The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) from the Scoopies Junior and Senior

Scoopy Junior's comments in white

A flashback to the summer of 1999. I absolutely loved "Pitch Black". It was visually wonderful, chock full of sci-fi thrills and it gave us Vin Diesel as Riddick - one of the best anti-heroes we've seen on screen in a long time. Best of all it was decently written and well executed on a budget of only $23 million! By the time it had left theaters, it was already a profitable movie that had brought in about $53 million world-wide. It later became an even bigger hit on DVD, and apparently that's when the studio execs started seeing dollar signs and discussing sequels.

Fast forward five years to the summer of 2004 and along comes the sequel, one more classic example of just how bad the Hollywood studio system can be. When will Hollywood learn that taking a small, surprise hit and trying make a big budget summer blockbuster sequel just doesn't work! They backed "Riddick" with a budget of $110,000,000, made sure every scene had tons of CG effects, and softened up our anti-hero so he would be more cuddly and marketable enough to get a PG-13 rating.

The result..."Chronicles" didn't even break even, and for good reasons.

The original was a lean, mean sci-fi flick that put a handful of vulnerable humans up against flocks of flying, man-eating monsters on an alien planet. A simple story of survival with a great twist ... one survivor was a bad guy who was just as unpredictable and dangerous as the monsters - no heart of gold bullshit.

In the sequel we have an evil empire (yawn). An evil leader who is half dead (which gives him magic powers). Some people with funny haircuts and big plastic armor. Plus they even tossed in some psychics left over from "Minority Report". The basic plot is that the evil leader is so bad that only another bad guy can stop him and save the universe. (On a side note, I guess this proves Dark Helmet's theory that Evil will always triumph over Good, because Good is dumb.)

This time out, our big twist is that apparently Riddick really isn't that evil after all. In fact he's from a race of people that were genetically ass-kicking, but as fate would have it, the evil empire killed Riddick's people. So he's not really a bad guy, he's just horribly scarred from being orphaned by a childhood trauma. Maybe someone should give him a hug.

The original had a great pace, scenes chock full of nail-biting tension, and some genuine thrills. The sequel is just one more predictable, big budget summer action flick. Vin was still pretty cool, and his paycheck was basically half the budget of "Pitch Black"... so kudos there, big guy. However I must say this,Vin. If you really are considering a third movie in this series ... please, I beg you, don't do it. Just stop now. There are better projects out there for you.



Scoopy Senior's comments in yellow. (NOTE: Uncle Scoopy and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) are the same person.)

Junior hit on the major problem with The Chronicles of Riddick, which is that they made Riddick a sweet guy, even though Judi Dench kept saying that evil was necessary to combat evil. This time around he's not evil in the menacing way of Darth Vader, but only in the same sense that The Care Bears and Barry Manilow are evil. This time Riddick is a cross between Francis of Assisi (wild animals are like putty in his hands) and the post-reformation Grinch (an incredibly adorable little girl, let's call her Mary Lou Who, asks Riddick, "Ow you gonna beat these new monstews, Mistew Widdick?").

The second biggest problem with the film is that it's really Battlefield Earth in not-so-clever disguise. John Waters would have rejected the set design as "too campy." In fact, the only effort they made to disguise the Battlefield Earth look of the sets was to throw in an occasional idea from Minority Report, but filtered through a Battlefield Earth lens.

James Berardinelli hit on the casting and characterization problems:

"Colm Feore, the Canadian actor, is inadequate as the Lord Marshall. "Intimidating" is not a word one would ever use to describe Feore, yet that's precisely what's required of him here, and he isn't capable of delivering. Supporting actors include an underused Thandie Newton (as the scheming wife of a Necromonger captain), Judi Dench (whose ethereal character serves no useful purpose), and Keith David (whose Imam isn't around for very long)."

I liked Pitch Black a lot, but Riddick left me cold, even though it was made by the same director. As Junior said, it's just another formula action picture. There is nothing wrong with making an action film as a sequel to a sci-fi film. Both Aliens and Alien turned out fine, and many people think that in that instance the action sequel is a better film than the sci-fi original. Maybe so, but the difference between good sci-fi films and good action pictures is that sci-films work best when they are intelligent, and action films work best when they are dumb. Pitch Black was an imaginative, masculine sci-fi film which stuck to its guns. Riddick is kinda dumb.

Not only that, Riddick is ...

Well, let me say this. I have a 14 year old niece whose favorite painter is Monet. I lent her both films and she thought Riddick was way better than Pitch Black. So let me finish the thought I had before.

... Riddick is for girls.


I am surprised that nobody has pointed out the similarities between the Riddick stories and the Conan stories. I guess people were fooled by the fact that one takes place in the future, the other in the past. Both men are lone renegades, muscular and violent anti-heroes making nomadic travels through hostile environments. The parallel is especially evident in Chronicles, in which Riddick, like Conan, is a bad-ass barbarian struggling against a powerful sword-and-sorcery empire, first alone, then with a female companion who matches his own feral ferocity. Then, again like Conan, Riddick eventually rises all the away from being a lowly prisoner to becoming the king of his former enemies.

If Twohy makes a sequel, it will be interesting to see how closely it parallels Conan the Conqueror, Robert E. Howard's only full length novel, in which a mature Conan sits on the throne of Aquilonia. Conan was eventually unseated by evil magic, a plot which would fit in perfectly with the mystical and evil Necromongers, who now recognize Riddick as their king (as of the end of Chronicles).

One more thought about Riddick. Science fiction and its cousin dystopic fiction have almost invariably limned a view of the future as an extension of the most fearful elements of the present. Science fiction probably tells us absolutely nothing about the future, but it always reflects the greatest fears of the present in allegorical fashion.

  • When Orwell wrote 1984, the world's greatest menace was Stalin, so the book reflected a fear of the ever-encroaching power of the absolute state.

  • Battlefield Earth saw the future of the universe drowned by greed, as conquering civilizations expanded their economic empires in a manner reminiscent of 19th century England.

  • Blade Runner, a product of the 70s and 80s, saw the future as a product of class struggle, rampant consumerism, and pollution. (And the usual corporate greed, of course. That was de rigueur for the times.)

So what is the biggest problem of our time? Religion. The cold war is resolved and Communism is all but dead except in a few remote outposts like North Korea and Cuba. Class struggle is becoming less important as the middle class expands throughout the world. So the bugbear of our time is the struggle between fundamentalist Muslims and fundamentalist Christians, two forces that between them now control several nations with powerful weapons and/or large populations

DVD info from Amazon

  • Commentary by filmmaker David Twohy and actors Karl Urban & Alexa Davalos

  • Director's cut contains 15 extra minutes

  • Unrated widescreen version

  • "Riddick's World" including 360 degree view of eight locations

  • Deleted scenes

  • Toomb's Chase Log

  • Facts on Demand viewing mode

  • Play the first level of the Xbox game

How is that related to Riddick? Well, it seems that the film's Necromongers, the powerful conquerors of the future universe, will not do it to build economic empires. They just want to convert all the universe to their own religion. In essence, they are missionaries with powerful weapons. They are not unlike today's America, in a way. If you think about it, the entire Riddick story could be viewed as an allegory for America's invasion of Iraq.

Does it bother anyone else but me that our view of the future rarely assumes that we will cast away the negative elements of our times and build on the positives? I guess a pleasant and peaceful future, one in which people live in harmony and keep their religious beliefs to themselves, would make for a boring story.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: two stars out of four. James Berardinelli 2.5/4, Roger Ebert 2/4.

  • British consensus: one and a half stars out of four. Mail 2/10, Telegraph 2/10, Independent 4/10, Guardian 4/10, Sun 8/10, Express 4/10, Mirror 4/10, BBC 2/5.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It opened #2, dropped to #6, then off the charts, finishing with $57 million. That was disastrous, in light of a $105 million production budget and another $30 million for distro and promotion.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. Uninspired and overlong, but Vin is pretty cool and the flick is kinda watchable, for roughly the same reasons that we can't avert our eyes from a train wreck. Hey, my eighth grade niece thought it was cute. What more do you need to know?

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