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Written by Graham Reed  
Tuesday, 28 September 2004
Unleash The Fury!

Epic Sci-fi of the highest order.

Now, when Pitch Black came out, it was originally intended for straight to video release. Instead, it became a cult sci-fi movie box office smash. The kind of which that inevitably gets a sequel. In this case, the sequel is a completely different kind of beast.

The original pitch Black could best be compared to Alien : a Bug hunt , human trying to escape from homicidal beasties. Rather than repeating that trick, Director David Twohy throws expectations and everything on it's head. In doing so, he's following the template of Aliens ; to follow up a straight sci-fi horror movie with a sci-fi action epic. Which is what The Chronicles of Riddick is.

With a visual vista and plot as far removed as it could possibly be from the bughunt run-away-from-the-monsters of the first, Chronicles of Riddick is a far different beast. Again, Vin Diesel is back as Richard B. Riddick, escaped convict who is being hunted down by mercenaries and bountyhunters. However, the price on his head is for a reason - the galaxy is in the thrall of a crusade by a shadowy and secretive death csult called the Necromongers, on a quest to convert or kill the universe, led by the Lord Marshal. And there is a prophecy that the Lord Marshal will be killed by the l;ast survivor of a race called the Furians.

And Riddick is the last of the Furians. Hence why he is chased across the galaxy by both the Necromongers and mercenaries, all eager for his Scalp. Which leads to lots of massive battles, man a mano smackdowns, massive oodles of production design, invading armies and dark, gothic production design. Not to mention outracing a wall of flame which travels at 700 kph.

Of nothing else, Riddick has a epic sci-fi  scope the likes of which hasn't been seen since the original Star Wars. But this is a much more adult experience than that.  The invading army of Necromongers led by the slightly camp but always evil Lord Marshal , played with considerable menace by Colm Feore - or as much menace as you can muster while wearing black leather garb that come straight out of a bondage catalogue. Though whilst the bad guys are really quite evil like the soul suckers they are, there's not exactly original: any moment I expect a bunch of orks to turn up and Christopher Lee to start lurking evilly in the background.

Chronicles of Riddick certainly is a vast epic that owes more, perhaps to a bizarre amalgamation of Lord Of the Rings and David lynch's Dune than anything else before it, and certainly takes a left turn completely away from any expectations you might have based on the first film. With lavish and vast production design, this film feels huge and epic. It also paints on a much larger vista than the vast majority of sci-fi films, and feels it. The necromongers are indeed vicious and evil, though not entirely characterless (see the powerplay between the ambitious Vaarko (Karl Urban) and his wife, played by Thandie Newton, are little more than ciphers. Ultimately though, there's only so far you can go with the loner vs. the invading army, and it ends up playing out in an ending oddly remisicent of the mano-a-mano showdown seen at the end of dune.

With spectacular effects and an epic storyline, the Chronicles of Riddick sets its aims high, but doesn't always hit the target. 80% of the time it does, and it proves an exciting, intriguing, and unpredictable ride, but its dark and gothic design and non-blockbuster mentality - lets face it, this film is hard sci-fi, not in a 2001 kind of way, but in the gritty, grimy way of alien, rather than the slick futuristic look of minority report or I, Robot. It's certainly interesting, and far better than the majority of multiplex sci fi / action rubbish (see Paycheck for just one example of how NOT to make a sci fi movie), though sadly I suspect there won't be a part three, nor will people flock to it. Too dark, too gothic for most people's tastes really. Which is a shame because this film deserves much better than that.

Nonetheless, it marks Twohy out as a damn fine and interesting director. Visually talented and superior to most of it's ilk, the biggest problem here ironically, might be it's biggest asset. There's no chance to repeating the surprise smash that happened with pitch black, and now that Vin Diesel is a famous name, it's on his head that the film will either stand or fall. And with many people sick of him and his inability to stay in a franchise - after all, he bailed out of xXx AND the fast and furious, most people who don't go will do so because they think of him as a meathead. And playing a renegade on the run killer will do nothing to help him neither.

The Chronicles of Riddick: much much more than just Pitch Black 2. Either way, The backlash starts here.


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