In 2000, director David Twohy's "Pitch Black" never really made much of an impact, despite making $16m over its $23m budget. The picture became a larger success on DVD, even moreso after star Vin Disel's hit, "The Fast and the Furious". Diesel's star power was what fueled this film, a sequel that cost over four times what the original did. While this sequel didn't fare terribly well against the rest of the blockbuster fare last Summer, it certainly deserves a bigger audience - this is a massive, visually thrilling movie that, like the first movie, manages a bit more depth and character development than this kind of genre fare usually does. It also has quite a better a supporting cast than one might expect.
The film opens years after the first film, once again introducing us to Riddick (Vin Diesel), who is once again on the run from bounty hunters. After escaping from his latest persuers, he finds his way back to Inam (Keith David), who - with an air elemental (Judi Dench) - convince Riddick that he is the only one that can save their planet (and others) from the Necromongers, a race of war-happy individuals who are laying waste to one planet after another and claiming them as their own, assimilating whoever accepts and destroying who doesn't. Lead by the Lord Marshal (Colm Feore), they are seeking out the utopian "Underverse".
Riddick is there as the planet is assaulted, but isn't able to do much, as he's quickly outnumbered and outgunned. However, when he's captured by the Necromongers, he figures a way to escape in the middle of a process that scans his thoughts. He then flies off to the prison planet Crematoria to seek out Jack, a girl from the original, who now goes by Kyra (Alexa Davalos). Once the two meet up again, they have to escape from Crematoria, which manages a toasty 700 degrees in the daylight. Meanwhile, Lady Vaako (Thandie Newton) and Lord Vaako (Karl Urban) are dispatched to persue Riddick, as the Lord Marshal has other plans for him.
While flawed, "Riddick" is certainly ambitious. The production design is nothing short of spectacular, and the visual style is an explosion of what the first film offered - I especially liked the opening, where Riddick seems to be running across the tops of a maze that stretches out to the horizon. Costume design is superb, while the film's visual effects are not seamless, but still very strong. Overall, the creation of this "universe" the film exists in is first-rate.
The story seems like a bit much for the running time, and a little incoherent as is. We're on this planet, we're on that planet, we're in the prison, we're learning about necromongers, etc. While it's not going to win any awards, Twohy's screenplay at least seems to have a lot to go over and doesn't always do it in a way that entirely makes sense. Still, the movie keeps throwing new places, new people and new details at the audience, and I found it all nearly always compelling. The pace is certainly relentless, even during the film's occasional more "subtle" moments. The dialogue is cheesy at times, but it works.
"Riddick" offers some pretty good performances. Few growl out one-liners better than Diesel; while there's not a lot of depth to the performance, it's an interesting character that I don't think any other actor would be as right for as Diesel is. Supporting performances by Newton, Dench, Fiore and others are also enjoyable.
Overall, the film is a fine attempt to take the character into an epic that operates on a much grander scale than the first film. Diesel's Riddick is still an involving anti-hero and although the film's plotting is a tad messy at times, director Twohy really does at least try his very best (and he mostly succeeds) to make this into entertaining sci-fi popcorn fare.
Note: This is the "unrated" version of the film, adding approximately 15 minutes to the picture. The additions include some extra character development and violence that would have likely pushed the film over into an "R" rating. Director David Twohy opens the film on this DVD with a short discussion of the construction of this new cut of the film, noting that there are very brief "breaks" before the new sequences that are included (I didn't notice them.)
VIDEO: "Riddick" is presented by Universal in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation from Universal is certainly a first-rate effort; while not flawless, the picture quality is often stellar. Sharpness and detail remained magnificent throughout much of the film, as fine details were often visible and the picture boasted nice depth. A few wide shots seemed slightly softer, but the majority of the film looked crystal clear.
The picture did suffer from a few minor flaws, but these were hardly an issue. Very slight edge enhancement was noticed during a couple of the brighter scenes, while a trace or two of pixelation was also noticed. The print appeared to be in stellar condition, with no specks, marks or other wear.
SOUND: "Riddick" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Unfortunately, no DTS track is included here. As one might expect, the film's soundtrack is a grandly aggressive time at the movies, with surrounds fueled up for near-constant use. The rears are employed exceptionally well for delivering directional sound effects, ambience and reinforcement of the score. Sound effects are smoothly integrated and envelop the viewer exceptionally well. Those who can employ a back rear surround should, as the addition provides a successful, strong 360 degree feel to the proceedings.
Audio quality was superlative, as effects seemed well-recorded and forceful, music was dynamic and nicely balanced in with everything else and finally, dialogue remained crisp and clear. Bass was heavy, but never overwhelming. I'm curious what benefits a DTS presentation would bring, but this Dolby Digital edition provides a very satisfying action flick experience.
EXTRAS: The main supplement is a commentary from actor Karl Urban, director David Twohy and actress Alexa Davalos. The commentary does provide some decent information about the production, as we learn more about the creation of the look of the movie, reshoots, working with the actors, fighting styles and more. However, the actors don't contribute a whole lot and all three occasionally fall back into narrating and praising. There's also a few blank spots scattered throughout.
A deleted scenes section offers about 8 minutes of footage, with optional commentary from director David Twohy. The footage is mainly alternate material or footage cut for pacing reasons. "Virtual Guide to the Chronicles of Riddick" provides 10 brief character/story featurettes. "Riddick Insider" is a subtitle fact track that can be turned on during the film. "Visual Effects Revealed" is a 6-minute piece that takes a look at some of the visual effects work on the film. While not an in-depth piece, it gets right to the point and offers some good info. "Worlds of Riddick" opens with an intro from Vin Diesel, then goes into interactive looks at the major sets. Those who have an XBOX can insert the DVD into the XBOX and play a level from the "Chronicles of Riddick" XBOX game. Promos for other Universal titles (including the awful looking and long-delayed Spring Break film, "The Quest") come before the main menu.
Final Thoughts: "Riddick" got quite a mixed reaction from audiences, but I thought it was very entertaining. Some of it's messy, some of it's cheesy, but it's large-scale ride that provided thrills and some remarkable visuals. Universal's DVD edition offers excellent audio/video quality and some decent supplements. A rental recommendation and a purchase recommendation for fans.