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THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK (PG-13) (2004)

Universal Pictures

Official Site

Director: David Twohy

Producers: Vin Diesel, Scott Kroopf

Written by: David Twohy

Cast: Vin Diesel, Judi Dench, Colm Feore, Thandie Newton, Karl Urban, Alexa Davalos, Nick Chinlund, Keith David

 Rating:


Imagine: You’re a struggling artist who has tasted only small and moderate successes. You’ve never really hit it big, but you think it’s only a matter of time. You believe in yourself, and your loved ones believe in you. You continue to work; your creative output is steady and consistent. People take notice, but not enough. You know you haven’t yet reached your potential, but when you do, you feel that what you produce will be sincere, appreciated, brilliant. You lack the materials to reach said potential; you lack monetary resources, and the freedoms they allow. “If only I had the money,” you say, between gulps of shrimp-flavored ramen. “If only I had the money.” A week later, you receive a phone call and it’s the happiest moment of your life: Someone other than a loved one says that they believe in you, too. They say that they’re providing you with the money to realize your dreams. You kiss your dog on the mouth, because you have no significant other. You promise to yourself not to screw this up.

Keep imagining: This is it, the day you first exhibit your financially improved newest project. It’s bigger, vaster, flashier, and more lustrous than anything you’ve made prior. Damn, you’re proud. Viewers slowly wander in. Some more follow. And more. Before you know it, the place is packed. Word had gotten out. The viewers mill and absorb and ponder. Many walk past you unknowingly as they exit. They chatter amongst themselves.  “Unfinished,” they say. “Diaphanous,” they say. “Beautiful,” they say, “but empty.” Soon, the gathering hall is empty, and you’re left alone with your creation. Standing next to it, you’ve never felt more alienated and unsure of your talents. You did it. You screwed this up.

Somewhere in California, David Twohy, director of The Chronicles Of Riddick, may be sitting next to a canned print of his latest effort, his arms wrapped around his knees, swaying back and forth like an old rocking-horse set into motion by memories of the children which once rode upon its back, wondering how and when the grandiosity of his well-intentioned (to be sure) ambition quietly imploded. All of this isn’t to say that The Chronicles Of Riddick is a terrible movie, because it isn’t, by any means. It does, however, stand as a mediocre, sterile monument to the squandering of talent and money. It is a film nearly as dead as the ashen planets which the Necromongers have conquered.

Yes, that’s right, Necromongers. “Who the hizzle?” you might ask. Well, they’re the villainous, imperialistic colonists of the Riddick-verse. “The Riddick-wha?” you implore. Some explanation is in order, I see. Once upon a time (the year 2000, to be exact), there was a low-budget sci-fi/horror film called Pitch Black (also directed by Twohy), in which a group of marooned space travelers scurried about a planet infested by insect-like creatures which hunted them by night. One of those travelers bore the auspicious (and rather phallic) name of Riddick (Diesel). He had silver eyes and could see in the dark, and was a remorseless, self-serving badass mercenary, as well as a non-literal bastard. Only Riddick, a young boy named Jack who turns out to be a girl, and a holy man named Imam (David) survived the encounter on that terrible insect planet, and Pitch Black itself survived a modest theatrical release to find an interested home video audience, where it attained semi-cult status. Flash forward four years, and the mega-budget, nonsensically-titled sequel that audiences neither saw coming nor asked for, The Chronicles Of Riddick, hopes to make wearing sports goggles cool again.

To clarify all queries right off, Riddick is back, and this time he’s going to need to save more than just a gender-confused kid and a religious zealot, because the entire universe is now in peril! Remember when I wrote “Necromongers” earlier? Good, because they’re the ones messing shit up! Led by the chainmail-headdress garbed Lord Marshal (Feore, who, thankfully, isn’t nearly as Riddick-ulous here as he was in Highwaymen), the Necromongers land their (also phallic) motherships on hapless planets and either assimilate the natives into their undead ranks or slaughter them like baboons. Aereon (Dench), an ephemeral air elemental, in cahoots with Imam, places a bounty on Riddick, so that he might be captured, delivered to them, and used against the Necromongers—whether he likes it or not. Conveniently, Riddick is revealed as one of the last living members of the only race that the Necromongers fear (for reasons unknown by the audience or by Twohy, most likely), and the galaxy’s last and only hope against being forced to get their hair cut into the mohawk style and wear those stupid, finger-length silver bone rings that goth teenagers buy at Hot Topic to make themselves appear threatening. Will Riddick eventually cast his isolationist selfishness aside and single-handedly combat the seemingly insurmountable Necromonger armada? If he does, one can rest assured that he’ll do it his way: by ensuring that every character in the film either says or shrieks the name “Riddick” as much as possible, and by taking off his goggles as the camera pushes in on his steely silver eyes, again and again and again and again and again and again…

While Twohy clearly intends for Riddick’s saga to be his sci-fi action legacy, or this generation’s Star Wars, perhaps—a rollicking, swashbuckling series of bombastic adventures spanning many planets and focused on a central character—he has yet to flesh out the Riddick-verse, its characters, or its races enough to suggest a fraction of the enormity of the original Star Wars trilogy, or the superb Lord Of The Rings films, resulting in a foundation which is currently without charm, without depth. This problem is most significant when related to the primary plot of The Chronicles Of Riddick. Twohy makes no effort to familiarize the viewer with Riddick’s universe: There is no exposition concerning the general state of the cosmos, no mention of a UN-like conglomerated governing body, no allusion whatsoever to the state of anything (the viewer is not even told what year these events supposedly take place). Therefore, as the film begins and the universe is immediately at risk, I have absolutely no attachment to the unfolding events, emotional or otherwise. I could not care less that the Necromongers are razing plant after planet, because there is no context for sympathy. And as we eventually descend onto these revolving rocks, we find them barren and mostly devoid of life—even the planets that the Necromongers have not yet sacked. Two of the three major planets on which The Chronicles Of Riddick unfold are seemingly uninhabited. One is a wasteland of ice; one is divided by arctic shade and 700° sunlight; the third, Helion Prime, is home to a generic Persian-influenced culture which is obliterated by the Necromongers before we are given a chance to marvel at its vaguely familiar architecture.

Equally limiting are the characters which bound about these dead worlds. Riddick is, of course, a one-dimensional anti-hero with but one mode of operation: impenetrable. His motives are unrelentingly egotistical, and he can only be goaded into doing good when he will benefit directly. Sure, he can spin around and fight like a man assisted by wires and talk space jive and wield dual knives and look menacing while doing so, but the all-action, no-talk routine wears thin beyond ’80s action films. Aureon, a character who un-dignifies even Dame Judi Dench, serves no purpose other than senselessly extolling narration and probabilities of events (Why would a race of elementals exhibit expertise in calculations, exactly?), and lending unfortunate new horizons to character transparency. Toombs (Chinlund), the bounty hunter hired to capture Riddick, exists solely to fulfill this role, as if it is the justification of his being. The only characters with any sort of multi-dimensionality, in fact, are the Necromongers. Vaako and Lady Vaako (Urban and Newton, respectively) at least feign fealty to their ruler, while plotting to usurp his throne, thus emulating two distinct methods of human behavior. Likewise, Lord Marshal simultaneously fears and respects Riddick, causing Feore to pull considerable double duty as an actor.

As the plot goes nowhere, and as Riddick propels the (lack of) narrative from one action-oriented situation to the next, it becomes irritatingly obvious by its final “act” that The Chronicles Of Riddick is naught but a set up for a third film which may or may not even get made. Even more insulting is the fact that, just as the story takes a turn for the interesting, the screen fades to black and the credits roll, leaving the viewer with a feeling not unlike cinematic blue balls. And while it is true that The Chronicles Of Riddick does not weave a complete and fulfilling tale, that many characters and situations exist only as plot tools, forwarding the story in the most inorganic of ways, the potential contained within the film’s ending is enough to almost somersault all the preceding malevolencies and make the experience of devoting two hours of your life to Vin and Co. worthwhile. Yes, the ending is that intriguing, and yes, I begrudgingly admit to wanting to know what will happen next.

The Chronicles Of Riddick is, regrettably, just another summer movie: beautiful to behold (accolades must be paid to the art department), but mindlessly vapid, like that girl you work with whom you just cannot take your ever-loving eyes off of, but whom you wish would just shut up, already, the moment a single syllable escapes her Burt’s Beeswaxed lips. It is not yet a viable sci-fi/action endeavor. It will not own you. Perhaps The Chronicles Of Riddick will miraculously turn a profit on its absurd $120,000,000 budget, and perhaps Twohy will, in the third chapter of Riddick’s exploits, capitalize upon the appealing ethical possibilities hinted at by this film’s ending. Perhaps next time he’ll spin more than just half a yarn. Perhaps next time he will meet, or even exceed, expectations.

—Nathan Baran

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


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