To mark it's 20th Anniversary, Pitch Black has been given the 4K remaster treatment by Arrow Video. The first film to feature Vin Diesel in his breakout role of anti-hero Richard B. Riddick, revisiting Pitch Black now Diesel has become as big a star as he is, it's quite refreshing to see how humble the beginnings are for both Diesel's breakout role and the character of Riddick (well, relatively to monster-fighting sci-fi movies). Sure, it may be another in a long line of Alien knock-offs, but at least it's a fun one!
The film introduces Riddick aboard a passenger spacecraft on his way to prison, escorted by bounty hunter Johns (Cole Hauser) along with a crew of commercial passengers. When the craft is struck by shards of a comet, it crash lands on a planet with three suns, an impending eclipse, and an eerily abandoned mining facility. When the passengers discover that they're not alone on the planet's surface and are being hunted by a vicious race of aliens who only come out in the dark, they have to trust in the mysterious Riddick, whose enhanced eyesight may be the only key to their survival.
As far as ‘things that go bump in the night' concepts go, Pitch Black certainly has a doozy. Sure, it's convenient that the convict in chains has the one ability that should prove incredibly useful against creatures that only come out in the dark, but it only adds to the B-movie/John Carpenter-esque spirit of the whole enterprise. This is a fairly low budget sci-fi horror, and it gets decent mileage out of its premise, even if it does take a bit too long for the sun to go down.
The opening act is where the film is at its weakest, setting up cliched characters as cannon fodder whilst it sets the stage for carnage to commence, all of which takes a little too long to let rip. The film is distinct in its aesthetic in these moments, with the three suns leading to three very different styles of lighting. As interesting a creative idea as this is, some of the cinematography can be quite harsh to look at, but it does demonstrate a desire to be a little different and have some visual identity that feels more unique, all the while making good use of its Australian Outback locations to develop a convincing alien world.
When it comes to the action, director David Twohy clearly has a lot of fun with teasing his creatures in the shadows, which is often for the best as the early 00's CGI never particularly looks convincing enough when they are revealed in full. The film is at its best when it's either combining practical and visual effects, or when it is throwing its characters out into the darkness with only a few flames and lamps to keep them safe. The creature designs may look a little like pale versions of the bugs in Starship Troopers, but there's enough menace to them to make the strolls out in the dark tense enough to keep you hooked.
The most striking element of Pitch Black always was and remains Vin Diesel;'s performance as Riddick. It is quite surprising to revisit it in the wake of all that he has achieved with both this franchise and the box-office behemoth that is the Fast and Furious series. Riddick is undoubtedly a more interesting character than Diesel's Dominic Toretto, and he's also much more fun to be around. Pitch Black is always at its best when the film pulls Riddick more into focus, delivering little tantalising pieces of information about his past, while Diesel brings a great deal of wit and charisma to the character. It is a film that reminds you why this guy became a movie star.
Pitch Black has never won too many points for originality, as it does hit the beats you'd expect of a B-movie of its kind, with its pacing also coming in a bit too slack from time to time (this disc offers both the theatrical and director's cut, which features a couple more dialogue scenes that don't really need to be there). You can probably guess who is going to make it out alive from very early on, and it does often feel like it's trying to over-stretch its limited budget and capabilities at points. But it is fun to see how much of this still works as a character introduction to Riddick and as an early marker for Diesel's rising star. As knockoffs of its kind go, it's one of the more distinct. There's still a lot of fun to have with Pitch Black, and with the Arrow 4K upgrade, the darkness has never looked better.
Dir: David Twohy
Prd: Tom Engelman
DOP: David Eggby
Music: Graeme Revell
Run time: 104 minutes (Theatrical) 112 minutes (Director's Cut)
Pitch Black is out now on Arrow Video 4K UHD Blu-Ray.