David Twohy's original Pitch Black was a bit of a sleeper hit. It took a lot of people by surprise with it's nice blend of horror and science fiction and it had a nice, sleek look and plenty of tense moments. The plot moved along at a brisk pace and through in a couple of interesting twists along the way. I don't know that I'd say it was a classic of the genre, but it was a fun movie that still holds up well.
When Twohy was rumored to be teaming up with hunk of the month Vin Diesel who would be reprising his role of Richard Riddick from the first film in a sequel entitled The Chronicles Of Riddick, a lot of people were pretty excited about the news, hoping for a repeat of the first film's success.
Whereas the original Pitch Black took place on a small scale and in a relatively small environment, here Twohy expands Riddick's universe to almost George Lucas-esque proportions. The film is set in an entire universe full of interesting alien races and creatures, all manner of bizarre otherworldy environments that vary from planet to planet, and a whole lot of different factions milling about inside of it vying for different political powers and the like.
Roughly half a decade after the evens of the first film, Richard Riddick is now a wanted man once again. After he escapes the bounty hunters who track him to the ice planet he know calls home, he finds himself stuck in between two of the aforementioned warring factions, both of whom are after control of the Helion Prime. Lord Marshal (Colm Feore) is a maniacal priest who leads a cult called the Nekromangers on a crusade against the Elementals, lead by Aereon (Judi Dench). Riddick soon teams up with Aereon who helps him uncover some of the mysteries surrounding his shady past. Marshal wants to convert everyone on the planet to his beliefs of have them killed, Riddick and Aereon want to save the planet from his evil ways and return things to normal.
Twohy tries to install some sort of social commentary into his film but it doesn't really work. The dialogue is rather painful and the elements of Frank Herbert's Dune that he seems to be borrowing from feel rather forced into the story and don't quite fit in with the non stop action that the film does handle reasonably well. Another problem with the film is that the mystery of the character is gone. In Pitch Black Riddick was so cool because we didn't really know very much about him at all. That gave the character an element of danger. Sadly, while he is still very much an anti hero in this film, a lot of that element is lacking and maybe this is a case where things would have been better if they'd been left unexplained.
Essentially, the main reason to see this film is to watch Vin Diesel whup ass and on that level this movie delivers. It's clearly a case of brawn over brains and while the film has lofty aspirations of being an intelligent science fiction film, and it tries, it doesn't quite make it there. But as a shoot'em up slam bang action movie, it's not half bad.
The special effects and set design were pretty appealing to me, with their bold use of colors and interesting and creative interpretation of the alien cultures living within. Some of the make up effects and alien beings are great, but at times the editing, which cuts very, very quickly, can make it a little difficult to follow.
This unrated cut of the film does restore a little bit of violence in some of the action scenes (the Crematoria fight sequence has some noticeable material reinstated), it restores a trio of dream sequences that were cut from the theatrical version, and features a lot of extended dialogue scenes and altered dialogue scenes. When it's all said and done, this footage extends the running time of the film by roughly sixteen minutes when compared to the theatrical version. It clears up a few of the 'huh?' moments that were in the theatrical cut and features better, slightly more intense action scenes making for a marginally improved film.
The Chronicles Of Riddick is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40.1 and it is enhanced for anamorphic viewing. The image is sharp and clear and free of any print damage and the only detriment noticeable is a very fine, natural coat of grain. There are some instance of mild edge enhancement but aside from that, this movie looks great. Colors are seperated distinctly and never bleed into each and the black levels remain constant and stable from start to finish. MPEG compression isn't a problem and there's a nice revelatory level of detail present in the print used.
The audio is presented in an extremely aggressive English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound mix with optional subtitles available in French and Spanish and an English closed captioning option. This soundtrack makes the most of it's channel separation and uses the rears constantly to fill in the audible blanks so to speak, especially during the combat and action scenes. The mix will hit your subwoofer hard and make it beg for more, while dialogue remains clear and straightforward throughout. Sound effects levels and background music are all mixed in quite nicely and despite the fact that there's no DTS mix, this Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix gets the job done with ease.
First up is an audio commentary with the film's director, David Twohy, who is joined by cast members Alexa Davalos and Karl Urban, who chime in periodically via a telephone conference session that the three are taking part in as the film plays. The majority of this track is a scene specific commentary, and the trio do a pretty admirable job of making sure that it moves along at a proper pace and there aren't any serious issues with dead air or ominous silence. Some of the things that they touch on include the sets and the set design, anecdotes about casting choices and decisions, and some of the effects work. It's a lively talk and what it lacks in really meaty information it makes up for in its lightheartedness and amicable feel.
Three deleted scenes are up next, which only appear on the DVD release of this unrated version of the film. The first one involves Aeron and Imam talking about the arrival of the Nekromongers. There's not much in here and the information we're given is kind of redundant. The second scene involves Toomb's laying down the law to Riddick on UV Planet 6. The third scene involves Toomb's fate (I'll say no more lest I spoil it). All three scenes have optional commentary from the film's director.
Riddick's World starts off with a three minute video introduction from Vin Diesel who gives viewers an all too brief run down on the sets that were used to make up the alien worlds in which the film takes place. Sadly, there's not much in the way of detail or fact presented here, it's mainly a setup for the interactive option that allows you to explore, through using your remote control, eight of the environments used in the film.
The Virtual Guide To The Chronicles Of Riddick is a narrated segment that covers ten different aspects of Riddick's world and the various inhabitants, technologies and political factions that populate it. Various cast members provide the narration, and once again, there's not much detail here, it just sort of glances over things very quickly though it does provide some useful background information that works its way into the movie itself.
Riddick Insider – Facts On Demand is a silly title for a sort of text commentary that plays over top various scenes of the film in almost the same way that subtitles do. This text provides information and more detailed explanations of some of the terms and races that inhabit the world in which the film takes place. They also fill in some of the blanks in Riddick's personal history, and consistently make reference to other 'Riddick items' such as the upcoming Xbox game and the animated Dark Fury release.
A six minute behind the scenes segment entitled Visual Effects – Revealed goes into a little bit of detail in showing how some of the digital effects were added in post production. Peter Chiang, the special effects supervisor on the film, discusses the hows and whys of the process and while it's a little shorter than it should have been, this makes for an interesting watch.
Toombs' Chase Log is a text feature that allows viewers to get more details on his hunt for Riddick. He elaborates on certain things only touched on in the film and this goes into more detail on the hunt that lasted him about a month and a half in the film.
Rounding out the supplements are a demo for the Chronicles Of Riddick – Escape From Butcher Bay Xbox game, an Easter egg hidden on the bonus features menu, and promo reel that the disc forces you to watch before allowing you access to the main menu and feature film itself.
While The Chronicles Of Riddick doesn't match Pitch Black for sheer coolness in the sci-fi/horror hybrid field, it is a pretty decent brainless action movie set on an alien world. The effects are well done and there are plenty of big explosions that make for a fun, if rather unintelligent and soulless ride. Universal has done a nice job on this DVD release, and for those who don't need to think to be entertained (and I mean that in the nicest way possible and include myself in that category) this disc is recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.