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The Chronicles of Riddick
Reviewed by Jason Myers and Andrew Kozma, © 2004

Format: Movie
By:   David Twohy (Director/Screenwriter)
Genre:   Science Fiction
Released:   June 11, 2004
Review Date:   June 16, 2004
Audience Rating:   PG-13
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

Jason Myers: If you've already seen Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Shrek 2, and you're trying to figure out what summer film to plop down in front of next, then go directly to The Chronicles of Riddick. Do not pass "Go," do not collect ticket stubs to Troy, The Stepford Wives, Van Helsing or The Day After Tomorrow. Even if you don't know Vin Diesel from oxygenated super unleaded, The Chronicles of Riddick is a guaranteed gas, gas, gas.

Mick Jagger: Hey, you, get offa my cloud!

Jason: Sorry, that pun was lamer than Tiny Tim.

The PUNisher: Lamer than both of my movies.

Jason: Lamer than naming a movie after a song title because you can't come up with anything on your own.

John Hughes: Filk you, man.

Jason: Anyway, let me try again. This movie is the best--

Andrew Kozma: This movie is stupid. I mean, this is a stupid movie. Or maybe it's brainless and the body is remote-controlled by mad filmmakers from Planet Zebulon. Hey, it's possible.

The Lord Marshall: Kill Riddick!

Andrew: Shh... I'm trying. I mean, yes, I'm still talking about Riddick. The movie is stupid like a handsome, very skilled high school quarterback is stupid -- which means I'm probably going to be tackled as soon as I leave my house. What I'm talking about here is--Ooooof!!

Jason: I'm not a quarterback, but I find that comment offensive.

The PUNisher: Hence the offensive tackle.

Andrew: Offensive to football players?

Jason: Offensive to The Chronicles of Riddick. So shut it, or be tackled again.

Andrew: You and what sumo wrestler?

Jason: I do like 300 sit-ups a week, which means I can crush the life out of you with my stomach muscles, like an anaconda or a boa constrictor or... or...

Andrew: Janet Jackson?

Jason: Exactly. Fear me.

Andrew: You want to talk threats? I can wear one of my nipple shirts. If my pointy areolas don't put your eyes out, the sight of me in a heavyweight preshrunk cotton thermal knit version of a Joel Schumacher-esque Batman costume will at least temporarily blind you. So will you let me finish what I was saying?

Jason: Yes. Anything. Just please don't wear the nipple shirt.

Andrew: What I was talking about was expectation versus actuality. No one expects a quarterback to be smart, and no one really expects action movies to be deep. And make no mistake, whatever guise he's wearing, Vin Diesel is the new action star.

Jason: If you're the type of person who would read reviews on this here spiffy Web site, chances are that your first exposure to Vin Diesel was not one of the three forgettable action vehicles (The Fast and the Furious, XXX, A Man Apart) he starred in recently. I myself only saw one of them, and decided to give the other two a pass. The makers of XXX picked up a moldy rejected James Bond script, added hang-gliding, surfing and other XXX-treme sports, and tried to pass it off as innovation. In XXX, Vin Diesel played the part of "new action star," driving shiny vehicles, wielding weapons, dispatching villains while saying generic new action star one-liners, and just generally causing lots of 'splosions. I suspect The Fast and the Furious and A Man Apart were similar.

Yep, in the span of three or four years, Vin Diesel went from "the next big thing" to overhyped and overexposed. But that should not, not, not dissuade you from going to see Vin Diesel return to the memorable role he originated in a modestly successful monster movie called Pitch Black.

Mick Jagger: I see a red pitch and I want it painted black.

Jason: In Pitch Black, Diesel plays Riddick, a captured convict being transported to a prison planet. He's a comet-cold killer with the shiny eyes, brutal grace and snarling disposition of a panther. When a handful of space-travelers wind up stranded on a hostile planet, Riddick might be the best chance they have of surviving... or he might eat their livers with some fava beans and a nice Romulan ale. Pitch Black (director's cut DVD on sale now, with a free movie ticket to Riddick) was released in 2000, before Diesel made the poor movie choices that took him on the path of being "the next action star."

Schwarzenegger: I'll be back... for another term!

Jason: As the final tableau shot of The Chronicles of Riddick communicates, Riddick is, on some level, Conan the Barbarian... in space. It's pulp science fiction. It's not simply an action movie, it's glorious, juicy, Vitamin-C-soaked pulp. And much like the adventures of pulp characters like Conan, Tarzan, James Bond, Flash Gordon, and Indiana Jones, The Chronicles of Riddick isn't particularly deep, but it is clever. Its split-second timing and daring escapes are not realistic, but that doesn't mean it's stupid. And though it's got plenty of the usual action staples (special effects, fighting, big booms), the center of the movie is a great character. Larger-than-life but with enough texture and magnetism that the movie'll still hold together long after the world has moved on to bigger 'splosions and specialer special effects.

Andrew: Ah, yes, well, if you like football, um, Vin Diesel, action, and/or Sci-Fi--

Harlan Ellison: Speculative Fiction.

Andrew: Or SF--

Harlan Ellison: Don't make me take away your mouth and then tickle you.

Andrew: Or Speculative Fiction, then you will be highly entertained by The Chronicles of Riddick. The movie has great pacing and the action never stops, even when it would be probable to do so (the invasion occurs just after Riddick lands on Helion?). Still, if you can untether your mind from the fetters of logic, you'll have a pretty good time. And at least the movie isn't bad, and we'll all agree we don't need more bad SF... eh, speculative fiction. In fact, it's decent, but since Jason is going to weigh in here at any moment, I've got to get all my negative comments in now.

Jason: 280? That can't be right.

Andrew: The script is cobbled together from different sources and holds together only as a seventies speculative fiction movie would -- meaning that there's really no credible explanation given for any of what's going on. This is much the same as The Fifth Element, though that had color, panache, and Gary Oldman going for it. Riddick mixes a fundamentalist space crusade, a reluctant hero eventually spurred to action by vengeance, and a Macbethian subplot that only loses by the Shakespearian connection.

Jason: 98 pounds?

Andrew: The future is, apparently, full of advanced weaponry but sometimes people decide to fight with hand weapons, and all of the soldiers wear medieval armor that looks heavy and consistently fails to protect them from anything. My movie date, Tracy Jo, called the movie a mix between The Matrix and Dune, which does accurately describe the overall look and theme (black clothing, the universe populated by human offshoots of varying abilities/demeanors), though Riddick also borrows from the Warhammer universe (Necromunga = Necromunda?).

Jason: 141 pounds, 14 percent body fat. And it's Necromongers, you feeb.

Andrew: The truth is that all of the above would be forgivable if there was more development in character, story, whatever.

Jason: The movie most certainly continues and deepens the evolution of Riddick's character that began in Pitch Black. As for story, well, the aspects of Riddick that my movie date, Alexandra Davis, most enjoyed were the "little stories." All the characters have their own motivations, complexities and back story. To me, anyway, Riddick, the bounty hunter Tooms (Nick Chinlund), holy man Imam (Keith David), convict Kyra (Alexa Davalos), necromonger Vaako (Karl Urban, who has more to do here than he did as Eomer in the Lord of the Rings movies), and elemental Aereon (Judi Dench, adding a welcome pint of Alec Guiness to this story of a galaxy far, far away) all felt like flesh and blood characters instead of simple action figures being moved about by the screenwriter.

Not that this is American Beauty, but the acting overall was excellent, and you got the sense that the characters had lives of their own outside the boundaries of the story. And, much like Pitch Black, very few of the characters fall easily into the good, bad, and "jerk who deserves to get slagged" categories, and as a result the audience's allegiances are rarely as clear-cut and predictable as they would be at, say, a football game.

Andrew: The most satisfying parts of the movie for me are near the beginning, before the invasion, where Imam attempts to convince Riddick to help the universe, and the entire sequence in the prison. As Tracy Jo said, the movie might have been a lot better entirely restricted to Crematoria (the prison planet).

Jason: I nearly agree. Mostly because the Necromongers are a little too monolithically dreary and operatic to be truly magnificent villains. The grimy hard-scrabble lives of the mercenaries and convicts are much more engaging.

Andrew: The reason I think these two segments work is because they slow down the action enough for us (and the writer) to focus on character and give some reason to care about what is going on.

Jason: The movie holds up on its own, but when you're focusing on character, you have to look at Riddick the same as any sequel. Since Riddick contains characters from Pitch Black, much of the complexity of the characters is revealed both by their actions in the first movie, and by the complexity implicit in the ways they've changed in the intervening time between the first movie and the second.

Andrew: There is so much rich possibility in the movie that the director (David Twohy) and the writer (um, well, David Twohy) just leave as a blurry, smudged background. What really is the history behind the Lord Marshall? Why haven't the other planets in the universe banded together to try and fight the Necromungans?

Jason Necromongers! Anyway, the rich possibility that's left in the background is part of what I loved about Riddick. But instead of seeing them as smudged, I see them as simply too far away to be seen clearly. The kind of possibilities that make you want to climb over the next crater, and that suggest an expansive universe beyond the confines of the movie (and, not coincidentally, I'm sure, the type of possibilities that are meant to lure people into buying tie-in products like the animated The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury and the video game The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay).

What David Twohy (who also directed Pitch Black) is doing as a filmmaker is ambitious, and I think he deserves a lot of credit. He's building a universe from scratch, complete with its own slang, its own alien races, its own interplanetary societies and (in)justice systems. Not filming continuations of universes created back in the seventies (Star Wars and Aliens), not bringing to the big screen universes that were begun in television series (Star Trek, Lost in Space, Cowboy Bebop) or books (Dune, Starship Troopers, Battlefield Earth) or video games (Wing Commander), not remaking (Solaris) or re-imagining (Planet of the Apes). As far as original space-based movie universes go, in the past five years, there's just Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (not based on any of the video games, just riding the coat-tales of the franchise), Galaxy Quest (parody of Star Trek), Treasure Planet (original aliens and space trappings with the plot and characters from Treasure Island), and Titan A.E. (yawn).

Ultimately, I think Riddick will fail to become a franchise. There's no built-in fan base from books or comics or a television show to hold it up. And people are (with good reason) wary of going to see the next Vin Diesel movie.

So, my guess. No more Riddick. Which is too bad (for me and David Twohy and Vin Diesel, if for no one else). The movie's funny. The vast majority of the one-liners are clever and delivered with the timing and precision of an inmate shivving his cellmate. And Riddick is a great anti-hero. Even to the characters within the movie, he's half bogeyman, half myth. When Riddick looks up and the steam is drifting off of him, or when he sets his teacup down on a rock as a threat, it's a moment like when Conan swings his sword in an intimidating but entirely superfluous display of prowess, when Indiana Jones risks injury to keep his hat, when Tarzan swings through the jungle on a vine. It's either ridiculous or sublime, or a magical combination of the two.

Andrew: I agree that Twohy should be applauded for being ambitious, but an ambitious failure is still a failure. And though this movie isn't a failure, the ambitious nature of it doesn't make it any more than what it is. Though, as you say, I'd be interested in more movies set in this universe. Hopefully, the next (being hopeful here) movie will be more well-rounded overall. The focus here is in making a rousing space opera sort of adventure, one which uses all the fantastical trappings at its disposal to create action, pulse-pounding play after play.

Still, I can't not recommend it. By which I mean, I DO recommend it. It is fun, even if it's not doing much to further the cause of sci-fi or mmph mphmph--

Harlan Ellison: I warned you. Andrew's Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Jason's Rating: 9 out of 10

Jason Myers and Andrew Kozma know that there is nothing like a dame (Judi Dench). Nothin' else was built the same, Nothin' in the world has the soft and wavy frame like the silhouette of a dame (Judi Dench). There are no books like a dame (Judi Dench), And nothin' looks like a dame (Judi Dench). Nothin' acts like a dame (Judi Dench), or attracts like a dame (Judi Dench). There ain't a thing that's wrong with any man here that can't be cured by puttin' him near a girly, womanly, female, feminine dame (Judi Dench)!

 
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