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Chronicles of Riddick: An Appreciation
© Kevin Pezzano
August 02, 2006

Silver-eyed murderer Richard B. Riddick became a cult icon as the combined protagonist-antagonist of David Twohy's 2000 low-budgeter Pitch Black and catapulted actor Vin Diesel to stardom. (Well, until The Pacifier, anyway.) After much fan clamoring, Twohy and Diesel teamed up again in 2004 to tell the continuing adventures of Riddick in a sequel, this time accompanied by a slew of media spin-offs and tie-ins. But critics and the box office were less than kind to Riddick this time around, and hopes for a budding sci-fi-action franchise to rival Aliens or Star Wars were dashed.

Now that the Chronicles of Riddick boxed set has finally hit store shelves, we figure it's time to review the entire Riddick oeuvre. The boxed set contains the unrated director's cut versions of Pitch Black and Chronicles of Riddick, with the same extras as on the individual DVD releases for those movies (some making-of documentaries, director/actor/crew commentary tracks, and stuff like a visual encyclopedia), plus the direct-to-DVD animated feature Dark Fury, meant to act as a bridge between the two films. Also released at the time as the sequel movie, and still available at your local used games shop, was the Xbox video game Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay.

Escape from Butcher Bay

This game acts as a prequel to the whole saga. It starts with a normal-eyed Richard Riddick being taken by the merc (that's mercenary) Johns to the triple-max slam known as Butcher Bay, where prisoners are pretty much guaranteed never to see the light of day again. Riddick has to not only establish his alpha-male dominance over the other hardcore criminals in the slam, but also plan his escape. Along the way he'll make a few friends, a hell of a lot of enemies, obtain the "shine job" that lets him see in the dark, and generally make the prison system wish they'd never heard of him.

Video games based on films are usually crap on a disk, but this title is a brilliant exception. Equal parts stealth and bullet-soaked action, it manages to build an interesting story around Riddick and keep the gameplay addictive and clever. Riddick defeats his foes using everything from illegal prison fistfights to sneaking up behind them and snapping their necks in the dark (love that ability to see in the dark) to hacking into the prison guard's computer so he can use their DNA-encoded automatic rifles. With hardboiled dialogue — Vin Diesel voices Riddick — and a gritty world design that will make you want to take a shower after you finish playing, gamers can finally experience what it‘s like to be the universe's biggest badass. Rating: 10/10.

Pitch Black

The movie that started it all is still the best of the Riddick tales. Sure, it has a budget so low that Vin Diesel undoubtedly had to oil up his own muscles — who can afford personal assistants? — but it makes full, almost miraculous use of every one of its scant few dollars.

Pitch Black's greatest strength is that it spends more time on the characters than on the world or the alien beasties that are ostensibly the main villains. What special effects the film does sport evoke a mood that enhances that character development. A spectacular crash scene at the start is there to show how the hot young female pilot reacts and almost shatters under stress; the scenes of brutal monsters eviscerating the survivors starkly contrast Riddick's own inhuman interactions with his fellows.

Pitch Black is also notable for letting mass murderer Riddick be evil and obviously untrustworthy, but focusing not on his evil but his redemption. A lesser film (like, say, the sequel) would have Riddick be a badass antihero whose very willingness to betray and murder people is at the core of his popularity. In Pitch Black, his true revelation as a character comes not when he fights the aliens hand to hand and wins, but when he learns the value of the strong sacrificing for the weak. Rating: 9/10.

Dark Fury

Peter Chung, the man behind Aeon Flux, brings his trademark freakish style to the world of Riddick with this direct-to-video animation. It picks up scant minutes after the end of Pitch Black, with Riddick, Jack, and Imam still in their escape ship. Before they can even escape the multi-sun planetary system, however, they're nabbed by a rich bitch with a taste for collecting monsters. Since there are few beings in the known universe more monstrous than Riddick, she decides he would be a perfect addition to her private museum. Riddick being Riddick, however, things quickly devolve into a kill-or-be-killed fight between Riddick and the rich woman's crew of beasties and mercenaries. No points for guessing who wins.

Only thirty minutes long, Dark Fury is all about Riddick kicking ass. It's entertaining — especially if you're an anime fan or a connoisseur of Chung's eclectic style — but for fans of the movies there are two main reasons to watch: The actors from the movie series voice their characters here (including the original actress for Jack), and we get to see a hint of how Jack went from a young girl masquerading as a boy to the violent Riddick-clone of the sequel movie. Rating: 8/10.

Chronicles of Riddick

After defeating prisoners, monsters, mercs, and his own burgeoning conscience, Riddick faces his greatest challenge ever: a crappy Hollywood sequel.

Five years after the events of Pitch Black, Riddick is in hiding, Jack is now an ass-kicking hot chick mercenary with steely abs, perfect hair and a prison record, and Imam is enjoying family life on the planet Helios. The galactic rampages of the dread Necromongers, half-dead warriors on a religious crusade, force the ethereal Elementals to bait Riddick out of his hiding place. Riddick, it turns out, is the last Furyan, a race prophesied to bring an end to the Necromonger predations. And he's not happy about being disturbed.

Huh?

Despite sharing two of the same actors and three of the same characters, this movie is thoroughly unlike Pitch Black. It's weird, gothic and pretentious, more akin to a D&D game set in space than the Aliens-esque gritty future of the first movie.

It takes away almost everything that was awesome about Pitch Black and replaces it with by-the-numbers Hollywood sci-fi SFX-extravaganza space-opera clichés. It also pointlessly kills off the characters from the original, both literally and by butchering their original personalities (refer to what I said above about Jack). Really, the only good things about this movie are that Riddick is an even more entertaining badass than before, the world design is almost unique, and the final ending is a nice Conan-esque surprise. Chronicles of Riddick is the Highlander 2 of the Riddickverse.

I only hope that a true sequel to Pitch Black eventually gets made. Rating: 4/10.

It's been a long time since anime editor Kevin Pezzano smelled beautiful.

 
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