|Chronicles of Riddick, The|
|HD DVD Sci-Fi-Fantasy|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Friday, 01 December 2006|
Vin Diesel first brought the character of Riddick to life in a slick B movie science fiction/horror presentation called “Pitch Black”. As Riddick, Diesel was sheer menace in motion for the first part of the movie and truly looked as though he was going to be the ultimate villain. That part ended up being played by the indigenous predatory life forms that only came out in the extended darkness on the planet, giving the film its name. That feature also played to Riddick’s strength because his eyes had been altered so they couldn’t stand bright lights and he could see perfectly in the darkness. By the end of that movie, Riddick managed to escape and bring a few other survivors with him when they finally blasted off for outer space.
When I found out there was going to be a sequel, I truly believed we were going to get another science fiction/horror movie. And that would have been okay with me. I enjoyed the first one. For me, movies don’t have to be art or leave a lasting impression that will change my life forever or alter my perception. I just want a good story. “Pitch Black” filled the bill on that.
I was unprepared for “The Chronicles of Riddick” because it wasn’t what I expected. In fact, the second movie almost retooled Riddick’s character completely. He was no longer the villain. I actually started rooting for him early on, and stayed in his corner the whole way through.
Not only was Riddick the hero in “Chronicles”, though, but the mythos surrounding his background were radically changed as well. Instead of being a merciless serial killer, he became perhaps the last living male Furyan, one of those destined to oppose the Necromongers, an evil culture bent on converting or destroying any culture or planet that stands in their path.
I liked that Riddick came around as a force for good in “Pitch Black”, but I struggle with the concept that he was “the” one the Necromongers were searching for because he was a threat. At the end of the day, Riddick is still just one guy. And there were serious parts in the movie when you have to wonder why the Necromongers didn’t just kill him out of hand when they had him.
You do have to give everyone props for the visualization of the film. A lot of work went into the back story as well as the “worlds” that were shown in the movie. The ice planet at the beginning of the film was truly outstanding, a cold, harsh environment that sent a chill through me as soon as I saw Riddick running across it. The vehicle and weapons designers deserve special kudos as well, because the ship Toombs the bounty hunter (Nick Chinlund) flew while pursuing Riddick looked amazing and handled well. I especially loved the metal nets fired from the big gun by the mercenaries suspended from the craft’s wings.
Helion Prime, where Riddick went after finding out about the price on his head, comes across feeling and looking very much like a Middle Eastern planet. From the architecture to the open-air markets, to the hoods and robes and religious context, you feel that world pressing in around you. The end result also feels immense. Even though we “see” a lot of this world, we definitely have the feeling there’s a lot more to see.
At the beginning of this presentation, the director, David Twohy, offers a brief warning that the viewer can see brief flickers in the video where the extended fifteen minutes of movie were added. I have to admit, I watched and didn’t notice any of them.
Although the back story of the Necromongers gets explored well enough, there are other things that rest uneasily. Judi Dench plays Aereon, an air elemental, a kind of ghostly woman who knows more about everything – predestination, the mystic balance, whatever – than anyone else does. Although her sequence on the film is cool looking and her voice-over in the beginning really helps you slip into the story.
There are two characters from “Pitch Black” that make it into “Chronicles”. One is Imam (Keith David), a religious man from Helion Prime that won over Riddick’s heart, supposedly, while they were on the last planet. Keith David is a favorite actor and I enjoy watching him in nearly everything he’s done. I first saw him in “The Thing” and “Platoon” but I remember him most from “Men At Work”, starring Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen. David has a great range. He can play one of the most serious, scariest guys you’ve ever seen, a cold-hearted villain, or he can make laugh hard enough to bust a gut. Sadly, he’s just going through the motions in this film. No character, not even that of Riddick, really has a chance to grow and change. It’s just running through the action and killing bad guys against the backdrop of a harsh alien world for the most part.
In “Pitch Black”, there was a character named Jack that we were led to believe was a young boy. Later, though, we discover that Jack is really Jackie, and that she develops a hero-worshipping crush on Riddick. At the end of the movie, he cares enough about her to make arrangements with Imam to take care of her. Jack was originally played by Rhianna Griffith, a young Australian. For some reason, Alexa Davalos took over the role and the name was changed to Kyra. But, again, there is little character development.
Thandie Newton stars as Dame Vaako, a femme fatale for the movie who takes a liking to Riddick. Newton is a capable actress and did an outstanding job in “Crash”, but everything she does here is primarily a place holder.
Her husband, Vaako, is played by Karl Urban, who comes across as properly broody and threatening. He doesn’t have much depth here, but he’s got a plum of a role coming up in Larry McMurtry’s “Comanche Moon” when he plays a young Woodrow Call, one of the two ex-Texas Rangers featured in “Lonesome Dove”.
Colm Feore plays the Necromongers’ Lord Marshal with a dead delivery that isn’t frightening or interesting really. The same fate is pretty much suffered by Linus Roache as the Purifier and Yorik van Wageningen as the Guv.
Although Vin Diesel/Riddick fans eat this one up, I find that the overall plan of the Necromongers is just too Borg-like for my taste. The whole “convert or die” thing is too easily switched with, “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.” I liked the action sequences. All of Vin Diesel’s action movies deliver the goods, and that is as good a reason as any to watch this film. I think where it tends to fall apart is when it tries to represent itself as a more serious piece, something with more scope than it truly has.
Diesel has announced that “Chronicles” is actually a trilogy, and that “Pitch Black” essentially just introduced the character to the movie audience. With the cliffhanger this movie ended on, it’s going to be interesting to see what’s going to happen, but the next sequel doesn’t appear to be slated for some time to come. Diesel has said that the Underverse, where the second movie is going to take place, is locked in constant battle, so the PG-13 rating of this movie will be pushed to an R rating on the next. To me, it sounds a little like “Battlefield: Earth” but I hope that it’s better than that.
I’ll actually be satisfied if a sequel does get made and holds to the standards set in this one. “The Chronicles of Riddick” is a slam-fest of a B-movie with an A-movie budget. It looks great, and has an entertainment appeal that satisfies.
Video Presentation: Visually, “The Chronicles of Riddick” is stunning. The sets and CG work are stupendous, really giving the viewer the feel of an alien world that’s huge, the cramped quarters of a starship, or the frozen tundra of an ice planet. The technology looks fantastic and really wows. Presented in high-def, the screen explodes with colors, shapes, and movement. This is one of those movies you can show to your friends and explain without saying a word why you opted for an HD DVD player.
Audio Presentation: “The Chronicles of Riddick” is well separated and chockfull of noises, from starship engines to energy weapon blasts to planet-shaking explosions. But, again as the studios seem to do a lot, the sound isn’t any different on this HD DVD than it is on a regular DVD. They haven’t taken advantage of the extra room on the disc to uncompress it.
When it comes to special features and commentaries, “The Chronicles of Riddick” is loaded. However, a commentary by Vin Diesel would have been nice. The pieces on the CG work and the back story of the Necromongers is all interesting, and it’ll be intriguing to see how the other two movies in the trilogy might bring them together one day.
While “The Chronicles of Riddick” is enjoyable to watch as a B-movie, it falls short of the goods delivered by successful A-movies, which was its intention. There are too many glaring plot holes (Like how did Toombs manage to track Riddick down with the information Imam gave him? And if it was that easy, why hadn’t it already been done? Why did Jack’s name get changed to Kyra?) and the lack of a cohesive plot line to drive everything forward. Science fiction fans and the young male audience will sit down and enjoy the film as popcorn, as will the Vin Diesel fans, but the film just doesn’t have the “legs” to become as fully realized as the Star Wars or Star Trek worlds.
If you’ve already got this on DVD and don’t want to spend extra money just to upgrade the video presentation, there’s no real reason to add this one to your personal library. However, if you’ve recently bought an HD DVD player and want a film that will at least show off the video capabilities, “The Chronicles of Riddick” will definitely do the job in beautifully rendered images.