The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury Review
You can’t keep a good man down, a saying proven by Vin Diesel’s unstoppable anti-hero Richard B. Riddick - a role he has reprised in this years blockbuster The Chronicles of Riddick. A belated follow-up/sequel to 2000’s sleeper hit Pitch Black, the character was a fascinating creation by David Twohy - a genuine villain that you rooted for, rather than feared. Yet, with Diesel’s menacing physical strength and gruff persona, you were never sure if Riddick would turn against those who trusted him. He’s certainly a man on the edge between good and evil, and he provided Pitch Black with an uncommon quality. Without him, it might have been just another body count picture with pretty visuals. Whatever the reason for its cult success, it transformed Diesel into a star.
With such an intriguing character to play around with, Diesel and Twohy became curious, as most filmmakers do. The Chronicles of Riddick is different to many science fiction sequels, since it refuses to play out the same scenario. In many respects, it is a completely different beast to its predecessor, preferring to venture into Riddick’s universe rather than plant another crew on yet another alien-infested planet. Its scope and ambition is pretty commendable, and I await the release of the film with anticipation. But you don’t have to wait until next month for your next Riddick fix. Hot on the heels of the Animatrix, the creative artisans in charge of the franchise have developed an animated prequel. It seems to be the new craze in Hollywood; a marketing man’s wet dream. Even the dire Van Hesling had its own animated adventure. However, in my mind, The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury is the most entertaining of these titles, providing a glimpse into the developing mythology without revealing too much. It’s also a lot of fun.
Dark Fury takes place right after the events of Pitch Black. Riddick has escaped the planet that claimed the lives of his captors, travelling through space with fellow survivors Imam (Keith David) and Jack (Rhianna Griffith). However, they soon run out of fuel. Stranded yet again, they are picked up by a mercenary vessel, led by the deranged Chillingsworth (Tress MacNeille). Riddick’s plan is to pose as deceased bounty hunter Johns, but the ships engineers aren’t easily tricked, pulling the ship into their cargo bay. After slaughtering several mercs in a bid to escape, Riddick is eventually brought to a stand still, as Jack’s life is placed in danger. Perhaps he does care about them after all...
Riddick is bound, and an explosive device planted in his neck. You can never be too careful, it seems. Led into the heart of the ship, Chillingsworth’s macabre operation soon becomes clear. She collects the bodies of the universes most wanted men, placing them in an advanced level of stasis. They are alive, but moving so slowly, that the human eye cannot detect it. According to Chillingsworth, “closing an eye is a weeks work”. She intends to subject Riddick to this horrid fate, but first he is pitted against a horde of creatures to test his abilities. He stays alive, and with Imam and Jack, makes a run for it. Soon enough, they are being hunted down by the ships mercenaries, led by Toombs (Nick Chinlund), a killer that has a personal distaste for our bald “hero”.
Based upon a story drafted by Twohy, Dark Fury is brought to the screen by director Peter Chung, who also worked on the Animatrix saga. With a decent script from Brett Matthews, this animated episode certainly has its moments. If you’re new to the Riddick phenomenon, and haven’t seen Pitch Black, you’ll be clueless. The crew assume you’ve seen the film, with no explanations whatsoever. The details about Riddick’s past, or his knack for seeing in the dark, will be incomprehensible to anyone not schooled in Diesel’s character. However, points are given for picking up directly where Pitch Black left off. It makes perfect sense, and despite being animated, there is a great sense of continuity.
Running for a mere 30 minutes, there isn’t a lot covered here. If you’re expecting a lengthy look into the character, or a detailed background of the years between PB and Chronicles, you’ll be very disappointed. While there is more than a whiff of commercial exploitation about this release, Dark Fury is an entertaining brew while it lasts. Its a short burst of cartoonish action, that would be perfect as the pilot for a television series. The animation by Chung is brilliant. Featuring 2D sketches against computer generated landscapes, Dark Fury looks suitably impressive, and the images are never boring. The interior of the mercenary vessel is strange and foreboding, with a decent level of atmosphere generated. The team have also done a good job of recreating the film characters, and have even emphasised Diesel’s already-huge figure.
The voice performers are top-notch too. Many complain about Diesel’s wooden performances, but if there is one character he excels at, Riddick is it. The return of David and Griffith is also a nice touch, adding to that continuity. The voices gel with the ambience cooked up by Chung, and the cast also includes some animation regulars. Listen out for the voice of Roger L. Jackson - best known for being the terrifying “phone voice” in the Scream series.
The action scenes are pretty engaging too, rising it from mediocrity. One of them is even original. As the mercs surround Riddick’s ship in zero gravity, the resourceful killer fills the room with fire extinguishing foam, pulling his predators into the cloud and killing them with ease. For a cartoon, Dark Fury will surprise many in terms of violence. Watching the cloud turn red from the blood is a savage delight, as is the moment when Riddick plunges a knife into the eye of an enemy. Something tells me that the film won’t be as playful in terms of gore...
Despite being a treat, Dark Fury is flawed, stopping this from being a sure fire purchase for casual fans. Twohy and Chung have stated that the intention for this was to “bridge the gap” between films. Here, is where Dark Fury fails. It doesn’t really bridge the gap, but widens it instead. Too much is left uncovered, the most obvious of which is the character of Toombs, who is a key figure in the sequel. He is merely “introduced” with no sufficient detail. You should also consider the fact that Chronicles happens five years after the events here, leaving a lot of history that should have been documented. The impression we’re left with, is one of mild disappointment, since Dark Fury should have been grander, not to mention lengthier. That said, I had a fun time, and it only raised my interest in the film.
Months after the release of Chronicles in the States, the future of the character is in doubt. The film under performed badly, so the chances of Twohy and Diesel completing their proposed “trilogy” is doubtful. Still, Riddick remains a worthwhile character in science fiction - an interesting and complex creation that holds the attention in whatever form he takes. Personally, I’d love to see the franchise continue...
Universal present their latest franchise title with a great deal of care. Dark Fury is a technical marvel on DVD, that will impress in terms of quality, despite falling down in the extras department. Fans should also note that Pitch Black will garner a re-release by the studio next month, if you didn’t know that already. Like Dark Fury, it will be trading under the Chronicles banner...
The Look and Sound
The studio clearly put effort into their animated properties too, since Dark Fury looks as good as any live action blockbuster. The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer does an excellent job of showcasing Peter Chung’s effective artwork. Its clear and vibrant, with great contrast and clarity. Even the dark portions of the film are sharp, with an innovative use of shadows that show the animator’s skill. Some of the computer generated imagery also stands out, and with such a clear transfer, it takes on a new dimension. I have also been told that the transfer is better than the Region 1 release - some high praise indeed. Ultimately, I had no problems here.
Not as impressive, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track does the trick anyhow. A serviceable surround mix, the audio handles those effects with precision. The most exciting portion of the film - Riddick’s attack on the mercenaries - literally explodes across the sound field, with bullets zinging left and right. In most respects, the mix is solid, but I didn’t feel the atmosphere of the ship as well as I should have. Certain areas of the score needed an added boost, but the action is catered for with aplomb. Perhaps I’m nit-picking, since Dark Fury looks and sounds excellent on shiny disc...
“Bridging the Gap”
This is a small featurette on the making of Dark Fury, offering a few insightful comments on the series, and how the filmmakers have perceived the character in the sequel. It offers some talking head interview material with Vin Diesel, David Twohy, Peter Chung and Brett Matthews, along with snippets of the up-coming film. Worth watching at least once, we get a glimpse of the creative process, and the animators at work. However, its short run time stops this from being comprehensive.
“Dark Fury Animatics”
Running for the length of the animation, this is Dark Fury in animatic form. Like storyboards, this gives us a great look at how the art is developed before the final cut. The original, pre-cut soundtrack is also provided.
“Interview with Peter Chung”
A short look into the mind of Chung, that highlights his inspiration, his working method, and the character that lies at the heart of this new franchise. Chung is very genial, and when he talks you certainly want to listen. He’s clearly very talented, and this is a neat dedication to his work. Anime fans will appreciate this.
“Into the Light”
Yet another brief look at the sequel follows, with some behind the scenes snippets and comments from Twohy and Diesel, who are bursting with enthusiasm as always. It doesn’t last long, and feels very promotional. It’s not anything to get excited about.
The set is completed by a trailer for Universal’s Van Helsing: London Assignment, and one for the Chronicles of Riddick video game, dubbed “Escape From Butcher Bay”.
Dark Fury is only worth a purchase for die-hard fans of the series. It doesn’t offer too much for repeat viewings, but is certainly worth a look before the release of Chronicles of Riddick in UK cinemas. A rental seems to be in order here then, but if you like Riddick, Diesel or above-average animation, this disc is recommended.