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Chronicles Of Riddick

see also, animated film:
Chronicles Of Riddick: Dark Fury
 
 
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The Chronicles Of Riddick
cast: Vin Diesel, Thandie Newton, Karl Urban, Judy Dench, and Colm Feore

writer and director: David Twohy

114 minutes (15) 2004
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Universal DVD Region 2 retail
[released 3 January]

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
It's very easy to do the same science fiction film over and over again. Just as The Lord Of The Rings set the tone, and structure for most fantasy fiction for the last few decades, Star Wars did the same thing for sci-fi cinema. Evil overlords, world spanning conflicts and plucky farm-boy heroes, or something a lot like them have been turning up over and over again ever since the films were first released.

As a result, Pitch Black came as a genuinely pleasant surprise. A well-realised group of characters, a genuinely unusual setting, some fantastic aliens and, in Richard B. Riddick, and a truly memorable main character combined to make it one of the best films of its type for a long time. It's surprising then that The Chronicles Of Riddick fared so badly. This sequel to Pitch Black was widely criticised at the time of release for being overbearing, pompous and lacking any form of coherent plot. However, a second look on DVD reveals that this isn't the case. It's not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it's far from the disaster many claimed it was.

The action picks up five years after Pitch Black with Riddick being dragged out of hiding by a price on his head. On discovering that Imam, the cleric he rescued in the original film, has placed the bounty, he seeks him out. What he finds is a man with a wife and child who is terrified for all their lives. A half-dead holy army, called Necromongers, are scouring every world they pass clean, on an unholy pilgrimage to somewhere called the Underverse. The only people capable of stopping them are the inhabitants of the planet Furya, all of who were slaughtered at the command of the Lord Marshal, head of the Necromonger armies. Only one survived; Riddick.

That paragraph contains everything that's both good and bad about Chronicles Of Riddick. Rarely has a science fiction blockbuster crammed so much into it's running time and rarely has it felt like it's cramming quite as much as this. There are at least three genuinely great ideas for films in here, ranging from the Necromonger crusade to Riddick's origins and the Underverse, yet none of them are quite given the screen time they need to truly flourish. Riddick's origins in particular are very badly served, mentioned only in passing in a way which future sequels, should they happen, will elaborate on. Apparently, a sizeable portion of the deleted scenes on the director's cut edition deal with this plot and it'll be interesting to see exactly what they add.

Likewise, the Necromongers are an idea we only ever see half of. They're stunningly designed, looking like a cross between medieval knights and extras from Dune and there are some superb ideas on show during their scenes. Thandie Newton and Karl Urban as the scheming Lord and Lady Vaako are particular standouts, Shakespearean plotters who find themselves caught up in the same prophesy as Riddick himself. However, the best Necromonger scene takes place early in the film with Linus Roache's character preaching to the newly captured inhabitants of New Mecca. There's a fervent, charismatic plausibility to his speech that makes you wonder, just for a second, whether the Necromonger way is the correct one. It's a moment of genuine unease and one that really stands out. The Necromongers get the lion's share of screen time and rightly so. They're a fantastically realised set of villains and the only frustrating thing is that as the film ends, neither we, nor they, are any closer to understanding what the Underverse is.

With all this lot going on, the one mistake the film makes is shoehorning in still more plot. There's an extended sequence involving Riddick being sent to prison that, again, could be a film all on its own. The prison, on a world that becomes superheated whenever the sun rises, is a fantastically realised set and the plot for this sequence really does feel compressed. It even features a nice reversal of the escape attempt from Pitch Black with Riddick leading a group of escaped prisoners on a run across the surface ahead of the rising sun. This sequence is even shot a little differently, Twohy using jump cuts (including at one point from the surface to orbit) and slow motion to great effect.

These problems aside, Twohy's script is filled with interesting characters. Diesel's Riddick is more talkative than before but there's the same sense of danger to him here that there was in Pitch Black. Physically imposing but clearly intelligent with it, Riddick is the centre of the film and deservedly so, a deeply conflicted man who seems genuinely unable to do the right thing quickly enough. He's aided by some impressive support. Colm Feore and Linus Roache both impress as the senior Necromongers, although Feore doesn't quite have the fanatical zeal needed to pull the role off. Ironically, it's Karl Urban, best known as Eomer from Lord Of The Rings, who's most impressive, his Lord Vaako a Macbeth-style figure. Should the sequels be given the go ahead, hopefully Vaako will feature more prominently. Alexa Davalos, as Kyra, a fellow inmate of Riddick's is also extremely impressive. She exudes the same sense of danger as Riddick does, and their scenes together crackle with something which is halfway between sexual tension and pure aggression.

Ultimately, Chronicles Of Riddick simply tries too hard. Its sets are fantastic, its performances are uniformly strong but there's simply too much going on here. Fantastic ideas are never quite given the space to breath and what could be a groundbreaking science fiction blockbuster never quite takes off. Regardless, what is here is hugely enjoyable and well worth your time. It's just a shame you never quite get enough.
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