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Archive for June, 2004

REVIEW: The Chronicles of Riddick

Posted by Balcony Fool on June 11, 2004


Director: David Twohy
Starring: Vin Diesel, Colm Feore, Thandie Newton

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action and some language

The Chronicles of Riddick is director David Twohy’s follow up to Pitch Black, his surprise hit of 2000. While Pitch Black was a scrappy little Aliens rip-off that managed to gain favor with a handful of fans, Riddick is a full-blown sci-fi extravanganza with mythological aspirations. It falls considerably short.

riddick 1When I see a film like this, I find myself asking questions like, “How hard is it to construct a story that makes sense? Why raise questions you can’t answer? Why spend time with characters who don’t matter? Why invent extended scenes that contribute nothing to the story? And just how hard is it to hire someone whose sole job is to point out loopholes and contradictions in the story?”

Riddick is an incomprehensible muddle, pieced together from a hundred other story ideas. There’s a little Macbeth, a little Star Trek, a little Rambo, a little Casablanca, and a little bit of the New Testament, just for good measure. It’s no crime to lift narrative motifs from other stories, but no investment is made in any of these storylines; they’re tossed about carelessly and never explored to any effect.

Here’s the story: a super-powerful race called the Borg – er, sorry, the “Necromongers” – are criss-crossing the galaxy, going planet to planet, and giving all citizens the choice to join them or die. The Necromongers are on their merry way to a mysterious place called the “Underverse,” which is a sort of paradise, I think. The “Necros” are led by a guy called Lord Marshal, and he’s the only one who’s ever seen the Underverse. When he came back, he was, no kidding, “half dead, half…something else.” At any rate, it gave him the power to move in slow-motion and make cool sound effects. Also, he wears a humorously elaborate helmet.

Lord Marshal does have one terrible fear. There was a prophecy, you see, about “the one” who would kill him. This “one,” obviously, is our hero, Neo. I mean Anakin. I mean Riddick.

riddick 2Turns out Riddick (Vin Diesel, returning to the role that made him a star) is the last of the “Furyan” race. (Get it? Riddick’s always furious!) The prophecy declared that a Furyan would kill Lord Marshal, so Marshal wiped out the whole race. Well, almost. Like King Herod before him, he missed the most important one. (Actually, he missed a couple, but that part doesn’t really make sense, so we’ll just move along.)

Once this solemn, heaving backstory has been established and Riddick has been informed of his ultimate destiny, he immediately jumps into a spaceship and rockets off into a different movie, where we’ll spend most of our time. Riddick makes it clear to anyone who’ll listen that he doesn’t care if the Necros destroy the universe. He’s just that cynical.

So instead of fighting Necros, he’s off to find Jack, the little girl whose life he saved in Pitch Black. Jack’s all grown up now and is serving time in a nasty underground prison on a planet called Crematoria. The name is appropriate, because the planet’s surface reaches temperatures of 700 degrees during the day. Incredibly, however, it’s pretty comfortable in the evenings.

A decent film could have been made if this whole movie had been about Riddick’s quest to free Jack (who, inexplicably, is called Kyra now). Instead, we spend a lot of time meeting people who eventually die or disappear without explanation. Needless to say, Riddick and Kyra nearly escape the prison planet, but the Necros suddenly show up, kidnap Kyra, and leave Riddick to die on Crematoria.

You guessed it: now it’s personal.

And so Riddick heads off to fulfill his destiny, which turns out to be remarkably easy.

So much in this movie just doesn’t make sense. For example:

- If the Necros are on their way to paradise, why are they wasting time assimilating other planets? Why not just hit the cruise control button and relax ’til they start seeing signs that say “Underverse, next 5 exits?”

- What initially leads Imam (the only other holdover character from Pitch Black) to believe that Riddick, of all the people in the universe, might be the last Furyan?

- Why are all the prisoners at Crematoria (a “triple maximum” prison) such nice, accomodating fellows?

- Why does the sun rise constantly on Crematoria? If the planet is spinning that fast, doesn’t everyone get dizzy?

- If the surface of Crematoria is 700 degrees, how does hiding in the shadow of a big rock protect you? Also, how can it be perfectly inhabitable once the sun goes down? When I heat my oven to 350 and bake a pizza, it takes, like, two hours to cool down.

- Why do the Necros use those enormous and comically fallic towers of death? Doesn’t seem very efficient.

- Why hasn’t there been any organized effort to oppose the Necros?

- At the climax, how did Riddick get into the inner chambers of the Necro mothership? For that matter, how did he even get back on the planet?

- If Lord Marshal is terrified enough of Furyans to wipe out their entire race, why doesn’t he just have Riddick killed when he gets the chance?

riddick 3Much time is devoted to Commander Vaako (Karl Urban from “Lord of the Rings”) and his treacherous wife. Lady Vaako wants her husband to murder Lord Marshal and take control of the Necromongers. Their subversive plot ultimately comes to nothing, of course, because killing Marshal is Riddick’s job. So the Vaakos’ anguished scheming has no effect on anyone, ever. If all those scenes were excised from film, the story would not be affected one iota.

There’s also quite a bit of time devoted to Judy Dench, who plays some kind of spirit-being. She floats in and out of scenes, materializing wherever needed and drooling ominous exposition every time she opens her mouth. It’s strange how she can appear and disappear out of thin air, but can be dragged along in regular ol’ locks and chains whenever the plot requires it.

There’s more – a lot more – but I’m sure you’re bored enough already. I think the novelty of Vin Diesel’s voice, head, and biceps has long since worn out its welcome. It’s time for this guy to get a real job.

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