Dir:David Twohy. US. 2004. 119mins.
It'snot just the budget that is bigger on this sequel to Pitch Black, themodestly scaled sci-fi hit from writer/director David Twohy that four years agoset Vin Diesel on the road to stardom. In the $120m Chronicles Of Riddick,cult favourite Twohy fulfils the requirements of a summer sequel by supplying abigger dose of action and some attention grabbing CG effects; but he also givesfull rein to his imagination, putting Diesel's anti-hero title character in themiddle of a sprawling canvas filled with strange new worlds and civilizations.The result is an ambitious sci-fi epic that exhibits at least some of the styleand flair of its predecessor before it gets bogged down in a confusing plot andits own myth-making pretensions.
Twohy'svision will undoubtedly appeal to sci-fi aficionados and fans of the originalfilm, ensuring the sequel a healthy start when it opens at the US box officethis weekend. Broader audiences may be harder for Universal to reach, however,though a PG-13 US rating (Pitch Black was an R) and Diesel's star powerwill certainly help.
Internationaldistributor UIP, which is waiting until August to launch the film in mostEuropean territories, will be helped by the emphasis on action and the sequel'ssupporting cast, which includes the venerable Judi Dench as well as other namesfrom the UK, France, the Netherlands and New Zealand.
Thestory begins five years after fugitive killer Riddick escaped captivity at theend of Pitch Black. Lured to the thriving planet of Helion, Riddick getscaught in an attack by the Necromongers, a terrifying army of space warriorsthat invades planets and offers their inhabitants a choice: convert to theNecromonger 'religion' or die.
Captureby a greedy bounty hunter gets Riddick off Helion but lands him in a brutalprison on the hellish planet of Crematoria. Escape from the prison only leadsto another tangle with the Necromongers and eventually to a fateful battle withthe Necromongers' supreme leader.
Theplot comes complete with its own elaborate mythology, explained - though notvery convincingly - by characters like Dench's mysterious Aereon. Mainstreamaudiences, however, will be more interested in the film's action set pieces,which are elaborate but only intermittently exciting. The invasion of Helion,for example, kicks off with some nice CG shots of the Necromonger ships butthen turns into a long and wearing sequence of fast cutting and strobelighting. The final showdown between Riddick and the Necromonger leader (Feore)mixes CG effects with the kind of stunt work Diesel handled so well in XXX.
Thefilm's design work is more consistently impressive, with production designerHolger Gross (Stargate) going to townon the imposing Basilica of the Necromonger mothership and several sweepingplanetscapes.
Dieselis once again well suited to his role as surly brute Riddick, but the characteris not as morally ambiguous as he was in Pitch Black. Only in the film'ssurprise - and sequel enabling - final moment is there any hint of characterdevelopment.
Besidesthe underused Dench, the intriguing cast of supporting performers includes BritThandie Newton as a Necromonger Lady Macbeth, French feature debutant AlexaDavalos (from TV's Angel), Dutch actor Yorick van Wageningen (TheTulse Luper Suitcases), New Zealander Karl Urban (Lord of The Rings)and Brit Linus Roache.
Prod cos: Universal Pictures, Radar Pictures, One Race Films
US dist: Universal
Int'l dist: UIP
Prods: Scott Kroopf, Vin Diesel
Exec prods: Ted Field, GeorgeZakk, David Womark
Scr: Twohy, based on characterscreated by Jim & Ken Wheat
Cine: Hugh Johnson
Prod des: Holger Gross
Eds: Martin Hunter, DennisVirkler
Costume des: Ellen Mirojnick,Michael Dennison
Visual effects supe: Peter Chiang
Co-exec prod: Tom Engelman
Music: Graeme Revell
Main cast: Vin Diesel, ThandieNewton, Karl Urban, Colm Feore, Linus Roache, Keith David, Yorick vanWageningen, Alexa Davalos, Nick Chinlund, Judi Dench