Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

The Chronicles of Riddick - Unrated Director's Cut

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
7 out of 10
Extras Rating:
7 out of 10
Movie Details:
View here

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Rating: Not Rated

Starring:
Vin Diesel as Riddick
Colm Feore as Lord Marshal
Thandie Newton as Dame Vaako
Judi Dench as Aereon
Karl Urban as Vaako
Alexa Davalos as Kyra
Linus Roache as Purifier
Yorick van Wageningen as The Guv
Nick Chinlund as Toombs
Keith David as Imam
Mark Gibbon as Irgun
Roger R. Cross as Toal
Terry Chen as Merc Pilot
Christina Cox as Eve Logan

Special Features:
Commentary by filmmaker David Twohy and actors Karl Urban & Alexa Davalos

Director's cut contains 15 extra minutes

"Riddick's World" including 360 degree view of eight locations

Deleted scenes

Toomb's Chase Log

Virtual Guide

Facts on Demand viewing mode

Play the first level of the Xbox game

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.40:1)
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Spanish and French Subtitles
Running Time: 2 Hours 15 Minutes

Synopsis:
This is the sequel to the 2000 film Pitch Black and it is the first of a planned trilogy of films featuring Riddick. This particular DVD is the "Unrated Director's Cut" of the movie.

After years on the run, a new group of mercenaries have found Riddick on a remote planet. He quickly eliminates them, but is curious who would place a large bounty on his head. When he goes back to the source of who's behind it, he discovers his old friend Imam (from the first film) has been helping the mercenaries track him down.

It turns out that a race of religious fanatics known as the Necromongers have been ravaging the galaxy. Led by Lord Marshal, they have been going from planet to planet destroying civilizations and brainwashing new recruits. However, a prophecy states that only a "Furian" can defeat Lord Marshal. It turns out that Riddick is the last known living Furian and Imam believes he can save their planet.

Riddick dismisses any ideas of being a hero, but he quickly finds he has no choice but to be involved when the Necromongers invade. It doesn't take them long to find out about Riddick and they begin to hunt him down. But it's only when they threaten those that Riddick cares for that he joins the fight.

This version of The Chronicles of Riddick is unrated but the theatrical version is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action and some language.

The Movie:
If you liked Pitch Black, then you're probably going to like The Chronicles of Riddick. It attempts to create an epic adventure on a grand scale. The final result is a mixture of Conan, Stargate, and Alien 3 with little dashes of The Fifth Element, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings thrown in here and there. If you're into sci-fi or action movies, then this film will be right up your alley. It also helps if you already saw Pitch Black, but you can still follow The Chronicles of Riddick even if you haven't viewed the first film. (I still recommend revisiting it if you have the chance before watching this.)

Two of the most notable things about Riddick are the production design and special effects. The ships are cool and unique. The weaponry also has an interesting look that is reminiscent of fireworks. The planets are impressive environments with alien lighting and weather. The various cultures have exotic costumes and strange mixes of architecture that are unlike those shown in other films. The overall effect is the feeling of total immersion into a world in the distant future and many light years away. All the eye candy easily distracts you from any shortcomings in the film and definitely establishes the epic look and feel they were shooting for.

Vin Diesel returns as Riddick. He's pretty much the same character he was in the first movie (and every movie he's done since, come to think of it). To be quite honest, any actor with muscles could play Riddick. He doesn't have that much personality. But the little personality that he does show is what makes him unique - the bad attitude. His utter contempt for everyone around him and the complete confidence in his toughness make him an interesting hero / villain. Because of that, Diesel works well enough.

Diesel is supported by Karl Urban as Vaako. Sporting an astro-mullet and looking tough, he is unrecognizable from his Lord of the Rings character. He doesn't get to do a whole lot in this movie, but he seems to hold his own with Diesel. This film also has a couple of characters from the first film that return. Keith David reprises his role as Imam and offers a nice bridge between the two movies. And though Alexa Davalos wasn't in the first film, she takes on the role of Kyra (i.e. Jack) in the new movie. She's tough, has a bad attitude, and is the definite protégé of Riddick but with a prettier face.

One interesting thing about The Chronicles of Riddick is the fact that it switches from epic adventure to small-scale adventure quickly and repeatedly. For example, amid a planetary invasion, the story focuses in on just Riddick and his friends as they play a game of cat and mouse trying to escape. Later in the film it again shifts from the epic battle to a small adventure on a remote prison planet. It transitions from mass destruction to a foot race between Riddick and his captors. This keeps things lively and prevents the audience from being numbed by the grand special effect shots of death, destruction, and mayhem.

The Chronicles of Riddick isn't bad, but it isn't a home run either. It does have a few problems. Besides Riddick having little character, the film has a weak bad guy. Colm Feore plays Lord Marshal and he's not really that intimidating in any way. Other characters, like Thandie Newton as Dame Vaako, are there for little more than to look hot. Judi Dench is also under-used as Aereon, an inexplicable "Elemental" who I assume will be described more in future films.

Like Pitch Black, this film likes to pick on religion. The Necromongers are religious fanatics that try to convert the whole universe through death and destruction. I don't know if this is supposed to be a commentary on Islam, Christianity, or religion in general, but I don't think the story ever made a definitive statement one way or the other on anything. Is this pro-freedom of religion? Pro-atheism? Anti-Islam? Anti-Christian? And I don't know if it's just because I've been reading the Star Wars New Jedi Order books lately, but the whole "religious fanatic space invaders" thing seems to be a bit cliché now. The Necromongers did everything but call people "infidels". That leads to my next point. Wasn't there a better name for the guys that "Necromongers"? It's a little silly. Other planets like "Crematoria" and such are also kind of weak.

There are also a number of lapses in logic in the film. For example, the surface of one planet is a blazing 700 degrees. If someone steps into the light, they are incinerated. But if they're standing in the shade a few feet away, they're cool. That doesn't make sense. I know this is space fantasy, but there's only so much I can ignore. There are other examples of this in the film, but you get the point.

Finally, the last shot of the film was probably the most interesting for me. It was the biggest plot twist for Riddick and the point where I was saying, "This is getting interesting. Now what?" It was more intriguing than the rest of the movie in my opinion. So, like with Pitch Black, I was left saying, "Well, that wasn't bad, but I'm more interested in seeing where they go next." Hopefully there is a "next".

I must also add a few comments about this "Director's Cut". Fifteen minutes of extra footage has been added, but it's not that exciting. (Note that the extra footage isn't always seamlessly added to the film. As Twohy explains in the introduction, the picture occasionally jumps.) The bulk of it centers on Riddick and his background as a Furian. He occasionally has visions about his home planet and a ghostly woman named Shira, played by Kristin Lehman, reminds him of his past. Through flashbacks Riddick also remembers that Lord Marshal killed his family and spared him (for whatever reason). Interestingly, this version of the film portrays Lord Marshal as a King Herod-type character killing all the young Furian males and it spins Riddick as a kind of dark Jesus figure. Later in the film the ghostly Shira places a glowing hand on Riddick which unleashes energy within him that kills some of the Necromongers. Seeing as how this was never seen again in the movie or explained, it's better left out. Other new scenes involve an alternate introduction of Kyra on the prison planet on Crematoria. You see her being unloaded and caged among the hell hounds. The scene makes it seem like she's been there a lot less time than indicated in the film. A couple of other new scenes are sex related. We see Dame Vaako seducing Vaako and talking him into overthrowing Lord Marshal. We also see her learning about the Furian prophecy and passing the info on to her husband. Later on in a scene on the mercenary ship, we see the lone female mercenary trying to sex up Riddick while everyone else is in cryogenic sleep. After all, he is so irresistibly sexy. Those are the major scenes that have been added. Most of the others are almost unnoticeable. The ending is also slightly different with Riddick observing that "You keep what you kill".

I think The Chronicles of Riddick is well worth checking out, especially on the big screen, but your opinion of it will vary dramatically according to what you go in expecting. If you're looking for the next Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, you'll be disappointed. But if you're looking for a fun popcorn flick, I think you'll find your money's worth.

The Extras:
When you first start this DVD, you are given two options – convert or fight. The selections take you to different themed menus, but the features are the same. (I personally recommend converting.) The extras included are surprisingly light, though. Here are the highlights on the DVD:

Commentary by filmmaker David Twohy and actors Karl Urban & Alexa Davalos – Unfortunately, this commentary is a little dry. The actors mainly marvel at the imagery while Twohy fills in the blanks. He talks about the story, the shooting, and the technical details. Too bad he's not that dynamic. On a positive note, they linked up Urban from New Zealand via satellite just so he could participate in the commentary. I wish they'd put that much effort into other DVDs so that more people can contribute. This commentary really needed Vin Diesel to complete it.

"Riddick's World" including 360 degree view of eight locations – Vin Diesel kicks off this feature in a short video where he gives you a tour of the major sets. He's like a kid in a candy shop pointing out all the detail in the sets (including Riddick's unseen hideout on the ice planet). It's good to see Diesel having fun making the movie. You can then get a 360 degree look at the sets from the film.

Deleted scenes – There are only three deleted scenes. One features an alternate and less exciting version of Riddick being captured by Toombs. It takes place right outside Riddick's hideout. You also see him raiding he ship's computer for info. In another alternate scene you see Toombs trying to join Riddick and the others as they run across the surface of Crematoria. He is promptly caught unawares by one of the hell hounds and killed. Personally, I think it's better to leave him alive for future movies. A final deleted scene shows Judy Dench's character conspiring with Imam and the government to put a bounty out on Riddick. It gives a little more background into how they caught up with him. These deleted scenes are slim, but they are interesting to view.

Toomb's Chase Log – This 10 minute video is supposed to be a video ship's log made by Toombs. He details all his exploits leading up to his encounter with Riddick. You get insight into how he operates and background about what he did before the film's opening. It's a good idea, but not executed the best way possible. The picture looks like a ship's control panel and the video of Toombs doesn't match the dialogue. It gets a bit boring, too.

Virtual Guide – You can go through a list of objects, locations, and characters and when they are selected you get an audio description of the item as read by the cast from the film. Video plays in the background that features production art, drawings, statues, and scenes from the film. It's a nice touch but not terribly exciting.

Facts on Demand viewing mode – This is a standard addition to DVDs these days where text pop-ups occasionally come on screen. If you've seen the film you may want to turn this on.

The Bottom Line:
If you're going to buy The Chronicles of Riddick, then this Director's Cut is the way to go. You get a little more movie for your buck. I would recommend this film to fans of Vin Diesel, Pitch Black, and sci-fi in general.

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