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Nearly a decade after The Chronicles of Riddick underwhelmed audiences and critics, Director David Twohy and star Vin Diesel are back with a new off-world adventure for the popular antihero Riddick. This second sequel to Pitch Black returns to the moderate budget filmmaking that made that film successful, and the scope of Riddick is much less ambitious than for the bloated The Chronicles of Riddick. Riddick feels exactly like a film shot to please longtime series fans, for better or worse. The smaller story allows Riddick to refocus on its shadowy protagonist, but the film feels a bit stunted thanks to the limited number of locations, wooden dialogue, and only-average special effects. Riddick is an odd mix of the previous films, and I would have liked to see more of Pitch Black's jolts wind up in this film. Good science fiction films are few and far between, and Riddick is at least a decent re-boot for the series.
Several years after the events in Chronicles, Riddick has grown bored with leading the Necromonger fleet. Riddick hasn't adopted most Necromonger customs, angering Commander Vaako (Karl Urban), who agrees to transport Riddick to lost planet Furya if he gives up his position as Lord Marshall. Vaako's aide, Krone (Andreas Apergis), betrays Riddick and leaves him to die on a barren, sunbaked planet that Riddick dubs "Not Furya." Out of practice and overly civilized, Riddick must quickly regain his survivalist instinct as the planet is host to a number of hostile creatures. He adopts an abandoned jackal pup that becomes his trusty sidekick and sets out to find a way off the surface. When Riddick stumbles into a mercenary outpost, he activates an emergency beacon that attracts two groups of bounty hunters hoping to collect on Riddick's head.
The first third of Riddick is largely dialogue-free and sees Riddick and the jackal adapting to the landscape and hidden dangers of the unnamed planet. There are plenty of venomous mud creatures and alien vultures waiting for a meal, and Riddick must pass through a dangerous cave environment to reach a less dangerous area of the planet. There's fun to be had watching Riddick and the pup cut down these voiceless alien antagonists, and the filmmakers play the man-and-his-dog relationship perfectly. The jackal is impressively rendered via CGI and there are some solid bits of action and humor that follow. Things slow to a grind when Riddick activates the beacon, and he spends a good thirty minutes off screen while the hunters take center stage.
The first group to arrive is a ragtag band of killers led by unhinged Santana (Jordi Molla), who is furious when a more professional outfit, led by Boss Johns (Matthew Nable), lands at his camp. Riddick quickly pits the two groups against one another, and Santana realizes that Riddick intends to use one of their ships as his taxi out of there. Riddick turns into a largely unseen puppet master during this section and drops the relatively docile attitude from earlier scenes as he picks off Santana's men. One of Riddick's biggest issues is pacing. This thinly plotted alien western is very sluggish around its halfway point, and I found my attention drifting as the bounty hunters bickered among themselves. Since the only supporting characters with any real personality are Santana, Johns and the fierce female warrior Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), this gets pretty boring in a hurry. Viewers know from an earlier scene that a dangerous storm is coming to awaken the planet's dormant native creatures, but the film lacks a sense of urgency in these moments. Riddick knows shit is about to hit the fan, but no one else does.
Things pick up considerably at the climax, when Riddick and company must fight to survive the Pitch Black-esque killers that roam the night. As a whole, Riddick is decently entertaining, B-movie junk. The creatures are fierce if somewhat generic, and the action is borderline repetitive. The environment is purposely ugly, and the lack of changing scenery does the film no favors. Time has made Diesel no less effective as Riddick, and it's nice to see the actor given a chance to play alongside a friendly CGI character. I wish Twohy's script gave Diesel more to do, but the next outing may be more successful in this regard. The supporting cast is OK at delivering some awkward lines, and Molla's performance is perfectly terrible. Riddick further explores the mythology hinted at in previous films, and the Director's Cut adds a somewhat confusing cliffhanger that hints at future events. I wish Riddick had a bit more energy overall, as my issues with the film are largely pacing and story related, but as B-grade science fiction I quite enjoyed Riddick's return to the screen.
Riddick arrives on Blu-ray with a competent 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer. From the early scenes on the sunbaked planet it's clear that contrast is going to remain purposely cranked. This robs the image of detail somewhat, and the effects are often soft in appearance. Riddick was shot digitally and it retains all the characteristics, both good and bad, of digital photography. Detail is quite impressive during indoor scenes out of the sun, and black levels are more than adequate. Though the HD source causes a bit of smearing, there is plenty of texture to be found in the costumes, sets and weapons. I noticed absolutely no issues with noise reduction, aliasing or compression artifacts.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is appropriately immersive, and the shrieks of incoming aliens sear through the surround speakers. Ambient effects waft through the sound field and dialogue is perfectly audible at all times. Music, effects and dialogue are nicely layered, and the subwoofer supports the frequent, directionally oriented action effects like gunfire and thunder. A Spanish 5.1 DTS mix and a 2.0 English descriptive mix are available, as are English SDH, Spanish and French subs.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Universal gives Riddick the "combo pack" treatment with a Blu-ray, DVD, and iTunes/UltraViolet digital copies offering. A shiny holofoil slipcover wraps the standard Blu-ray case. The Blu-ray features two cuts of the film: An Unrated Director's Cut (2:06:47) and the Theatrical Version (1:58:45). Fans will likely enjoy the extended version, as it includes quite a few new scenes. If you haven't seen the film yet, their description may be considered SPOILERS. The biggest additions are an extended opening in which a maiden tries to assassinate Riddick. There are a couple of new inserts during the film, too, as well as an alternate ending. In this ending, Riddick realizes that Krone betrayed Riddick on his own and that Vaako had no part in the deception. Vaako has moved into the Underverse, and this alternate ending sets him up as a possible ally in future films. END SPOILERS.
There is about 45 minutes of bonus content but no Twohy commentary. In The Twohy Touch (6:22/HD) the director discusses what brought him back to the series after the extended hiatus. The props and shuttles of Riddick are the highlight of Riddickian Tech (10:14/HD), and Diesel discusses his character in Vin's Riddick (8:50/HD). The supporting cast is given its own featurette, Meet the Mercs (10:44/HD), and The World of Riddick (10:50/HD) shows how the filmmakers created the largely CGI environments, alien enemies and the jackal pup. Finally, you get motion comic Riddick Blindsided (5:20/HD), which was partially adapted into live-action scenes featured in the Director's Cut.
A back-to-basics approach to the Riddick universe, Director David Twohy's Riddick is an entertaining but flawed sci-fi western. Diesel is in fine form as Riddick, but the film stalls out during an uninteresting midsection full of grating supporting characters and wooden dialogue. The creatures are fierce if somewhat generic, and the action picks up again during the finale. The Blu-ray includes an Unrated Director's Cut of the film with additional scenes that expand the Riddick mythology, and the overall package is lightly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.