The Chronicles of Riddick: Unrated Director’s Cut
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 135 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.40:1)
Subtitles: French and Spanish
Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1
November 16th, 2004
Featuring nearly 15 minutes of footage not seen in theaters (which, as David Twohy explains, can be identified via subtle shifts in the image’s appearance on the DVD), this follow-up to the stylish and exciting Pitch Black is supposed to offer a new vision of The Chronicles of Riddick. From the terms I heard being used by people who had seen this film in theaters, it had better deliver on that promise…
On a more serious note, while writer-director David Twohy and star Vin Diesel were both behind this sequel, it has a very different feel from Pitch Black. More specifically, their efforts on The Chronicles of Riddick lead to the creation of a rich and complex universe, filled with a variety of different planets and cultures. But as is increasingly the case with modern sci-fi films, so much time, energy, and money (lots of it, too) were spent on the details of Riddick’s universe that those responsible for its creation seem to have forgotten to focus on a more important thing – the story.
In essence, once you draw back the heavy, opaque curtain of Chronicles’ mythologies and machinations, what you have is the same “buffed-out action anti-hero battles hopelessly insane odds against a battle-hardened army” that serves as the plot for lame films like Rambo III. Personally, given the exotic, galaxy far away-type setting and massive budget, I was expecting more from David Twohy than a half-assed action-adventure flick.
As the film opens, we catch up with Riddick about five years after the events in Pitch Black. Some things never change though, and being a notorious criminal, bounty hunters are still out to collect the price that has been placed on Riddick’s head. Strangely, however, this time the most lucrative reward is not for his capture! You see, it seems that the Imam (the always cool Keith David), a character who survived the carnage in Pitch Black, is hoping to have Riddick captured, so he can convince the brave and deadly anti-hero to help stave off an invasion by a hostile race of beings that have given the citizens of Helion Prime an unenviable choice - convert to their religion or be exterminated!
Apparently, these extremely powerful space travelers, called Necromongers, have repeated this scenario on all the worlds they have traveled to, with only one civilization putting up any sort of resistance. Unfortunately for humanity, these warrior-like people, known as the Furyans, are believed to have been wiped out, so the Necromongers, and their “half-dead” chieftain, Lord Marshal (Colm Feore), have no reason to fear proceeding with the spread of their religious dogma.
Hmmm…tell me you didn’t see this one coming – it is discovered that Riddick may be a descendant of said warrior clan, and he rises up to help the resistance on Helion Prime! But will one man, even a lethal killer who possesses the ability to see in complete darkness, be enough to turn the tides against a massive and well-equipped army of religious zealots? Watch if you dare…
Now that you have a basic idea of the scenario Riddick is faced with, I would like to briefly talk about my dissatisfaction with this film. Before doing so however, I would like to give David Twohy some credit for going the extra mile in trying to create a living, breathing universe for his characters to reside in. The complexity, diversity, and detail that are given pertaining to the races and planetary systems in his universe are indeed admirable. Unfortunately, although it makes the film stylish, this depth and variety does not elevate the film at all, as its meandering pace of the film and often frightfully absurd dialogue renders it almost irrelevant.
Sadly, the action sequences are almost equally disappointing. Sure, they do feature some fantastic-looking effects, but good luck trying to follow what is happening in most of them, as they are edited in such a rapid-fire fashion that it is often almost impossible to determine what is taking place or whose ass is being kicked.
Perhaps the biggest problem, however, is that despite so much more screen time, it seems as though the Riddick character is a much less compelling personality than he is in Pitch Black. Since this is essentially his movie, that really does not bode well. Moreover, it certainly does not help that Vin Diesel does very little to overcome this problem, turning in yet another pedestrian performance that consists almost exclusively of him glaring at his enemies with his luminescent eyes, delivering cheesy one-liners, and raising/lowering his shades almost constantly, which quickly became annoying. Yeah, Mr. Diesel is buff and bald, so he looks the part of Riddick, and his athleticism benefits the fight sequences somewhat, but his acting really does leave a lot to be desired.
The other performers, including renowned actress Dame Judi Dench, who plays an elemental being named Aeron; Thandie Newton, who plays the lady-Macbeth-like Dame Vaako; Karl Urban, who plays the power-hungry Necromonger Commander named Vaako; and Nick Chinlund, who portrays Toombs, a mercenary that is hunting Riddick, are all in fine form. As usual, so is Keith David, returning to play Imam. Unfortunately, irrespective of their efforts, the material they are given to work with leads to characters that have very little depth.
You know, I really liked Pitch Black and I had high hopes for this movie, but perhaps David Twohy should have thought more carefully about whether Pitch Black really needed to be followed up on. While it certainly was not the most original idea, its stylishness, wonderful sound design, interesting cast of characters, and excellent execution made it one of the better sci-fi/action vehicles of the new millennium. In comparison, this dense, overly long follow-up crumbles under the weight of an extremely generic action-adventure story and the inane, pseudo-religious drivel and unbelievably corny one-liners that serve as its dialogue.
I must admit, the film’s pace does ramp up considerably towards its conclusion, but by then I was struggling to maintain interest in the film (and with some of the garbage I willingly watch, like Leprechaun, that is saying something). Again, I applaud David Twohy’s ambition and attention to detail, but I cannot see the Chronicles of Riddick as anything less than a failure. Since the film’s ending leaves open the possibility for a third entry into the “Riddick” franchise, I can only hope Mr. Twohy will redeem himself with the next outing.
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
The first outing in the Riddick franchise, Pitch Black looked great on DVD, so it is no surprise that Universal’s anamorhic widescreen (2.40:1) transfer for the hugely expensive The Chronicles of Riddick follows suit! Once again, the look of the worlds in David Twohy’s film is both stylish and unique, and the transfer brings the effort to create believable alien worlds home precisely, with no noticeable compression artifacts or blemishes, and only a faint amount of film grain.
The image also boasts blacks that are rich, true, and undistorted, allowing for excellent shadow detail and a wonderfully “deep” appearance. Just look at that lovely shot of Riddick’s “acquired” Merc ship spiraling towards the Helion system at the beginning of the film! Gorgeous!!! In addition, variances in the characters’ skin tones are brought to light admirably, as are colors in general, which are bright and bold, with no overt evidence of chroma noise. Whites are similarly bright and clean, and never appeared to bloom.
Finally, small object detail is extremely impressive, which allows viewers to get a real good look at the finer points of the planets, spacecraft, and sets. If there is one thing that The Chronicles of Riddick is, it is a visually enticing movie. It is just too bad that is not enough (for me anyway)…
In any case, good job Universal! This was a big budget movie, with much attention lavished on its visuals, and the transfer does not diminish that in any way!
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
The Chronicles of Riddick is yet another Universal title that sounds great in the home, thnks to outstanding dynamic range and the fact that the soundstage offered by this aggressive 5.1 channel mix is simply huge! Now, there is a bit more talking here than in most sci-fi/action pictures, and thankfully, dialogue sounds great as well. Impressively, speech is also easily discernable even during the frenetic action sequences, with realistic timbres that accurately bear out the differences between each character’s speaking voice.
Where the disc really shines though, is during the action set pieces. More specifically, the constantly active rear channels, and smooth panning across the front (and rear) speakers creates convincing battlefronts, making the listener feel like they are right in the middle of the action. The powerful, controlled subwoofer activity also enhances these sequences, adding plenty of kick to the gravity guns, conventional weaponry, spaceship propulsion systems, explosions, and so forth.
The soundtrack’s precise imaging also helps when Riddick is using his ability to be stealthy to take out enemies. At these points, listeners can almost sense the tension the Mercs feel as a nearby enemy they can neither see nor hear diminishes their numbers.
All in all, I had no real issues with The Chronicles of Riddick’s audio. I am sure it would have been an even better experience in DTS, but as it stands, the soundtrack does a very good job of recreating the dynamic sounds of an adventure that spans worlds.
To entice fans of the Riddick universe, five minutes of additional excised footage is available here, with optional director commentary. Please note that these are EXCLUSIVE to the Unrated Edition of the film:
--- Aeron and Imam on Helion: The two characters discuss the Necromongers’ impending arrival on Helion Prime, and the importance of Furyans. The scene was cut because the information contained therein can be found elsewhere.
--- Original U.V. Planet 6: In this sequence, Toombs reads Riddick the riot act, until the anti-hero turns the tables on him with a snappy comeback! Apparently, it was cut because it was shot at the end of principal photography, when money and time had run out, resulting in a scene that Twohy though lacked drama and excitement.
For The Chronicles of Riddick director David Twohy and actors Alexa Davalos (in London) and Karl Urban (in New Zealand) teleconference, and provide their insight into the film. Although there are no really long pauses, a lot of the information given is relatively screen-specific, and the track is not quite as detailed as I would have liked. That being said there are:
--- a few interesting stories from the set, including the ulterior motive behind Karl Urban’s “radical haircut.”
--- some additional background on the races and planets in the film, such as the Necromongers, and planets UV 6 and Helion Prime.
--- interesting commentaries on how the cast was assembled, especially as it relates to Dame Judi Dench, who was courted for her role.
--- some details on the construction of the sets, the studio that the entire film was shot in, and the special effects work.
The participants seem to get on well enough, and there is enough here to recommend giving it a listen, especially if you are a fan, but I was still expecting a little bit more from this commentary. If I may make a suggestion, it is that you couple this with the trivia track, which will not only give you more information but save you some time. Although I reviewed each separately, I did go back and try watching them in tandem, and found that each was paced just leisurely enough to make it work perfectly.
This brief bonus feature is divided into two sections. The first is a 3-minute piece, hosted by actor Vin Diesel, who takes viewers on a guided tour of some of the Riddick sets. The specific locations visited include New Mecca, Crematoria, the Basilica, the Quasi-Grotto, and Planet U.V. The fine craftsmanship on each set is evident, but the extra is far too short to go into any detail on them.
The second part consists of an interactive (through the left or right arrow keys) 360-degree view of the following locations from the film:
--- Basilica Center Floor
--- Quasi Grotto
--- Crematoria Main Hangar
--- Helion Fountain Square
--- Imam’s Living Room
--- The Lord Marshal’s Throne
--- Slam Center
--- Planet U.V. 6
Virtual Guide to the Chronicles of Riddick
Read by various members of the cast, each segment of the “Virtual Guide” provides some general information on certain locations, people, or things in The Chronicles of Riddick. The items included are:
--- Conquest Icon – Information on the Necromongers’ massive spaceships
--- Crematoria – A bit of detail is provided about the super-hot “slam” with a 700 degree surface temperature. Hence the name “Crematoria” :eyeroll:
--- Elementals – A warning that elementals are not to be completely trusted, even though they work to promote balance in the universe
--- Helion Prime – In this segment, the richness of the system’s innermost planet is discussed.
--- Lord Marshal – The position of Lord Marshal, ruler of the “half-dead” is talked about, as is the violent way in which most rise into it.
--- Necromonger – This part of the guide outlines the damage done to cultures by the Necromongers’ theological dogma.
--- Necropolis – In this segment, the origins of the Necromongers’ monuments are talked about.
--- New Mecca – The Imam talks about the spread of Islam to the Helion system.
--- Planet U.V. – This section offers an overview of the monster-infested planet Riddick was hiding out on.
--- Quasi-Deads – This term refers to the telepathic creatures used by the Necromongers to discover the weaknesses of mortal beings.
Riddick Insider: Facts on Demand
Essentially, the “Riddick Insider” is a text track that plays along with the film, providing somewhat scene-specific background information on the characters, actors, planetary systems, and races in The chronicles of Riddick. Among the topics discussed most are:
--- The Necromongers: Some detail is provided on the Necromonger culture, their technology, and their history.
--- The definition of terms peculiar to the Riddick universe are given
--- The track reveals a bit of information on the events that transpired between Pitch Black and this film, although these are usually followed with shameless plugs for the “Escape From Butcher Bay” video game or The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury DVD.
--- A brief mention of how the role of Aeron was tailor made for Judi Dench, who Vin Diesel had always wanted to work with. There is also an interesting story about how he first approached her for the role.
All in all, this trivia track is not the most active that I’ve seen, but if you are intrigued with the Riddick universe, you should get plenty out of it. Even though I did not enjoy the film much at all, I must admit that I thought it was pretty fascinating how much detail was provided on the races and worlds depicted in it.
Visual Effects Revealed
“Visual Effects Revealed”, which runs for 6 minutes, offers fairly typical on-set and green-screen footage of scenes from The Chronicles of Riddick being recorded, and reveals how the effects were added later. Duringthis piece director David Twohy opines on how “cool it is not knowing how a film will look until just before it opens”, and visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang discusses some of the more complex effects shots in the film, including the wind elemental effects and how the Hellhound passed through a waterfall.
Toombs’ Chase Log
By perusing excerpts from Toombs’ “Chase Log”, fans can follow his pursuit of Riddick, which lasts over 90 days. Some of the things Toombs talks about are: how to hire good Mercs, his trip from the Helion system to Crematoria, and the ever-increasing price on Riddick’s head.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay – Xbox Game
Putting the DVD into an Xbox console will allow gamers to sample the first level of the Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay video game.
This Easter Egg, which can be found by
The disc kicks off with the trailers/previews for Drunken Jackasses: The Quest, The Bourne Supremacy, the Earthsea miniseries, the Happy Gilmore/Billy Madison DVD Collection, and the Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay video game for Xbox and PC.
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
Yet another example of a film where a huge budget does not equate to financial success, or even a good film, The Chronicles of Riddick is a loud, expensive, and full of spiffy CGI effects. You know what else it is – a dull, unnecessary sequel, laden with inane dialogue and plot holes. The excitement and rich, diverse personalities that writer director David Twohy brought to Pitch Black are gone, replaced instead with pseudo-religious babble, underdeveloped characters, and action sequences that are too hastily edited to make much of what is happening out. In essence, the universe Riddick and his associates/enemies live in may be highly detailed, but it doesn’t make up for the rest of this film’s many inadequacies.
In terms of presentation, the disc sports quite a few bonus features, including still more deleted scenes, a fairly interesting audio commentary and text track, and several less noteworthy extras. Honestly, none of the bonus features really rocked my world, but the trivia track and commentary were pretty interesting, and the “Chase Log” and “Virtual Guide” fill in the blanks a little bit. At the very least, I suppose it would be hard to complain about the disc being too skimpy on supplements (a “making of” featurette might have been nice), though they could be better.
If you liked this movie, disregard all I have said (who am I to tell you what to watch anyway, right?) and go out and pick up The Chronicles of Riddick, because Universal has done themselves proud, in terms of the technical aspects of this release! Specifically, as you might expect from one of their big budget releases, the film looks and sounds fantastic, which should fully engage fans of the Riddick universe! As always though, if you have any doubts, rent it first!