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The Chronicles Of Riddick (2004)
Writer and director: David Twohy

review by Amy Harlib

When emerging genre director/scripter David Twohy, maker of The Arrival (1996) and Below (2001), unleashed his SF-horror film Pitch Black, the modestly-budgeted, taut, science fiction tale of spaceship-wrecked passengers on an isolated planet depending on antihero, convicted felon Riddick (Vin Diesel) for survival against indigenous, ferocious, carnivorous, nocturnal creatures, became a surprise hit and cult sensation. Now, in 2004, Twohy and star Vin Diesel pooled resources to create the first of what will hopefully become a trilogy of sequels, and with major studio backing, produced The Chronicles Of Riddick.

When Pitch Black concluded, only three survivors managed to repair their vessel and escape from the deadly darkness of the monster-infested planet: Riddick; a wise, Moslem pilgrim Abu Imam al-Walid (Keith David); and a runaway teenaged girl (Rhiana Griffith) using the name 'Jack' in her disguise as a boy. Five years later, 'The Chronicles' begin with Riddick's seclusion on a remote, wintry-cold world shattered when bounty hunters led by Toombs (Nick Chinlund), track him down. The hunters find their cunning target turning things around and fighting back, taking over their ship to journey to distant Helion Prime to find out why the Imam sent scoundrels, so they confessed under Riddick's coercion, to capture him.

In the multi-cultural, utopian, central city of New Mecca, Riddick finds the Imam closely associated with the elegant, elderly Aereon (Judi Dench), a human-looking 'air elemental' able to teleport short distances. Aereon informs Riddick that his preternatural strength, swiftness, uncanny intuitions and sensitivities, unusual energy and night vision combined with low-tolerance for bright light - comes from his heritage, from his being among the last of the Furian race, a people mighty enough to potentially overcome the Necromongers.

Their huge armada of fascist forces commanded by the Lord Marshal (Colm Feore), relentlessly conquer every planet in the galaxy and convert the inhabitants to their mysterious belief-system. The Necromongers seek to transform known-reality into something called the 'Underverse'. Resistance leads to annihilation and worse, for the Lord Marshal, possesses uncanny physical power and speed and can extract souls from one's corporeal being. Helion Prime lies directly in the path of this oncoming onslaught.

Riddick, hesitant to get involved, instead decides thanks to more information imparted by the Imam and Aereon, to travel to the high-security prison on hellish planet Crematoria where the girl he once rescued now languishes because she emulated her saviour and became a mercenary bounty hunter like him. Riddick's plans change when the Necromongers attack Helion Prime far more swiftly than expected, killing the Imam much too soon but his smart and lovely wife Lujjun (Kimberly Hawthorne) and moppet daughter Ziza (Alexis Llewellyn) survive in hiding.

Riddick and Aereon get captured but only the former manages to escape and head for Crematoria where he re-unites with Jack now grown up, using her real name Kyra (Alexa Davalos). She proves to be tough and kick-ass and while not equal to Riddick in muscle, can match him in sass. Riddick also re-encounters Toombs and more 'mercs' hot on his trail this time on behalf of the Necromongers who arrive shortly thereafter, demolishing the prison compound and abducting Kyra.
Vin Diesel and Alexa Davalos, in The Chronicles of Riddick
Riddick and Kyra
(Vin Diesel and
Alexa Davalos)

photos ©2004
Universal Studios
All rights reserved
Pursuing the enemy to the new stronghold on the former Helion Prime, Riddick disrupts the internecine intrigues of Lord Marshal's power-hungry second-in-command Vaako (Karl Urban), his Lady Macbeth of a wife (Thandie Newton) and rival high-status officer, the Purifier (Linus Roache). Riddick also finds the captive Aereon, her oracular wisdom prized by the Lord Marshal, although her cooperation is forced and her pronouncements enigmatic. Much mayhem results from the havoc wrought by Riddick's attempts to free Kyra who had been subjected to the Necromonger's mind-control devices used to subdue all populations still living after their initial aerial bombardments. Excitement builds to a surprising and fitting climax begging for the sequels.

Chronicles dazzles with eye-popping production design and skilful blending of CGI with live-action, bringing to life an original SF concept not based on a book or a graphic novel, the ideas (although influenced by Dune; and other space operas), created by David Twohy in collaboration with the screenwriting brothers Jim and Ken Wheat, and Vin Diesel. The film stands on its own, seeing Pitch Black is not necessary to enjoy this opus. Expanding the tight focus of its predecessor, Chronicles abounds with astonishingly diverse planetary settings; architectural constructs; spaceships and gadgets; costumes, ornaments and hairstyles; and baroque, textural surface details. Along with the refreshingly novel cultures portrayed with just enough information to make the story work, we still get left with many questions unanswered for the follow-ups - mainly concerning the origins of the Necromongers and the Elementals.

The action excites, with Hong Kong-influenced grace and intricacy and without gratuitous gore, the often too-fast editing making sequences sometimes hard to follow. Also interesting is the Necromongers' use of high technology, aerial, long-distance armaments to conquer planetary populations wholesale, while among themselves, they favou gothic-tinged, medieval-looking armour and bladed weapons for personal duelling in keeping with their fascistic warrior cult and oppression of what few women they bother to keep alive to serve as sex-objects. Thandie Newton's scheming seductress exemplifies this in contrast to the Amazonian Kyra and the dignified Aereon.

While Pitch Black's suspense and chills remained relatively small-scale, The Chronicles Of Riddick embodies grandiose, opulent space opera; its spectacle balanced by the fine performances of the refreshingly multiracial and multiethnic performers, especially by Vin Diesel - the eponymous, badass, antihero of colour with a heart-of-gold. The Necromongers made fascinating antagonists, Nazi-analogues obsessing with domination, uniformity, purity and macho warrior mystiques while questing for the mysterious, death-like Underverse. This film's gorgeous visuals make it easy to forgive serious scientific gaffs such as the impossible planetary physics of Crematoria - one side boiling, the other freezing with a thin, supposedly habitable margin between and with the atmosphere breathable and the pressure bearable!

Never mind the nitpicking, The Chronicles Of Riddick offers a surfeit of SF delights: grand-scale world-building; intriguing characters; gripping story; action thrills; and a lush, eclectic Graeme Revell score matching the picture's grandeur. Flawed, but still fabulous, Riddick deserves to be relished now and in further chronicles.
Chronicles of Riddick poster

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Karl Urban and Thandie Newton, in Chronicles of Riddick Vaako and Dame
(Karl Urban and
Thandie Newton)


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