The Chronicles of Riddick Review
Pitch Black was one of the most interesting films to emerge at the start of the new millennium. Crossing science fiction with horror it popped up out of nowhere and surprised many viewers with its successful blend of the two genres. Granted the film was flawed in a few areas but director, David Twohy made good use of limited resources and managed to create a suitably dark tale with a twist - his main lead was a vicious killer. Vin Diesel shot to fame soon afterward and the rest is history.
Five years since the production of Pitch Black and now Richard B. Riddick is back in The Chronicles of Riddick - a film set five years since he, Imam (Keith David) and Jack (then played by Rhiana Griffith) escaped from the clutches of nocturnal aliens. In the time since then Riddick has somehow been hiding out on a remote ice-planet, but the opportunity for escape is made present when a gang of bounty hunters come to take him away and collect the price on his head. Riddick manages to beat them all up and steal their ship, where he then flies to New Mecca so that he can pick a few bones with the man who set him up. Once he arrives he discovers that a race known as Necromongers are converting people to their religion by force. He also learns from an elemental named Aereon (Judi Dench) that the Necromongers had destroyed the Furion race, but guess what? Riddick is a Furion and it is prophesised that only he can defeat this evil race and save the world from metal-clad fools.
If I come across as someone bored in that write up then in all honesty it’s because I am; having been left jaded by lifeless films such as this, the ones that rake in all the money for Hollywood so that more can be made. After an excruciating thirty minutes in which David Twohy sets up the film with a bunch of flashing lights and horrible exposition scenes things start to get into standard action fare, whereby Riddick can flex his pecks and go from being a cold blooded murderer to a big ol’' softie teddy bear. Going against everything that made him what he was in the first film, Riddick still kicks ass in several scenes but his inner workings have been messed around with for the worse. If fleshing out Diesel’s character by adding more humanity to him is the best that Twohy can do then he might as well just kill him off in the next instalment, because he’s already turned into a hopeless cause who is no longer the anti-hero that fans warmed to in Pitch Black. Am I the only one who wanted to see a pure bad guy here?
By doing this the director has made his second fateful mistake, going against and somehow lacking the respect for his own material by bringing into the mix a grown up Jack, now wanting to be known as Kyra (played this time by Alexa Davalos). Why oh why wasn’t Rhiana Griffith brought back to reprise her role? She was very capable as the androgynous kid but instead we get a bland replacement who looks nothing like she probably should, and whom we are supposed to buy into straight away. Five years of training has hardened Kyra, so much so that she has come to embody Riddick in the way she dreamed of doing the first time she met him, but then it isn’t long before she is the one who ends up needing rescuing in typical fashion before she can repay her debt in equally typical and predictable style.
Thirdly, the Necromongers are the worst alien baddie characters ever committed to film. These guys are no where near the scary, head munching aliens from the first film that were employed so well. The Necromongers are just lazy creations, taking part in a lazy script that is so dumb it defies so many things that the previous film and animated feature laid out before it. Dumb action movies can be fun but not if they’re as persistently lacking as this one. Oh, but at least Thandie Newton manages to brighten up the screen with her particularly sexy appearance as the sultry Necro-babe with a mean and conniving streak.
The Chronicles of Riddick otherwise only has action and CGI aesthetics going for it, which is another big problem because it is just so nightmarish to watch on a big screen television in superb DVD detail. Either I’m getting too old to enjoy these kinds of movies anymore or effects such as these still have a long way to go. I’m going to stick with the latter and say that what is presented here are some of the worst examples of computer technology used on film in recent years. For a start there is just too much that is rammed in your face; it becomes hard to accept it as being a natural part of the film and so it inevitably ends up looking like something that came straight out of a computer game. Worse still is are the composite techniques that are supposed to make us believe the characters are really flying spaceships, riding carts, running from Necro-goons or walking through city streets. At no point did any of this excite me. The world of New Mecca is a dull and uninspired one, with some horrible set design that is drowned in various lights such as blues or yellows early on, lacking the kind of simple yet effective lighting seen in Riddick’s first outing.
At times David Twohy makes an attempt at recreating certain elements from Pitch Black, such as Riddick’'s unique sight or a particular scene in which Riddick and pals are running through a rocky terrain that almost echoes the original in terms of colour but fails to match its dark and claustrophobic atmosphere. It is because of his over excited use of technology that visually the film does fail; never pulling off what he presumably set out to do, which I’m sure is to create a unique environment for action fans to enjoy. I hope in light of this failure that Twohy goes back to his roots and makes his next film with Riddick a little less outwardly.
I really could go on and on about why this film is so bad, such as the curious inclusion of Judi Dench, who does nothing in the film portraying a character that lacks any real credibility. Out of the entire cast I see it only fair to give Vin Diesel a shout for trying to make it through unscathed and also to Nick Chinlund as Toombs - the hapless bounty hunter who provides several comic treats. I think by continuing on though I’m just going to be wasting my breath on this shallow effort that never deserved to perform so well at the box office. Perhaps my enjoyment of Pitch Black explains why I feel so cheated this time around, as it seems David Twohy no longer cares about his creation and is willing to churn out rubbish like this just to fill his wallet.
Much like its predecessor, The Chronicles of Riddick debuted on Region 1 DVD in separate Theatrical and Director’s Cut editions, with the latter boasting an extended run time and additional bonus features including a director’s commentary. And much like its predecessor on these shores, Universal are only providing the standard theatrical cut edition to UK consumers.
Universal have decided to try out a little gimmick for this release. When the disc loads up it presents a screen with two options: "Fight" or "Convert". Choosing either takes you to a menu from which you can play the film, select scenes or view bonus material, the only difference is that "Fight" contains an easter egg.
Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 the film looks wonderful. The image is sharp with fine amounts of detail and great colour, with strong flesh tones and good use of lighting. The image stands up well to the various techniques used and even the occasional moments of mist come across with relative ease. Unfortunately the special effects stand out a mile thanks to the digital age of home cinema, though this cannot be blamed on DVD, finally there is a fair amount of noticeable edge enhancement that is clearly visible on a 28-32” TV and may be off putting to viewers with larger screens.
The only track that is made available for this release is a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround one. The track doesn’t let us down. A film of this scope calls for a special workout and the speakers each handle the separate elements well. I still find that Diesel talks a bit too quietly at times but otherwise the dialogue is clear from the front, while the rear speakers make tremendous use of background noises and action scenes, offering a really great cinematic experience.
There are subtitles available in English for the hard of hearing.
Fans will be pleased to know that the following extras have optional English subtitles.
Virtual Guide to “The Chronicles of Riddick“
This featurette allows you to access ten information files that are narrated by cast members. Each one lasts for up to as little as 20 seconds and serve as small pieces of encyclopaedic knowledge, that aren’t actually that interesting and tell you nothing that you didn't already know or see in the film. These files can be viewed individually or together in one go.
Toombs’ Chase Log
Running at close to ten minutes this little piece covers 18 days worth of computer logs, by Toombs, voiced by Nick Chinlund getting back into his role again. It is a little too gimmicky for my liking and not a whole lot of fun, watching a blinking, mock cockpit.
Choosing this option will enable lots of really cool facts about the film that promise to be enlightening and unbelievable. Depending on how much you like this movie depends on how interested you are in this feature. As if you couldn’t tell by now I pretty much loath it, and so these facts on demand are about as interesting as a Goth teen’s live journal entry.
Visual Effects Revealed
Not much time is given to this feature, which briskly gets though several of the bigger, technical shots in the space of 6-minutes. As someone who thought these were employed really badly I can’t say I really went in for what was being said. The crew evidently had a hard time in creating the visual effects but for a summer blockbuster released in 2004 it feels like effects wise it is behind the times.
After viewing Vin Diesel’s 3-minute guided tour of the sets you can then go and take a look at all the major sets in a 360 degrees interactive view. Each shot is put together, pressing right or left on the control takes you to the next shot. It gradually comes full circle and then you can go on to the next one.
Play the X-Box Game
Now this did take me by surprise. Inserting the game into your XBox gives you access to a full playable demo from the hit game The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. I must say that from what I played I found it to be a very polished looking game, with authentic sounds, voices and visuals. Having played the demo I might even go so far as to say it is one of the best movie licence games of recent years.
Inserting the disc into your PC gives you a few more additional extras if you like DVD-ROM stuff. Personally I never can understand why they don't just include extras like these on the disc itself.
Trailers for the following Universal releases are included:
Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black, Special Edition, Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury, Van Helsing, The Bourne Supremacy and Billy Elliot: The Musical
Due to several poorly executed and ill conceived ideas, along with insipid action sequences The Chronicles of Riddick is a horrendous film. As noted previously there is a director’s cut available on Region 1 DVD, which I’m told improves upon the action if nothing else. Personally I cannot believe that it can right all the wrongs that are present in this theatrical cut and as such I doubt it’ll make me see the film in a different light. As someone who enjoyed Pitch Black I feel really let down by this sequel. Though saying that, after seeing the early trailers it seemed inevitable.