The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)

Written by David Twohy, based on characters created by Jim & Ken Wheat
Directed by David Twohy
Starring Vin Diesel, Colm Feore, Thandie Newton, Judi Dench, Nick Chinlund


Released by: Universal
Rating: NR
Region: 1
Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Skip it.

When we last saw our buddy Riddick (Diesel), he had helped save the asses of some folks who wound up on the wrong planet at precisely the wrong time. That was in the first film, natch. We join the action five years later, when Riddick has exiled himself far away from the survivors of that first adventure, partly because he doesn't trust himself around other people and partly because he's still a wanted felon. However, events have been set in motion to bring him back onto the playing field. There's a force in the universe called The Necromongers, and they're so heinous that Judi Dench got herself talked into this film to stand against them. They're laying waste to the universe with a speed we haven't seen since DC Comics all last year. And Riddick is the guy chosen to take them out? Hokay.

This is a big, ugly mess of a film. It's like no one was paying attention to why the first film was a success at all. Why was it? Because it was A) moderately novel, 2) had a nice indie tinge to it, and c) Vin Diesel had a tasty badass character to play. Let's go down the list, shall we? First up, this looks like somebody decided to do a big budget sequel to Krull rather than Pitch Black. It uses every sci-fi and fantasy trope in the book. Now while that's not usually a dealbreaker, you had best wield such tools well if you're going to bring them out to play with. It seems like Twohy's created an interesting conflict to form the backdrop, but we're not given enough of an explanation of what the hell's happening to be in on the enjoyment. Something about being "all dead" or "half dead" or "semi-dead," or Jesus, I have no idea. Once we got to the point where some semi-dead types on morgue drawers were using cups of water to allow two characters to place a long distance call, I just gave up trying to fathom what was up.

Next, we've traded in the small quick and dirty feel for a large slow and dirty feel. This thing is bloated like crazy, and while the third thing--Diesel as badass--is still here, he's absolutely lost because the character is recast. He's still Riddick, but somehow Riddick is revealed to be a Furyan (which looks and sounds too much like Funyun for my tastes, really) and one of the last. In fact, he's the savior of the universe--or something--and part of some grand destiny to kick the big baddie's (Feore) ass. But this just doesn't gel. It almost feels like Twohy had another sci-fi concept lying around he couldn't get money for, then snapped his fingers and said, "I'll just make this my Pitch Black sequel! Brilliant!"

from The Virtual GuideBut he's clueless as to how he's shot himself in both feet. The beauty of Riddick is that he's a badass. He's your sci-fi Wolverine but with an even worse attitude. Riddick will help you as long as you don't impede his own progress, but he always does so with such an air of reluctance that he's a great anti-hero. But no more with this flick. This becomes personal--or something. And it just doesn't work. Riddick as savior of the universe? No, sorry. And it's a shame, because the ending was quite impressive...but it's just not worth waiting for.

And the whole thing's distracted when Jack from the first film who was revealed to be a chick, is now an uberbabe and somewhat love interest for Riddick? When you're not wondering why the lovely Alexa Davalos has no scars after being on a maximum security lockup for years and years, you're wondering how in the hell she can be seventeen, the character's age. So Riddick's got a strange mentor/boyfriend/something relationship with a seventeen-year-old that we spent the last movie thinking was a guy...that's just kinda creepy.

And one last note...Diesel looks cool both with his goggles on and without, since he's got the nifty silver eye-thing going on. But Twohy really should have made up his mind which he wanted, instead of having Diesel dramatically pull them off at least twice a scene so he could have both. Oy. Now, the DVD is stacked with features but none of them are particularly inspiring. Part of this is due to the fact that the film's not very engaging to begin with, so all the features are automatically working from a deficit. But still, I guess if you thought the film rocked you'd be pleased as hell with this stuff.

Toombs' Chase LogFirst up, this is the uncut and unrated "director's cut." There was a time early in the 20th Century when everything was unrated because, well, we hadn't been graced with the MPAA yet. Then in the latter half, "unrated" meant "we knew we were going to get slapped with an X, so we didn't bother." Now, on DVDs, the studios are trying to have "unrated" mean "packed with more gore and sex than we could get away with in the theatrical release." Which is sad, because anyone with any sense understands that unless the added fifteen minutes here were an orgy of either naked flesh or violence, you're just getting some added scenes that they didn't bother to run by the MPAA. Note: no naked flesh, no added impressive violence. I know, a shame.

The disc opens with giving you a choice to "convert" or "fight," which is meaningless since the menus have the same options whichever way you go. The commentary doesn't do anything to really enhance the viewing of the film, although Twohy and the two actors seem very pleased with their efforts on it. They talk about differences between the theatrical and unrated DVD cut of the film, they blow smoke up everybody's skirts, and the gems are few and far between: like how Urban had the idea to give himself a radical haircut to avoid wearing a helmet all the time. The deleted scenes are typical in that you can see why they got cut, and Twohy is on hand to discuss why.

There's a fact track that you can run as subtitles during the film, popping up with information that pretty much does what the rest of the bonus features do--convince you that Twohy came up with a cool concept for a universe and then just couldn't execute on it or get it across in the film. Same thing with the Virtual Guide, which is pretty much a glossary for all the stuff in the film, with the voices of the actors reading off the entries. Again, nifty, but having this knowledge in the film somewhere would have been helpful.

Toombs' Chase Log is nice in that it gives actor Nick Chinlund a chance to spend about ten minutes giving you the story leading up to the film, and his character is basically a young Tom Waits packing heat. However, it's not easy to watch for ten minutes with nothing really happening on the screen but choppy video of Chinlund that doesn't sync up with his voice in the least.

The set 360-degree tours are nice in that, really, the sets are pretty nifty to look at and obviously a great deal of thought went into them. The only thing Diesel actively does on the bonus features is take you on a brief--very brief--tour of the sets, walking through to show you them and really contributing not much more than a sense of "Damn, these sets look good". So that's a wash. The effects featurette is actually the best part of the bunch. Seeing how they made a guy walk out into a firestorm and incinerate is nice, so is the making-of the CG dogs in the prison. It's also a handy reminder that the effects in the film really were good, since you were so confused by the mythos that you forgot to pay attention.

Like I've said, the film is bad. And because the features are all dealing with such an uncompelling sci-fi gumbo of a movie, they sort of collapse under its ponderous weight. It's a shame, too, since a better bet would have been to setup some of this mythos in this film and then really go to town in the third one. Alas, after the less than stellar showing at the box office, it's doubtful this franchise is going to go anywhere. Rent it if you must, but I wouldn't make room on your shelf for it.

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