The Chronicles of Riddick: Directors Cut Review
Riddick-ulous. And it knows it, as though its story is too complex even for words. As the Elemental Aereon fails to make clear, the main villain of the film, the Lord Marshal, returned from the threshold to the Underverse, "...a different being. Stronger. Stranger. Half alive and half... something else." As though director David Twohy had finally admitted defeat at bringing such a complex vision to the screen, his very failure to capture what it is the Lord Marshall has becomes stands as the finest example of how Twohy has also failed to explain what it is about Riddick that needs to be expanded on. Hadn't we seen enough in Pitch Black?
The chronicles of Riddick? Like there's that much to tell? Twohy and star Vin Diesel clearly think so despite Riddick being the flimsiest of modern sci-fi heroes. An ability to see in the dark may well have been one of the things that lifted Pitch Black out of being an ordinary little shocker but there it made sense. Being what separates Riddick from mere mortals, night vision feels, well, underwhelming. If a script meeting for a John Holmes film must always conclude with the line, "And this is where he takes his cock out" so, I feel, must Twohy and Diesel wonder when the lights go out during a Riddick film, of which, quite unbelievably, this is the third.
The Chronicles of Riddick concerns the passage of the Necromongers through space, killing all those that are unconverted to their faith. Ruled by the Lord Marshal (Colm Feore), they submit entire planets to their will, leaving nothing more than a burnt-out shell in their wake. The next civilisation to fall to the Necromongers is Helios Prime, more specifically the city of New Mecca where the holy man Imam (Keith David) lives with his wife and daughter having survived, thanks to Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel), the dangers on a pitch black planet some five years earlier.
Riddick is elsewhere in the galaxy as the Necromongers set out for Helios Prime but there's a bounty on his head. Evading capture by a mercenary, Toombs (Nick Chinlund), Riddick learns of the price on his head and sets out to find the man who has that kind of money to pay, leading him to Imam. Just as he arrives, however, the Necromonger ships are seen in the sky and an unfinished battle between the Lord Marshal and the last of the Furyans must now be resolved.
Now you may well be thinking what I was thinking on reading all of that back - it sounds alarmingly like the blurb on the back of a pulp sci-fi novel that only found itself in bookshops through a paid-in-advance vanity publisher. Furyans, Necromongers, Elementals, The Underverse, the Threshold...it so clearly wants to be epic that it forgets to tie all of these disparate worlds, universes and civilisations into a coherent story. Twohy clearly makes the mistake of not realising that there is a huge difference between being grand and being simply confusing and the more ideas that are introduced, the more lumbering it becomes until, at the end, The Chronicles of Riddick is a great hulk of a movie that bulldozes towards a finale that absolutely no one can, hand on heart, say that they entirely understand. It would pain this viewer to try and explain all of what I have gathered through several viewings but, even then, the more that I think I know, the more I don't want to know, sensing that it really amounts to nowt in the end.
At one point, I had considered comparing The Chronicles of Riddick to beginning watching the Star Wars films at, say, Attack Of The Clones or The Empire Strikes Back but, even then, it's possible to get a hang on the empire, the rebellion and the use of the Force relatively easily. A better comparison to this film would be watching The Matrix Reloaded without any knowledge either of The Matrix or Revolutions - it really does make that little sense and, as a character, Riddick often looks as confused as Neo did when confronted with the Architect. The audience is, I suspect, entirely sympathetic with the fog of incomprehension that clouds his eyes throughout.
That said, this Director's Cut is a slight improvement on the theatrical cut in that a new character, Shirah (Kristin Lehman), makes two appearances to explain what happened to the Furyans at the hands of the Lord Marshal. Again, however, it helps to listen to the commentary to fully realise that but, as with so many of Twohy's ideas, she also raises more questions than she answers. For example, a scene on a runway ends with Shirah explaining to Riddick that he has the ability to unleash a burst of Furyan energy to repel the Necromonger's gravity fire, which he does. Then, minutes later, the Purifier (Linus Roache) reveals that he is also a Furyan and asks that Riddick end the rule of the Necromongers before fatally walking into the heat of Crematoria. But...are not two Furyans better than one? Can any old Furyan do that energy thing? And why does Riddick only do it once when it's clear that it resolves things quicker than Riddick's preferred upper cut with a blade?
It really doesn't help to actually think about any of this - more that The Chronicles of Riddick ought to be viewed without ever engaging one's mind. Indeed, the perfect viewer of this film will be able to virtually connect their eyes, ears and possibly their groin without any interference from any other bodily organ. It's ironic, therefore, that this perfect viewer is a complete opposite from the quasi-deads in the film. Quasi-dead, you say? Really, don't ask as it will take an age to even get to the point where they can be explained.
But The Chronicles of Riddick is not entirely without merit is it looks and sounds wonderful. The estimated $130m budget is there on the screen and Twohy does have a good eye for an image. The Necromongers, in particular, are the best looking villains since the arrival of Darth Vader and owe much to Leni Riefenstahl's footage of the Nazis in Triumph Of The Will. It's also not without a sense of humour and both Riddick and Toombs play off one another well in the few scenes that they share. Of less interest is the retelling of Macbeth between Vaako and his wife (Karl Urban and Thandie Newton, respectively), which is played out all too obviously and ends in a predictable manner given the Lord Marshal's earlier, "You keep what you kill!" Of even less interest is the reappearance of Jack/Kyra, the boy/girl from Pitch Black, played here by Alexa Davalos. Now detained on Crematoria, Riddick's short stay there looks no more than Twohy somehow finding a way for the two to come back together having been through so much in the prequel to this film. She doesn't, however, actually do very much and Riddick's rescuing of another character, such as Christina Cox's mercenary, would have been just as welcome.
All of this is, however, not worth a damn if you just want to see Vin Diesel tear across three star systems, realise his destiny and take on a band of mythologically-inclined space Nazis and, that, is the very simple reason why The Chronicles of Riddick can be so very entertaining. If you can ignore David Twohy's more flowery pronouncements on Riddick - given the introduction on this DVD, he does appear to take it all rather seriously - and simply enjoy it as an action spectacular, it can work and does so best in the early battle on Planet 6 in the UV system, his street fights in New Mecca and his abrasive first meeting with the Lord Marshal, Vaako and Irgun, which finishes with Riddick's, "I think it's a half-gram heavy on the back end!" Of course, all of these moments occur before Twohy gets lost amongst the Furyans, Necromongers and Crematoria and have nothing to do with the grim questions on spirituality and destiny that he poses for himself. Had The Chronicles of Riddick simply been more of Pitch Black, I don't doubt that many would have complained but, equally, Riddick doesn't feel suited to a sci-fi epic. Perhaps a character who can do little more than see in the dark and handle himself in a fight is not, Vin Diesel's fame notwithstanding, the basis on which an industry should be built.
The Chronicles of Riddick looks and sounds fantastic and with Disc 1 having been kept fairly free of bonus material, almost all of the space on the disc is given over to the film. There is very little that one can fault over the quality of the picture - the rich colour schemes on Helion Prime and handled just as well as the dark prison on Crematoria and in watching this on a big screen, I had to go very close to pick out any digital noise.
In his introduction, David Twohy talks about there being jumps in the film where new scenes have been cut in, which required the cutting of a frame in the negative. Well, I tried and failed to spot any of these jumps despite knowing where they ought to have been and suspect that few people will notice.
The absence of a DTS track is notable but the Dolby Digital 5.1 is still very good indeed. If anything, it doesn't quite pack enough of a punch sounding slightly too thin in those moments where the subwoofer really ought to be thoroughly tested. Overall, though, there really isn't much to complain about.
Commentary: David Twohy hosts Alexa Davalos in London and Karl Urban in New Zealand for a feature-length commentary that concentrates on the changes between this director's cut and the original theatrical cut. Of course, this gives Twohy more time than is entirely necessary to describe the vision that he had for The Chronicles of Riddick and he comes across as being, post-Pitch Black, a director who takes his work more seriously that it warrants. Thankfully, Karl Urban punctures Twohy's statements to keep things informal but Alexa Davalos may as well not have been there.
Riddick Insider: You may want to keep this off unless the minutiae of The Chronicles of Riddick is really of interest as this bonus feature pops an occasional fact up on screen to backfill the story. Having viewed all of it, I can safely say that I know only a little more than I did before being facted until it almost hurt.
Deleted Scenes (8m05s): Given that this is a Director's Cut of the film, I was surprised that any such scenes had been left out but this is footage that didn't really fit into either version, was reshot or was left unfinished. The most interesting scenes are those that, like the film, feature Toombs, which includes a different treatment of the battle on Planet 6 in the UV system and his death on Crematoria.
These scenes also come with the option of subtitles and a commentary from David Twohy.
Virtual Guide (7m40s): Voiced by the characters in the film, this is a short collection of even shorter features explaining some of the civilisations, characters and planets in the film. On three of these features - Crematoria, Necromonger and Elementals, the viewer is given a choice as to what character they wish to hear a report - Toombs or Krya for Crematoria and Dame Vaako or Aereon for Necromonger and Elementals.
Toomb’s Chase Log (9m59s): With Toombs firmly at the front of the bus, we get an insight into what happened before the film opened with him and his crew attempting to capture Riddick on Planet 6. Presented in the form of a log with a voiceover by Nick Chinlund, this is quite a dull extra that only the most devoted Riddickers will appreciate.
Visual Effects Revealed (6m03s): Featuring interviews with David Twohy and Peter Chiang (Visual Effects Supervisor), this quickly looks at some of the major special effects in the film including the devil dogs on Crematoria, the burning of the Purifier and Aereon, the Air Elemental.
Riddick's Worlds: Beginning with an introduction and a walkthrough by Vin Diesel (3m12s), this then allows the viewer to take a 360deg tour of the sets used in the film. As nothing in The Chronicles of Riddick was filmed on location, only on sound stages, all of the sets used in the film are available here.
Creation of New Mecca (11m13s): First mentioned in Pitch Black, New Mecca was the destination of Imam, who is also seen in The Chronicles of Riddick. Keith David is interviewed here as are Judi Dench, Vin Diesel and David Twohy who use this bonus feature not so much to describe the set used to bring New Mecca to the screen but how it defines the spiritual journey of the characters in the two films.
Riddick Rises (13m27s): David Twohy and Vin Diesel are the main participants of this feature in which they explain how they moved the Riddick character on from Pitch Black to The Chronicles of Riddick.
Keep What You Kill (17m31s): What with the Necromongers being such an important part of The Chronicles of Riddick, it's only fair that they should be rewarded with one of this DVD's better extras. Featuring interviews with Colm Feore, Linus Roache, Karl Urban and Thandie Newton, as well as Diesel and Twohy, this feature explains the origins of the Necromongers, their faith in the existence of the Underverse and what that 'verse holds. Nonsense, obviously, but fun, nonetheless.
Interactive Production Calendar: Whilst this offers the promise of being able to follow the production day-by-day, a number of days don't appear to have had a DVD extras team on the set. This feature does, however, include short behind-the-scenes looks at the production, averaging about 30s per day. There is no 'play all' option, simply three rotating dials allowing a particular day to be selected.
Trailers: Four trailers are included, two of which are relevant - Pitch Black SE (1m14s) and Dark Fury (25s) - whilst two are not - Van Helsing (1m14s) and The Bourne Supremacy (1m57s).
Easter Egg (47s) - One exists on the main menu on the second disc - it works both on the Convert or Fight menus - that reveals a very short feature based around the final battle between the Lord Marshal and Riddick.
Odd that, given its prominence in the menu, we eventually hear so little about either conversion or resistance to the faith of the Necromongers. Instead of this being a film set during wartime, which could have been interesting, David Twohy has delivered a film that offers much sci-fi nonsense at the expense of a decent story. Its failure at the box office - both Twohy and Diesel have said that the next two parts of the The Chronicles of Riddick trilogy are dependent on DVD sales - suggests that audiences were as welcoming to this as they were to David Lynch's Dune.
Unlike Lynch, though, I find that I have little sympathy for Twohy and his failure on this - after the success of Pitch Black, he directed a ghost story that was light on scares (Below) and, with this, a film that took advantage of Diesel's rising fame to produce something that few really wanted. I can't say that I really want to see parts two and three of The Chronicles of Riddick as this rather spoils the fun that was to be had with Pitch Black. I also suspect that this Director's Cut is more about Twohy trying to salvage his career and the absence of Diesel suggests that he has already moved on. In time, I suspect even fans of this film will as well.