David Twohy's original Pitch Black was a bit of a sleeper hit. It took a lot of people by surprise with its effective 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 films success.
Whereas the original Pitch Black took place on a small scale and in a relatively small (albeit very open) 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 now 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 sometimes painful and the elements of Frank Herbert's Dune that he seems to be borrowing from feel rather forced into the story, not fitting in so well 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 an interesting character 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 them. Some of the make up effects and alien beings are great (even if the movie is very heavy on the CGI), but at times the editing, which cuts very, very quickly, can make it a little difficult to follow. While you can't blame Twohy and company for wanting to expand Riddick's story, maybe keeping him in the shadows rather than throwing him into an epic battle would have been more appropriate. That said, The Chronicles Of Riddick is still a fun science fiction movie. The horror and suspense elements from Pitch Black are missed but the film is still an entertaining and fun time at the movies.
The 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 (the Blu-ray release includes both cuts). 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 DVD
The Chronicles Of Riddick is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40.1 in a spiffy 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer that looks pretty darn close to the transfer used for the HD-DVD release a few years back. Contrast levels look perfect, color reproduction is gorgeous and the black levels are deep and strong throughout. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and there are no problems at all with print damage worth noting. This was widely considered one of the best looking HD-DVDs when it debuted on that format, and thankfully, the transfer still holds up on Blu-ray. Detail levels are great and the color scheme used in the film, which makes use of a lot of reds and yellows and mild earth tones, is replicated very nicely. Close up shots show more detail than medium and long distance shots do and some of the more effects heavy and CGI intensive sequences are a bit soft sometimes but aside from that, the movie really looks great here.Sound:
The 48 kHz DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track on this disc is excellent. The surround channels are used very effectively during the many action sequences but never feel like they're going over board. The score, which sounds particularly epic, is spread out nicely and bass response is excellent throughout the film - you'll really notice it whenever a ship takes off or a gun is fired. Levels are all properly balanced and dialogue remains crystal clear from start to finish. The sound mix created for this movie is pretty aggressive, there are a lot of fight scenes and plenty of moments where surround usage plays a key part in bringing the action to life - thankfully this mix is more than up to the task. The mix is clean, clear, well balanced and very detailed. Standard definition DTS mixes are provided in French and Spanish and subtitles are available in English SDH, French and Spanish.Extras:
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 does 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. Twohy also provides a brief introduction to the unrated cut of the movie.
Three deleted scenes are up next (totaling 8:02), and are presented in standard definition non-anamorphic widescreen. 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.
The Virtual Guide To The Chronicles Of Riddick (7:40, SD) 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.
A six minute behind the scenes segment entitled Visual Effects - Revealed (6:01, SD) 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 (9:56, SD) is a narrated 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.
Creation Of New Mecca (11:12, SD) allows Twohy, Diesel and company to talk about how Pitch Black was an introduction to the character that didn't really get to flesh out the character so much. From there, they explain who this second film is meant to elaborate on the character more and expand on the mythology of the universe he lives in. From there, all involved talk about the different characters that pop up in this movie and how they all relate to the bigger picture.
Riddick Rises (13:26, SD) starts off with Vin Diesel talking about shooting Pitch Black and how, during that production, he wanted to explore more of Riddick's character. Twohy elaborates on the differences between the two features and from there we delve into some interesting behind the scenes footage. This is very EPK style in nature as the cast, crew and producers all talk about what makes Riddick cool in between different behind the scenes and effects work footage. Going further behind the scenes is Keep What You Kill (17:30, SD), a segment in which Twohy and Diesel talk about the villains in the film, the constant and ongoing war in the movie, and how that makes for a good playground for Riddick, primarily focusing on the Necromongers. From there, we get more behind the scenes and effects footage as we explore the different set pieces, characters, and sets used in the picture.
Through the Blu-ray exclusive U-Control functionality, you can access a few different options during playback. First up is a Picture-In-Picture track that plays out various behind the scenes segments as the movie carries on. It's interesting enough even if a fair bit of it is taken from the featurettes found in the extras section. The Complete Chronicles option plays out over the unrated version and expands on the mythology of the characters in the film by way of some interesting pop up information. Anatomy Of A Fight is a scene specific track that cuts to some interesting bits that explain how the particular fight scene in question was shot and choreographed while the Chronicles Compendium offers yet more background information on aspects of the production. Universal's standard animated menus are included and the disc is Blu-ray live enabled allowing you to go online and download additional interactive content if you so choose. The theatrical trailer, however, is nowhere to be seen.Final Thoughts:
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 Blu-ray 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.