Universal // 2004 // 134 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // March 30th, 2009
There is no future until you settle the past.
"They are an army unlike any other, crusading across the stars toward a place called Underverse -- their promised land, a constellation of dark new worlds. Necromongers, they're called, and if they cannot convert you, they will kill you. Leading them: the Lord Marshal. He alone has made a pilgrimage to the gates of the Underverse, and returned a different being: stronger, stranger; half alive and half something else. If we are to survive, a new balance must be found. In normal times, evil would be fought by good, but in times like these, well, it should be fought by another kind of evil." -- Aereon
The Necromongers' plans of galactic domination take an unexpected turn for the worse when they invade New Mecca on the planet of Helion Prime, home of Imam (Keith David, The Thing), an acquaintance of merciless a-hole Richard Riddick (Vin Diesel, xXx), still a fugitive years after the events of Pitch Black. Unfortunately for the Necromongers, it turns out that Riddick is no ordinary merciless a-hole; he's a merciless a-hole from an entire race of merciless a-holes called Furyans (now extinct). A prophesy known to a mystical air elemental named Aereon (Judi Dench, Casino Royale) declares that the Necromongers' leader, the Lord Marshal (Colm Feore, Chicago), will die at the hand of a Furyan. Riddick couldn't care less about prophesies, but the idea of kicking ass appeals to him. He is captured by the Necromongers long enough for the Lord Marshal to be spooked by the prospect of a living male Furyan. Meanwhile, the Lord Marshal's right-hand-man Vaako (Karl Urban, The Bourne Supremacy) and his scheming wife (Thandie Newton Run, Fat Boy, Run) see the Furyan as a potential means to their desired end of usurping the Lord Marshal's throne. Riddick escapes the Necromongers but is captured by a mercenary named Toombs (Nick Chinlund, Ultraviolet) and taken to a helacious prison planet named Crematoria. There he reunites with Jack (Alexa Davalos, The Mist) from Pitch Black, who no longer disguises herself as a boy, goes by the name Kyra, and has grown into an aggressive criminal with a chip on her shoulder. Eventually, the Necromongers arrive on Crematoria for a final showdown with Riddick, all the while underestimating their enemy's vicious intelligence and the gleeful exuberance with which he goes about his hobby of killing anyone who pisses him off.
If for no other reason, writer-director David Twohy deserves props for making the sequel to his taut low-budget scifi-horror flick Pitch Black nothing like the original. The Chronicles of Riddick isn't even the same genre as Pitch Black. It's an expansive action picture that dabbles in themes of religion and politics. Unfortunately, it's also a bit of a mess. In a featurette on this disc, Twohy talks about how Pitch Black was so cloistered that it gave the audience little sense of the world Riddick inhabits. In The Chronicles of Riddick, Twohy set out to make amends for that situation (even though Pitch Black's narrative leanness is one of its most attractive qualities) by constructing an overly complex story that requires gobs of expository dialogue to provide context for everything we see. The movie is essentially a series of lengthy conversations between various people in funny looking clothing, punctuated by combat and chases (Twohy even includes a mad dash across the rocky terrain of Crematoria in advance of its deadly rising sun that is a direct reversal of Pitch Black's beat-the-eclipse footrace). Worst of all, coming as it did after all three of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies and two of George Lucas' Star Wars prequels, The Chronicles of Riddick's convoluted prophesy of an unlikely hero destined for greatness feels like a derivative rehash.
It's a shame that Twohy's narrative reach exceeded his grasp because the movie's action sequences are fluidly directed and genuinely exciting, and Riddick remains a compelling, badass anti-hero. Vin Diesel goes slightly more camp in his portrayal of the cynical convict with a deeply buried heart of gold, but still delivers plenty of laconic menace. The flick's best moments involve Riddick's playful yet genuinely adversarial sparring with sleazeball mercenary Toombs. Every time the duo shared the screen, it was so much fun that I couldn't help wishing Twohy had had the good sense to scrap all the nonsense about Necromongers and prophesies and had just deposited Riddick and Toombs on Crematoria and let them go at each other's throats for a couple hours.
I missed (or more correctly, ignored) The Chronicles of Riddick when it was in theaters back in 2004 but caught up with it after it landed on DVD. The standard definition image was clean and detailed but the prevalent digital special effects work looked flat and unconvincing. When I first popped this Blu-ray into my player, I fully expected high definition to reveal even more seams in the effects. Instead, the 1080p transfer's superior depth makes the computer-generated imagery far more convincing. The creamsicle orange skies of Crematoria still don't look real in the strictest sense of the term, but they no longer look like slipshod computer matte paintings either. The movie's conventional cinematography also looks excellent in high def. Foreground detail is razor sharp throughout, flesh tones are accurate, blacks are deep and rich, and whites sparkle. The use of digital noise reduction and edge enhancement was kept to a minimum. The DTS HD lossless master audio mix of the movie's soundtrack is equally impressive. On Blu-ray, The Chronicles of Riddick looks and sounds very much like a slick and sleek modern day blockbuster.
The Blu-ray edition of The Chronicles of Riddick contains both the 120-minute theatrical cut and 134-minute director's cut of the movie, delivered via seamless branching. All of the extras from the previously released Unrated Director's Cut DVD are included on this disc, plus a handful of HD exclusives. Director David Twohy and actors Karl Urban and Alexa Davalos deliver a feature-length audio commentary that is conversational, informative, and often funny. Twohy also provides a brief introduction to his director's cut of the movie (confusing matters a bit, the introduction is also available in the Extras section for the theatrical cut).
A few featurettes have also been ported over from the old DVD. Each is presented in standard definition. "Virtual Guide to The Chronicles of Riddick" (7:40) is a collection of vignettes describing the various locations and races in the movie, narrated by characters from the film. "Toombs' Chase Log" (9:56) is a series of audio logs in which Riddick's mercenary adversary describes his adventures. "Visual Effects Revealed" (6:01) examines visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang's digital special effects for the movie. "Creation of New Mecca" (11:12) explores Holger Gross' excellent production design for the capitol city of Helion Prime. "Riddick Rises" (13:26) is an electronic press kit about the film in which Twohy, Diesel, and others talk about the movie's genesis and compare and contrast it with Pitch Black. "Keep What You Kill" (17:30) provides a behind-the-scenes look at the Necromongers and the Underverse. All of the featurettes are presented in standard definition.
In addition to the previously released supplemental content, Universal has also thrown in a few in-feature HD exclusives. A U-Control option contains four series of supplements, all accessible while you watch the feature. "Picture in Picture" provides behinds-the-scenes production footage, cast and crew interviews, and looks at animatics for specific shots in the movie. "Complete Chronicles" is a quartet of video vignettes that trace Riddick's history from his escape from a triple-max prison in the video game The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, to his adventures in Pitch Black and the animated feature Dark Fury, to the events of The Chronicles of Riddick. "Chronicles Compendium" contains text-based information about the races, worlds, beliefs, and key players in the movie. "Anatomy of a Fight" is a series of text-based pop-ups that offer trivia and anecdotes about the combat in the movie. The disc is also BD-Live enabled.
A near perfect video transfer that does wonders for the CG effects work, as well as a few HD-exclusive extras, make this Blu-ray a worthy upgrade for die-hard fans of The Chronicles of Riddick. Those who consider the movie passably entertaining should hang onto their DVD editions of the movie as well as their hard-earned dollars.
How do I get eyes like that?
Review content copyright © 2009 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 134 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Director Introduction
* Deleted Scenes