It is difficult to find a contemporary Sci-Fi film that doesn’t try to please everyone. The gritty Elysium from last year, had a storyline that was almost a joke due to it’s overly earnest nature. It eventually results in the anti-climactic and clichéd sacrifice that we have become overly familiar with in movies in recent years. Instead of looking to the classics of Star Wars and Metropolis, I looked towards the 2004 film The Chronicles of Riddick to provide me with a slightly different experience. The film is full of stealth action scenes, parkour with explosions and excessively violent fight scenes and terrible one liners.
The Chronicles of Riddick is set five years after the events of Pitch Black. The first film found its place in the home medium after a modest cinema run film which turned out to be successful enough that a sequel was financed. In the film, we follow Riddick (Vin Diesel) on his quest to find out the identity of the person who has placed a massive bounty on his head. The trail leads to Helion Prime, a world which has very strong echoes of the cities and desert landscapes of Arrakis from Frank Herbert’s Dune. It is this world that showcases some stunning visuals that draw the audience into the story. Although the special effects do not rival that of Avatar, the $105 million budget is very evident on the screen.
Vin Diesel gives a very good performance. The fact that he plays pretty much the same character whatever the film is of little consequence. He knows exactly what the audience wants and he delivers. He relishes the slightly daft one liners and is obviously enjoying taking on the role for a second time. He carries the majority of the film and some of the smaller cast roles are pushed to the side to give his screen presence more impact. That does not mean that other actors do not get a look in.
Karl Urban as Vakko is the main adversary for Riddick and he growls and snarls his way through the film with gusto. It is an almost pantomime bad guy performance which sits well within the confines of the film. Thandie Newton acts alongside Urban as his wife. Her role is a cross between Lady MacBeth and Cruella DeVille. She chews the scenery with her over the top performance which again never feels out of place in the spectacle. Bizarrely Dame Judi Dench also features as Aereon, an elemental. She is of a race of beings who believe in the balance of the universe and have a talent for prophecy. Dame Judi appears to be having a good time hamming it up with the rest of them.
The storyline is nothing special which is both a good and bad point. It’s excellent as the film focuses on the often explosive action and unbelievable elements that truly make a good sci-fi flick. Unfortunately, the film’s lack of in-depth story leads to the action scenes becoming the main driver of the film with the ‘major’ plot points being used as a connective device. For example, when Riddick is interred in an underground prison and for some unexplained reason is left hanging while bounty hunters haggle over money. He of course escapes his chains and is immediately greeted by violent prisoners and a standard fight scene that last only a few moments.
Another major flaw is the colour design. This is reflected in several scenes and none more apparent than during the battle for Helion prime. The fight sequences are very dark and it is a struggle to see what is going on. We are then subjected to a first person view from Riddicks point of view. There is an almost lazy purple light over everything that would give anyone a sore head.
The ultimate problem lies within its originality. As mentioned earlier, Helion prime is very much like Arrakis from Dune. Unfortunately the main issue found is its likeness to certain aspects of the Star Trek universe. I am obviously referring to the unnamed security guard that is killed within ten minutes of appearing. This happens repeatedly as bounty hunters and security guards alike are massacred by Riddick and the armies of the Necromongers, the principal evil presence.
In conclusion, The Chronicles of Riddick is a very good film. The action and adventure is relentless but the overall enjoyment doesn’t wear off and the story doesn’t take itself too seriously.