Of course Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick aren’t our first HD DVD box set, but they do represent the first complete franchise films to make their way onto the new HD DVD format, and I think Universal is on the right track when it comes to the films they have released for HD DVD thus far. The Riddick films along with Serenity play well on HD DVD and make for a group of movies many consumers would be able to watch multiple times. I know I have watched all three several times since I got my HD DVD player.
On top of the mindless entertainment each film provides they also present spectacular visuals showing off the best the new format has to offer.
Starting with Pitch Black the film was released in 2000 and made on a production budget of about $20 million and created an action star in Vin Diesel by doubling that budget with just shy of $40 million in domestic ticket sales and almost another $14 overseas. Not bad numbers considering the most well known star of the film was… uh… well that is hard to say since there are really no household names here.
As far as sci-fi/horror films go Pitch Black is hardly on the level of Alien, but it is a decent escape as it tells the story of a transporter ship that crash lands on a planet infested by a group of creatures only able to move around in the dark. This plot point soon comes into play as the three suns of the planet set and the darkness spreads. The freaks truly do come out a night.
Vin plays a baddie named Riddick and the rest of the main cast is made up of ship captain Carolyn Fry (Radha Mitchell), mercenary William J. Johns (Cole Hauser) and preacher Abu ‘Imam’ al-Walid (Keith David), obviously a group of names that are well known to us now, but when the film was made it was safe to call this a cast of “relatively unknowns.”
For Riddick this crash-landing is a blessing in disguise as he now has the chance to avoid that life in prison for the murders and various other crimes he has committed and get away, but first he is going to have to work with the rest of his party to survive the night.
So there’s the rundown, how is the HD DVD? Well, this is one of the joys of writing HD DVDs review, getting titles like this and The Chronicles of Riddick. Pitch Black has some spectacularly cool visuals as the film begins with a really cool crash landing on the sun scorched planet. As the ship makes its way through swirling plumes of atmospheric gas you will be blessed with planetary visuals that will not only have you counting the pores on Vin Diesel’s face but the grains of sand at his feet. Really, this one looks that good.
This HD DVD release is also the unrated cut of the film and has all the special features that were available on the unrated DVD including a TON of making-of featurettes, a look at the animated Riddick story Dark Fury and two feature commentaries. Of the bunch the best feature is certainly the commentary with Vin Diesel, Cole Hauser and director David Twohy, a commentary that I have a feeling we can call Diesel’s last. As the movie rolls along Diesel, Hauser and Twohy are chatting up a storm when Vin suddenly wonders what the hell they are doing and refers to the recording of a commentary as the most asinine thing he has ever done. It really is funny considering there are several moments prior to that where he picks out his favorite shots and even points out things he completely doesn’t understand, such as a scene where Riddick cuts off a piece of Carolyn’s hair, sniffs it and then blows it away. He questions the move and laughs at it. He is personable and very funny, it is too bad he seemed to hate the experience so much that I don’t think we will be hearing from him again.
Overall Pitch Black is a worthy pick up on HD DVD and is one of the better titles to be released so far taking advantage of the increased disc space with a lot of features and simply a movie that highly benefits from the improved video and audio of HD DVD.
This leads us to The Chronicles of Riddick, the 2004 sequel to Pitch Black that went a completely different direction than its predecessor. Enjoying a production budget of $85 million more Riddick saw far less returns than the original for its money as it brought in only $57 million domestically and another $57 million on the international front. Of course, along with DVD and now HD DVD the film has managed to make Universal its money back, but I am sure they expected much more.
With Chronicles of Riddick we are once again introduced to Mr. Riddick only this time we meet him as a “free” man, eluding mercenaries with an eye on collecting the price on his head for his capture. However things soon come full circle as Riddick finds himself back as the anti-hero, this time hell bent on saving more than just a few people, this time it is a planetary war as a cult known as Necromongers are making their way through the galaxy converting everyone in sight, and those that won’t be converted ultimately meet their doom. Riddick is not about to become one of the converted and his big ol’ heart ain’t about to let anyone else suffer that fate either.
Comparing Riddick to Pitch Black is not exactly something that should be done considering the films are no longer of the same genre. While they are both sci-fi actioners the horror aspect of the original is what made it so unique. Riddick, instead, is a strictly sci-fi feature and a movie I enjoyed much more than a lot of people I would say, but I think a lot of that has to do with most people’s expectations. I can only assume those that enjoyed Pitch Black were looking for a film along the same lines, if they had only expected a special effect laden space drama they may have had a different opinion.
Just like Pitch Black this is the Unrated Cut of Riddick and it offers almost the exact same style of special features as Pitch Black. This is not to say the features are the same but the presentation is the same. Where Pitch Black had a feature following Cole Hauser character’s “chase log” this one has mercenary Toombs’ (Nick Chinlund) “chase log” as the two try to hunt down Riddick. It also has several features based on the making of the film and the special effects involved as well as a feature commentary and introduction by director David Twohy.
While Pitch Black is certainly a better movie The Chronicles of Riddick is a satisfying sci-fi film considering we don’t exactly get a lot of them and I certainly don’t see this as the final film in the tale. This is a franchise begging for a third and final film, it all depends on whether or not a script can be written to warrant the dollars being spent. However, if you are looking for a couple of films to beef up your initial slate of HD DVDs I wouldn’t look past these two as they are a couple of the better ones you are going to get.