The Chronicles Of Riddick (2004)
Directed by David Twohy
Starring Vin Diesel, Thandie Newton, Colm Feore, Judi Dench, Alexa Davalos, Nick Chinlund
26th Century. Riddick (Diesel), a wanted criminal and ruffian, has been hiding from bounty hunters for five years (since his adventures with a shipwrecked crew and ferocious monsters in Pitch Black, 2000). After turning the tables on a sleazy merc named Toombs (Chinlund), Riddick flies to Helios Prime, a planet under siege by an imperial force known as the Necromongers, to seek a former friend who might have leaked his refuge to the mercs. He learns that he might be solely instrumental in opposing the powerful Necromongers who are led by the almost invincible, half-dead Lord Marshal (Feore). The Necromongers go from planet to planet, offering total conversion to their way or total demise. The Necromonger's heaven, the Underverse, is promised. Riddick's uniqueness is due to his origin as a Furyon, an almost extinct race prophesied to produce the one who could defeat Lord Marshal.
Although reluctant to dive into this galactic conflict, Riddick acts on an inner spark of justice. Recaptured by Toombs, he is incarcerated on a sun-scorched, prison planet called Crematoria - where the surface temperature shoots to 700 degrees Fahrenheit at sunrise. Of course, the circular, tiered prison is waaaaay underground, guarded by slimy, crooked goons. Riddick allows his imprisonment because he knows a former, female friend from Pitch Black, Kyra (name changed from Jack), is kept there. Kyra has become hardened by prison life (and has learned to kick ass despite her model frame). Meanwhile, Dame Vaako (Newton) entices Vaako, Lord Marshal's right-hand man, to seize rule when Lord Marshal is weakened.
After a series of insane situations, comic-book-like ass kicking, and cliff hangers, Riddick makes it back to Necromonger-occupied Helios Prime to finally deal with Lord Marshal.
"Accept the Night, and the friendly Dark..." - Dionysos, The Bacchae
Eleanor Gillespie of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution said of The Chronicles Of Riddick: "Riddick-ulous. Vin Diesel and director David Twohy should be ashamed of themselves." Although I like how she stated her disgust, I must disagree. I found Riddick to be quite entertaining, dazzling, and clever in some spots. Just when I thought the film would be a blockbuster stinker, it took a second breath and sprinted to a satisfying (albeit predictable) conclusion. Well, an open-ended conclusion.
I disliked Twohy's Pitch Black. I found it somewhat shallow and dull, despite Riddick's interesting character. So, the Riddick character, rather than Pitch Black, convinced me to risk ticket fare. The film alludes to Pitch Black, but the film stands on its own. Clunky exposition provides a connection, for those who seek continuity. However, the continuity is slight. Not being a fan of the previous film, that suited me.
What is worthy about the Riddick character? Riddick, aside from possessing great strength, fighting prowess, baritone-voiced charm, and being an unpredictable crosspatch, has the extraordinary ability to see clearly in the dark (hence his success during the month-long night in Pitch Black). Riddick is also an outcast, a bull-headed loner who can be as unscrupulous as he is deadly. This status earns the role as "anti-hero". I find no need to use this in-vogue term. If they end up fighting for good, let's call them heroes.
There's nothing new about so-called "anti-heroes". The Greek gods and human characters from antiquity were obviously not perfectly mannered, flawless, or always acting in goodness. From Achilles to Frank Miller's innovated Batman (The Dark Knight), heroes have acted on a sense of justice and freedom, in spite of their shortcomings and even crimes. Granted, Riddick's criminal repertoire is a lot to overlook. But we've cheered for the Godfather and Tony Soprano, countless conmen and mobsters, the Wild Bunch, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Riddick is a familiar, heroic composite, including the resourceful endurance of Odysseus and the brutality of Conan the Barbarian. He could easily pass for a Mutant X-Man. He also portrays messianic importance (evasion of massacre of his people as a child/prophesied to be the one man to save the universe/conquers death).
Riddick's special eyesight and his impure dealings link the character to darkness. Darkness is his natural environment, his comfort zone. When Riddick slides the goggles off his eyes, the audience can safely bet he's about to take action, to turn tables on the enemy, to exert his unique power. So we hope for - cheer for - light's failure during crucial scenes.
Darkness and light: certainly not a novel duality. However, the ancient bell that rings in my regard for Riddick primarily harkens to three key mythfolk: Apollo, Artemis, and Dionsysos.. The planet besieged and occupied during the film is called Helios Prime; and the sun-dominated prison planet, Crematoria, is infamous for its deadly sunrise. Helios obviously comes from the name of the Greek sun-god, Helios (son of Hyperion). Another name familiar with sun/light is Apollo (who was often confused with Helios). Apollo's surname is Phoebus, meaning "brilliant".
Sister to Apollo is Artemis, the moon goddess. A huntress, Artemis is also the goddess of wild things. Riddick is a wild thing, for one. And he remarkably tames a ferocious beast in the Crematoria prison, explaining that "it's an animal thing". Later myth connected Artemis to Hecate, goddess of darkness and the underworld. And, like Riddick, her allegiance to good or evil is ambiguous. These aspects also apply to wily Dionysos, who can be both kind and ruthless, who identifies mainly with darkness, who is the god who suffers. According to myth, Dionysos defied death by resurrecting, braving the underworld to rescue his mother. Riddick, likewise, deliberately descends into Crematoria's subterranean hell to free a former friend. He also resists Lord Marshal's ability to tear souls from bodies.
Another redeeming aspect of Riddick was the noble depiction of people maintaining their various religious faiths. Before the film premiered, Twohy said, "There will many theological references, even if I am agonistic...Religion has a very important role in the history of the mankind, and also in the way people are built." In a day when most religious belief (particularly Judeo-Christian) is popularly bashed through politically correct bigotry, I found Twohy's handling of different believers in this film to be realistic and favorable. When faced with the Necromongers' Inquisition-type ultimatum, folks stand firm and reject diluting their respective faiths into a rather meaningless conglomerate. The Necromongers' appeal? Different religions cause perpetual conflict! Why not surrender to a peaceful way? Sound familiar? A misguided outcry for a "one world" faith or eradication of religions is currently applauded by many who buy that same appeal, while the mass-murderous actions by nationalist/oppressively secular regimes are hardly taken into account.
Though an outsider, though one who most likely couldn't care less about such matters, Riddick becomes a violent thorn in the Necromonger side. Like Frank Miller's Batman, he chooses to oppose the homogeneous order instead of sacrificing the rocks and rolls resulting from freedom.
Many fight scenes are confusingly edited, sometimes obscured by rapid flashes. At first I disliked this method, but I decided this mimicked comic-book format, simulating the selective blows and parries shown in sequential frames. (I think the disgraceful Daredevil movie tried this and failed.) The special effects satisfied me without overwhelming me. The early attack on Helios Prime is spectacularly frightening. And the Necromonger martial methods are quite weird, Lynchian. (I could see David Lynch clapping for several aspects of Riddick.) The set designs and art direction are splendidly sinister and rich, sharing the old world/new world mixture that seems to fit science fiction so well.
The actors? I initially experienced Vin Diesel in Saving Private Ryan. Aside from hype, I appreciate his subdued acting and presence. Diesel's repeated testimony about his humble beginnings and his lifelong love for acting impresses me, along with his recorded enthusiasm for the Riddick character. Colm Feore as Lord Marshal bothered me. Feore played the creepy Linoge in Stephen King's wonderful mini-series, Storm of the Century (1999). Such an intense role coupled with such an intense face kept reminding me of Linoge, which ruined the Marshal identity. I think less known actors should be used in villain roles. Thandie Newton, as Dame Vaako, is stately and sexy. Alexa Davalos is full of piss and vinegar, but her role is ultimately gratuitous, I think. Another flimsy, unnecessary role is Judi Dench's Aereon the Elemental. How is Judi Dench? Well, she's...Judi Dench.
Through delightful echoes of Dune, The Road Warrior, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Star Wars, Star Trek, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, and Conan the Barbarian, The Chronicles Of Riddick delivers a cool treat for sci-fi fans, similarly to how Van Helsing presented a motif/gimmick soup for horror/monster film fans. Sure, some clunky scripting and boring cliches pop up, but the film surprisingly entertained me, even ringing that mythic bell I'm such a darn sucker for. The film's ending is painfully open for a sequel. After a climactic triumph, Riddick finds himself in an unintended, august situation that may prove cosmically important in relation to his dark tendencies. (I'll spare you the spoiler.)
Want another tidbit to help you risk your ticket fare to see The Chronicles Of Riddick? Consider a scene between Riddick and an antagonistic inmate at Crematoria. Challenged by the inmate, Riddick holds up a tin teacup and calmly says, "I can kill you with my teacup." The inmate mockingly asks, "What?" And Riddick says, "I said, I can kill you with my teacup."
Do you think Riddick can? Do you think he does?
review by D. Herrle 6/2004
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