Discussing the old school DVD’s that still sound and look great in the era of Blu-Ray and HD-DVD technology.
For such a low budget film, Pitch Black made a pretty big impact on DVD. Its success eventually lead to a sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick. The superb DTS track also leads to a solid demo quality disc that may not be in the realm of the Star Wars and King Kongs of the world, but is still a worthy addition to your demo disc collection.
Unfortunately, Pi…ch Black blows its load within the first 8 minutes — but what an exciting 8 minutes it is. The film begins with an adrenaline pumping spaceship crash. The crew is in “cryo-sleep” as the ship wanders off its course into the deadly tail of a comet. Bullet sized asteroids rip through the ship, demonstrating what a DTS track can do with some excellent highs. Crank up the volume on your receiver and you’ll see what I mean. The “pings” as the asteroids rip through the metal will make you cover your ears and jump for the remote control to turn the volume down.
When the crew wakes up, the pilot races to the cockpit, trying to save the ship from its descent toward a strange planet. When we get outside shots of the ship, flying debris whips toward the screen and into the surround speakers. Aggressive racing wind fills the sound field. When a piece of the ship breaks off and flies toward the windshield, it shatters, creating a glass explosion equally filled with highs and lows.
The reason I love this opening scene is that each sound is given the proper attention, resulting in a nice impact. You feel each effect on the soundtrack more than you hear it.
After the crash is complete, the film primarily becomes a dialogue driven horror movie. As the surviving characters wander the planet’s barren landscape, they eventually discover that the island is infested with alien monsters that only come out in total darkness. Oh how inconvenient is it then, when the survivors learn that a total eclipse that only occurs every 22 years, is about to blanket the planet in, well pitch black.
While nothing in the rest of the film is as impressive as the opening crash, there are some hidden gems to be discovered.
The off-screen monsters, stalking the survivors, are given some nice surround sound usage as they use their sonar. When they attack, they are given some nice crunching lows as they chomp down on the humans — and later in the film — each other.
When the survivors respond by blasting away at them with their guns, each shot is a deep, crackling report. Skip to the scenes 4 through 6 (especially when the burly guy is attacked as he is burying the man he accidentally killed), and you’ll see what I mean.
The video is filled with grain, especially in darker scenes, but overall it’s a nice looking video transfer. Director David N. Twohy fills the darkness with sunset oranges, neon blues and greens, and it really adds a nice dimension to the viewing experience. Unfortunately, the grain can be pesky at times, reminding you that this is a 6 year old low budget movie.
Overall, Pitch Black is like a sports team that comes out of the gate hot, and then cools down the rest of the season. At the end of the season, they find themselves in the playoffs, but not able to hang with the big boys. Looking back, fans will fondly remember the hot start and what could have been with a smile.
Those expecting a loud and powerful soundtrack throughout Pitch Black’s entire running time will ultimately be disappointed. After the 8 minute mark, the film dials itself down to become a pretty underwhelming viewing experience with some nice bursts of action mixed in. But the opening scene is that good, and worth mentioning as one of the best demo scenes around. Too bad the rest of the film couldn’t keep it up.