The Chronicles of Riddick

When Pitch Black was released in 2000, it accomplished a few things. Even without a big name attached to it, this Australia-made sci-fi horror flick came in at No. 4 on the charts and earned enough dosh to put it in the black. It also made Vin Diesel a star. (Before this, he had only had a small role in Saving Private Ryan and voiced the Iron Giant.)

Pitch Black introduced the world to Richard B. Riddick (Diesel), an unstoppable convict who has had his eyes “buffed” so that he could see in the dark. This made the cinematic antihero adept at fighting the pterodactyl-like monsters in the film. Pitch Black ended with some survivors, so most of us guessed (and hoped) that a sequel would be on its way.

Four years later and we finally got it. It wasn’t called Pitch Black 2, though, it was The Chronicles of Riddick. After all, not only was Diesel producing this time around, but because of The Fast and the Furious and XXX, this former bouncer was now an internationally known star. Surprisingly Riddick again finds David Twohy behind the camera, but this time he had an amazingly inflated budget to work with. The original was made for a paltry $23 million; Riddick for $105 million. When more money gets thrown at a production, bad things happen. Typically story development plays second fiddle to CGI. And such is the case with Riddick.

The film begins with Riddick running across a desolate, ice-bound planet. He’s trying to escape the bounty hunters who have come to collect the $1.5 million he has on his head. Riddick soon learns that the price was put there by Imam (Keith David), a devoted Muslim that he saved five years ago (in Pitch Black). When the two men meet up on Helion Prime, the convict learns that the Necromongers are coming to Helion Prime to convert all of the people on the planet or kill those who refuse to obey. Riddick has been summoned, because Imam and Aereon (Dame Judi Dench), an ethereal Elemental, believe he can stop this evil force. As Aereon says: “In normal times, evil would be fought by good. But in times like these, well, it should be fought by another kind of evil.” It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that there will be some kind of ancient prophecy to fulfill, some political machinations to contend with or that another very important character from the previous film will make an appearance. And the end only comes as a slight surprise.

Riddick feels a lot like Star Trek: First Contact (1996), in which the Starship Enterprise crew must confront the diabolical and equally unstoppable Borg. The biggest difference is that we actually care about the Enterprise crew. Who can cuddle up to a loner with a penchant for slaughter? Diesel gets a few good lines, such as when he meets Dame Vaako (Thandie Newton) for the first time. He sniffs her and says, “it’s been a long time since I smelled beautiful.” And there’s a good scene during which a couple of alien big cats are let loose in the Crematoria prison block. Unfortunately, if there are a lot of good lines, you can’t hear them, because Diesel’s growl of a voice tends to obscure what he’s saying. And he’s mostly humorless.

Another problem with this film is that it has changed the formula from the original, and that’s a big no-no when you want to keep your fans. I loved Pitch Black because it was horror-sci fi; it was a legitimate heir to the Alien films. A bunch of people get stranded on a lifeless, godforsaken planet with a maniac in chains. But that’s not their biggest concern, they soon discover that they aren’t alone on the planet. Visually, the film was interesting and fresh. Then along comes the sequel, which doesn’t contain one ounce of horror. In fact, it’s often quite boring. The most interesting aspect of Riddick are the ideas behind it. The Necromongers are taking over the galaxy one planet after the other to convert the people to their religion, and yet we never once get an idea what their faith is.

Riddick brings together some of the Commonwealth’s brightest actors, including Dench, Linus Roache (Priest), Newton (Beloved), and Karl Urban (Lord of the Rings). Even though Roache has a miniscule part as the Purifier, he’s the best thing this film has going for it. (Dench is also good in her small role). Urban and Newton are perfect plotters – the space age Macbeths – and they are entertaining to watch. Colm Feore, who plays Lord Marshal, is cool when he’s kicking people’s backsides, especially during the big showdown between him and Diesel. Another scene chomper is Nick Chinlund, who is the Merc named Toombs. He plays this slimy character as if he were the brother of Alien Resurrection’s Johner (Ron Perlman). I only wish he had a bigger role, because he brightened the mood every time he came on. (Chinlund’s name may not set off any bells but if you watch The X-Files, you’ll know this actor as Donnie Pfaster, the creepy mortuary worker who collects hair and fingernails from dead girls.)

The score by Graeme Revell is notable, but then when isn’t one of his scores? This kiwi has a real knack for making a sci fi or horror film “pop.” Previous work includes, Daredevil, Pitch Black, Spawn, The Crow, etc. The costumes by Michael Dennison and Ellen Mirojnick and art direction by Kevin Ishioka (Twelve Monkeys), Mark W. Mansbridge (Matrix Reloaded, Bicentennial Man) and Sandi Tanaka are exceptional. The film might be worth watching again, only with the dialogue off. Exceptional vision, mediocre execution.

Only see Chronicles of Riddick if you’re a fan of Pitch Black, and even then you’ll probably feel a little hollow afterwards. It’s a real problem with this film. How do you make people care about a character that’s essentially a killing machine? There’s some attempts at giving Riddick a soul, but unfortunately the robots in A.I. and I, Robot end up seeming more human.

Chronicles of Riddick is playing at the Westwood 8 Cinema.

Rating 2 out of 5

Author: Julien R. Fielding

Julien R. Fielding has been reviewing films, and covering the entertainment industry, for more than a decade. Her favorite genres are sci-fi, horror, action, and anime. She authored the book, Discovering World Religions at 24 Frames Per Second.

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