Today I watched David Twhoy’s The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)
As a sequel to Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick really goes to some unexpected places. Having confronted his better nature in the previous film, Riddick has become an outlaw hermit, removed from society. Bounty hunters come after him but their contract comes from a private party based off of the planet Helion Prime, which rings a bell for Riddick. Turns out the Imam played by Kieth David who had survived with Riddick now lives one Helion Prime and he put the bounty on Riddick to draw him there. There is a mighty holy army rampaging across the galaxy, they are called the Necromongers who seek a living afterlife by entering a parallel death dimension and they are coming for Helion Prime. As it happens, Riddick is some kind of chosen one who can stop he Necromongers, but being someone who never really agreed with society and other people, Riddick is hesitant. Instead he takes this return to civilization as an opportunity to find another Pitch Black survivor, Jack, now known as Kyra, who has been imprisoned on a hellish world that burns during the day and freezes at night. This is the heroes journey though, so of course Riddick overcomes his own defiant nature and takes up the mantle of hero, but the outcome is a little different than a simple victory.
Like I said, this film goes places, Pitch Black played on the used future aesthetic of films like Alien and Outland and here that aesthetic is fused with the other extreme end of sci-fi, epic and fantastical space opera. Star Wars is another franchise that fused these two concepts together, but it seems to bring the two ideas towards a center; this film on the other hand, seems to push the two to irreconcilable extremes and then put them in contrast. Surprisingly this effect works quite well at developing a strange and unique world that would not be out of place in the pages of Métal Hurlant. This is a universe that contains dramatically different worlds that often collide, unholy warriors who wield mystical powers collide with Han Solo-esque outlaws, bounty hunters, and fighters.
While the world of this film is evocatice and inspiring, the story is a little unfocused. It opens with oppressive force of the Necromongers and the dangers they pose, but later it takes a massive detour to the planet of Crematoria, that prison planet I mentioned before. While it provides some strong character building material, I think it distracts from the epic plot that bookends the movie. It distracts from the stories of the Necromonger characters like the Vaako duo played by Thandie Newton and Kieth Urban respectively. Those two have particularly good chemistry as Newton chews scenery like no other and Urban complements this with stony faced and restrained violence. This is one of those rare times when I will address other edits of a movie, the problems with the narrative are much worse in the theatrical cut of this film and the unradet cut available on home release improves a lot of this by cutting in more characterful moments; it’s a trade off between tightly paced action and more development of both heroes and villains but I like characers so hats nice.
What this film does right is go smoothly from scenes involving a sci-fi death cult that wear plate mail and go to battle with gravity blasters and battle axes with rough and tumble, grease covered outlaws. It goes from epic and fantastical vistas to a prison that is pretty much just a dirty pit mine. This unique and diverse universe carries the film through an otherwise unfocused story, but it is also helped by it’s fascinating protagonist and numerous other solid performance from actors like the afformentioned Newton and Urban as well as Colm Feore who takes on the lead antagonist role and his prime toady played by Linus Roache who channels a very believable level of religious conviction. To really get into this film, you have to want the world it is offering, because the story is not all that satisfying in it’s own right. I would certainly recommend it though, it is at the very least a fascinating piece of world building and i would argue that this carries it through and makes it an entertaining whole. 4/5