a worse threat on the planet - ravenous beasties that only come out at night, and the planets are about to come into alignment, causing a total eclipse and a human smorgasbord. The survivors will have to work together to get off the planet in time, but can they trust Riddick not to betray or murder them?

There are logic flaws a-plenty here, but the film has its heart in the right place (towards the end it's basically Tremors, one of my fave B-flicks) and the effects are quite effective, so if you're willing to sit back and munch your popcorn politely it's a pretty nice way to kill a couple of hours. And then there's the Australian connection, after all, one character is called Shazza.

  Video
Contract

The exterior locations were shot in Coober Pedy in South Australia, a place that will always stick in my memory, as our caravan started leaking gas inside the fridge and burned to the ground on a family trip about 11 kms out of that very same town when I was a child. It's a place familiar to cinematographer David Eggby as well, as he shot the legendary Mad Max at the same location in 1979!

This film looks nothing like Mad Max though, as the filmmakers chose the increasingly trendy bleach-bypass process (as seen in Three Kings and Seven) to deepen blacks and increase contrast. Those films processed the interpositive though, not the original camera negative, which is what happened on Pitch Black, for two reasons, as director Twohy explains in the commentary. First, there were situations with changing light levels where interpositive processing would be extremely difficult, and secondly, they were afraid that if they left the processing until later, the studio might refuse to fork out the cash for the unusual development work.

The plot also called for a different light from the third sun, so several exterior scenes have a strong blue cast. Of course, interiors look normal, with well-saturated colour and excellent details and shadow definition, which is fortunate. The title 'Pitch Black' might give you a clue that there's going to be a small amount of darkness at some point during the picture!

  Audio
Contract

Audio is suitably bombastic and rousing, though it falls short of being of reference quality. It felt a little bass-shy compared to many of the recent blockbusters, though the actual sound quality was fine, due no doubt to the efforts of the gang at Skywalker Sound who assisted in post-production audio.

Your surround channels will get a nice workout here, especially when the critters start flying about the soundstage. Most of the time you can't see the creatures in the dark, so sound is very important to track them. More could have been done to really sell some of the locations from a 3D 'holistic' standpoint, though, and some dialogue sounds a little forward.

  Extras
Contract

If you're into the special effects side of things, you should enjoy the commentary tracks here, although I wished for more in the way of visual documentation of how some of the more elaborate stuff was assembled.

  • Commentary - by director Twohy and actors Vin Diesel and Cole Hauser. This commentary focuses far more on anecdotes and tribulations the crew went through during the shoot.
  • Commentary - with Twohy, producer Tom Engelman and effects supervisor Peter Chiang. This is virtually all technical, with a lot of terms used that might leave those without a stack of Cinefex issues on their bookshelf a little confused.
  • Featurette - Almost insultingly short, and certainly completely devoid of anything remotely resembling useful information.
  • Trailers - These are interestingly constructed, almost in two parts. Personally, I would have been happy just showing the first half of the trailer, as it leaves far more to the imagination. The trailers are widescreen, but with Pro-Logic sound only.
  • Raveworld Pitch Black Event - I tried to watch this. I truly did. However, my disdain for the rave scene overcame me. I'm sure this footage is really, really exciting. Just like raves. Yes.

Wrapping up the extras are the usual cast bios and production notes.

  Overall  
Contract

As a piece of B-grade fluff, this is stronger than most, with some good ideas occasionally let down by some clunky editing, dialogue or camera work. It really picks up after a shaky start, though, and is definitely worth a viewing if you're a sci-fi buff. Consumers in the US can pick this film up in two versions, one R-rated (generally equivalent to our M rating), the other unrated. I have no idea which version the R4 disc is equivalent to.

Serious fans should rush out and grab it. The video and audio quality are fab, and the extras decent enough. Yet another excellent transfer job from Columbia. Maybe next time we could get DTS audio like the US edition instead of a German 5.1 track?


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