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Chronicles of Riddick, The (2004) Print E-mail
Friday, 11 June 2004
In audio/visual terms, “The Chronicles of Riddick” is a winner – it’s got a look that borrows a bit from everywhere (Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” is one clear point of reference) but is nevertheless quite cool, and plenty of heft in the impacts of blows and explosions. However, in terms of normal movie attributes – story, characterization, dialogue, emotion – this is disappointing.

“Chronicles” is a sequel to 2000’s “Pitch Black,” a nicely tense outer space horror film about a group of stranded travelers who crash-land on a planet filled with nocturnal monsters. Among the group is a prisoner, Riddick (Vin Diesel), who overcomes his cranky loner’s nature to come to the aid of his fellows. Diesel struck the right balance of menace and sensitivity and the monsters were very cool. Writer/director David Twohy (working from a story he’d crafted with Ken & Jim Wheat) also did a rather good job of keeping us guessing about what might happen next and devised a novel optical concept that bathed the screen in various colors one at a time – gray, yellow, hot pink – as different suns ascended the planet’s sky.

The optical washes are back, but this time, they are in service to Riddick’s p.o.v. Twohy is back as well, but he’s lost both monsters and mystery this time out – along with the ability to get us to speculate about his central characters. “The Chronicles of Riddick” has almost no horror elements – it’s possible that the ostensibly half-dead Necromongers are meant to carry a zombielike dread, but like so many other elements in the new film, they aren’t established well enough to make us feel much of anything in particular. The Necromongers are a cult/army bent on taking over the universe, converting everyone they can find to their sadomasochistic religion and killing anyone who won’t join. Riddick’s old comrade Iman (Keith David) is sufficiently afraid for his homeworld and sufficiently awestruck with Riddick’s prowess to send a team of bounty hunters after the still-wanted man. Riddick is not precisely pleased about Iman’s method of asking for help and, true to his too-bitter-to-care roots, insists he doesn’t give a damn about the Necromongers. Then the Necromongers make the mistake of trying to enlist Riddick, which angers him. He’s also not too thrilled that they locked up a young girl he had protected earlier.

The action here is exciting (if often implausible), but Riddick is set up as so very invincible and the extent of the Necromongers’ powers is established so nebulously that it’s hard to care much about the outcome (to say nothing of the fact that the movie is so predictable in its broad strokes that we can’t imagine Riddick even being mildly humiliated, much less losing big). Twohy is striving for an epic tone, but he mixes dead seriousness and mostly over-emphatic performances with a lack of both humor and grace notes, so that the result is no more emotionally resonant than a made-for-cable cheapie. Diesel looks suitably physically imposing and able to perform the Herculean tasks required of his character, but we never get a sense that he’s troubled by being drawn into the situations around him – if he doesn’t care whether he’s up against bounty hunters of Necromongers, why should we? Moreover, the political jockeying within the Necromonger clan – think “Macbeth” – gets a good deal of screen time without any suggestion at any time that the outcome will matter.

Again, “The Chronicles of Riddick” looks and sounds great – it may even be a worthy reference disc when it hits DVD. As entertainment, however, it is no more involving than a videogame – indeed perhaps less, since we are spectators rather than players.

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