The Chronicles of Riddick continues the saga of Riddick, the dangerous convict who became the anti-hero in Pitch Black, as he is forced to fight a dark army that is traveling through the universe destroying every world in its path.
David Twohy, the director of Pitch Black, writes and directs Riddick to mixed results. Twohy, whose films have the tendency to be on the verge of something good but generally fall short - namely Pitch Black and Below - finds himself in the same situation here: he has a great concept, great ideas, great visual design, but the execution is disappointing...
Specifically, Riddick starts off with the title character (Vin Diesel) on the run from mercenaries who are seeking a bounty on his head (if you haven't seen Pitch Black, or, more likely, don't remember much of it, Riddick is some kind of almost-human who can see in the dark and has the uncanny ability to kick ass), but he is soon brought in to fight against the Necromongers, a horribly ruthless army that is like the Borg only without the bionics. Somehow, the movie sidetracks for what seems like an hour as Riddick heads to a desolate prison planet to save Kyra (Alexa Davalos), who was known as Jack in the previous film, and ends up doing a bunch of pointless stuff to escape. He then returns to fight the Necromonger Lord Marshal (Colm Feore) because he is a bad person.
The most intriguing part of the story is the secret quarreling that goes on within the Necromonger ranks; the characters of Vaako (Karl Urban) and his wife (Thandie Newton) are especially interesting, as they slowly plot to kill the Lord Marshal and take the throne for themselves. Political backstabbing always adds a new element to a film, but unfortunately Twohy fails to emphasize the subplot to its full potential.
Instead, he puts most of the emphasis of the film on Riddick's fighting on the prison planet, which is probably the dumbest and most pointless sequence of the film. All of this is done to reintroduce the character of Kyra a.k.a. Jack (why she has a different name makes little sense), and along with a new actress to play her, the character bears no resemblance to the girl in Pitch Black. Furthermore, Kyra can do all kinds of phenomenal fighting that rivals Riddick, and the character seems extremely unrealistic. It is hard to relate to her, and an effective relationship is never really formed between Riddick and her. In a more general sense, the whole prison sequence just seems like filler, even though Twohy has more than enough substance to work with in regards to the war with the Necromongers. Instead of introducing a long and drawn out sequence where Riddick and other prisoners run 26 kilometers to outrun a deadly sunset (who cares?), Twohy could have been playing up the political turmoil going on within the Necromonger hierarchy, or at least have Riddick fighting some Necromongers.
Visually, The Chronicles of Riddick is a so-so affair. In terms of design, the movie is fairly impressive; Twohy is very aggressive in creating fairly original races (though he fails to explain them adequately) and set designs. The Necromonger ships, both inside and out, are fairly impressive. However, the special effects are not. Most of the big effects do not even seem remotely real, nor do they inspire any more awe than a video game does. Detail seems to be lacking from some shots, and at other times, the graphics just don't work. This is another example of a good idea poorly executed.
Riddick does succeed in terms of its title character; Vin Diesel does a superb job at playing a bad ass. Riddick is a pretty awesome character, and Diesel is very effective in portraying the man.
The Chronicles of Riddick is moderately entertaining at least some of the time, and Vin Diesel does a good job, but overall the film fails to execute on a basic level that is needed for sci-fi action films. There is just something that is missing from the execution of the plan, and that small missing link draws a clear line between a good film and the film that The Chronicles of Riddick is, a lackluster action film that only manages to meet my doubtful expectations.
The Unrated DVD is now in stores, and in addition the various special features the theatrical version DVD contains, this one includes fifteen minutes of added footage. Most of the footage extends existing sequences. As with most Director's Cuts nowadays, the added footage does not improve the film, but for fans does provide a few more glimpses into Riddick's past, etc.
Other features include 5 minutes of deleted scenes, which are pretty good for deleted scenes, a "Virtual Guide to The Chronicles of Riddick," which basically just has some of the characters explaining the different worlds seen in the film, and "Toomb's Chase Log," a rather stupid feature that has the character of Toombs filming a captain's log in the days leading up to the first scene of the movie. The DVD also includes a 360-degree guided tour of various sets - I must say I have been truly disappointed. Obviously, these 3D exploration features are a long way from being entertaining; they are still so static and unimpressive.
More interesting features are a visual effects featurette (though compared to ones for other DVDs, this one is a little disappointing), a "facts and trivia" feature that you can turn on to display information while watching the movie, and the first level of the video game for X-Box owners. There is also an audio commentary that involves the director and a couple cast members - but not Vin Diesel.
All in all, the Unrated DVD is worth it. The movie isn't one I would personally buy, but if you're a fan of the film than this one has enough features and deleted scenes to whet your appetite.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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