The Chronicles of Riddick

The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Vin Diesel, Thandie Newton, Calm Feore, Judi Dench, Karl Urban, Alexa Davalos, Keith David
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Featurettes, Xbox Game Demo and More

Note: This review is based on the Unrated Director’s Cut of the film. The Theatrical Cut is also sold separately.

"The Chronicles of Riddick" is the direct sequel to the smaller cult science fiction hit "Pitch Black." 5 years prior, escaped convict Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel) barely survived crash landing on a distant planet covered in darkness and plagued by flesh eating creatures. Now an intergalactic religious faction known as Necromongers have attacked world after world in an attempt to convert or kill any non-believers and it’s up to Riddick to save a small planet from the oncoming invaders.

Written and directed by "Pitch Black" creator David Twohy, "The Chronicles of Riddick" is the first of a three-part trilogy. Originally when "Pitch Black" was released back in 2000, it was a self-contained film that did mildly well in theaters but later developed a cult following when it was released on DVD in an unrated edition. This being the case, Universal Pictures, director David Twohy and lead actor Vin Diesel saw an opportunity to continue the story of Richard B. Riddick in a three part trilogy similar to "The Lord of the Rings" and "Star Wars" films.

Unfortunately when the film was released earlier this year, the R rated nature of "Pitch Black" was lost and an edited release of "Chronicles" was shown. Clocking in at just 2 hours, the theatrical cut of the film felt poorly edited. Numerous plot holes were present throughout the entire picture. What was Riddick’s so-called prophecy? And what were his connections with the leader of the Necromongers, The Lord Marshall (Calm Feore)? Also, the film felt like it was trying to cram far too much material into too small an amount of time. Even with the epic scale that the film immediately starts off with, most fans came away disappointed in the end. The visuals, whether they were computer generated effects or set design, were top notch and the enormous increase in budget compared to the smaller budget for "Pitch Black" demonstrated this, but it still felt like there was something missing.

Thankfully with the growing popularity of Director’s Cuts, David Twohy has given us the complete version of the epic film he originally created. Running 15 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, the director’s cut is vastly superior in that it fills in every gap in the story. We now get to learn about Riddick’s home planet of Furion and what happened to his people. It also now gives a much clearer picture of why Riddick does the things he does in the film as well as the Lord Marshall’s past. Violence levels are slightly increased with a few beheadings but what’s more important is that they’ve now slowed down the action sequences so that we can follow what is happening easier. The 15 minutes really add a lot to this film and makes it a fantastic science fiction instead of a confusing one. And for those who haven’t had the chance to see "Pitch Black", it’s not necessary to see it when watching this film but it does bring greater depth to the story and makes it more enjoyable.

Sadly with the production budget increased to $105 million and $35 million in marketing, the worldwide gross only came in at around $110 million. What this means for the two sequels originally planned to complete the story is unknown. I really hope that this DVD sells beyond expectations and generates enough money for David Twohy and Universal to green light the sequels. The characters are that good and these are some of the best looking science fiction films shot in years right next to George Lucas’s beautiful Star Wars CGI universe. And for those of you who own an Xbox or PC, you can play Riddick in the fantastic "Escape from Butcher Bay" video game, which is a prequel to "Pitch Black".

Universal presents "The Chronicles of Riddick" in its original 2.40:1 film aspect. For those with <$PS,widescreen> televisions the transfer is also <$16x9,anamorphic>. Thankfully a <$PS,full frame> option isn’t available.

First, this film looks incredible. Not since "Attack of the Clones" have I seen a science fiction film look this beautiful. Thank you ILM. So much creativity and imagination have been put into every frame that it’s nice to see Universal put a lot of attention into the transfer. The image is completely void of any grain. Even on opening night in the theater, this film had a noticeable amount of grain in the picture. Thankfully this is not the case with the DVD. And because so much of the film is digitally shot, the crystal clear transfer really brings out all the numerous details shown in areas like the Necromongers war machines, the vast detail of the surface of Crematoria, and the details on all the actors bodies. The color palette is also quite extensive throughout the film. Blacks are very solid and help bring out all the gorgeous colors shown. When the planet of Helion is attacked, the color of the attacking starfighters exhaust’s look great. I was barely able to notice any edge enhancements and this is one of those films that benefit being shown on the largest screen possible. This is a reference disc.

Again Universal has decided to only include a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 audio track. The track is exceptional but it would have been nice to have a full bitrate <$DTS,DTS> track as a choice. If anyone is reading this at Universal, a lot of DVD fans would like the return of DTS audio tracks that you were once known for.

My complaint aside, I really like the sound of this disc. Dialog is always clear and extends out into the room nicely. Numerous sound effects are spaced throughout each and every speaker. Bass response is also very active, especially in a scene earlier in the film that involves Riddick running down a corridor just as an enemy craft is shot down and barely misses him. One of my favorite scenes for audio in the film involves Riddick being chased throughout a cave on an Ice planet called UV. But when comparing "Pitch Black" to this film, "Pitch Black" is mixed better. The use of vastness that was created in "Pitch Black" and the sound of the planet’s inhabitants flying around the dark really were spectacular and brought you further into the film. Unfortunately in Chronicles this never really happens but the film still sounds great.

Similar to the multiple menu styles in the Star Wars DVD’s, "Chronicles of Riddick" allows you to choose between "Convert" or "Fight." Which ever you choose will send you to a different visual style of menu.

Besides the footage that was added back into the film, an additional 5 minutes of "Deleted Footage" is included in the extra’s section. Included with commentary by David Twohy, each scene is explained what they would and wouldn’t have offered in the film. In my opinion these scenes don’t really add anything to the film. One scene introduces Judy Dench’s character, Ariel, differently and another scene takes place just before the chase on Crematoria’s surface. It involved a lot more dialog and a death sequence for a certain merc. The footage that was added into the film is enough.

An "Escape From Butcher Bay" Xbox Playable Demo is also included. For those who own an Xbox and do not already own this game, something’s wrong with you. It’s clearly one of the best games released this year and the Xbox demo doesn’t add anything that we haven’t played in the game.

"Virtual Guide To The Chronicles of Riddick" is a verbally guided tour of the various worlds and cultures in the film, narrated by various characters of the film. Unfortunately Vin Diesel did not participate in this feature but practically everyone else did. The nice thing is it helps give detailed background information into the world of Riddick.

"Toomb’s Chase Log" is a small feature where you listen to a recorded journal provided by the mercenary Toomb’s. It’s fairly long but definitely worth listening to. It’s from the perspective of Toomb’s and how he led up to trying to capture Riddick early into the film.

"Riddick Insider" is similar to New Line’s InfiniFilm series. By turning on the feature, when watching the film, you will be enlightened, informed and entertained will interesting pieces of information about the production of the film, the cast and more.

"Visual Effects Revealed" is a short documentary providing details in the creation of the visual style of the picture. Visual Supervisor Peter Chiang gives info regarding how they created Ariel’s translucent wind persona as well as detailed information about certain planets. Unfortunately with so many visual effects throughout the film, sadly they don’t cover enough. If it ran 30 minutes longer and featured interviews with ILM, I feel it would have been better.

"Riddick’s World" is a feature hosted by Vin Diesel himself as he walks you through the different set pieces of the film. You can also take a 360 degree view of most of the major set pieces as well.

And last but not least is an "adio commentary with writer/director David Twohy and actors Karl Urban and Alexa Davalos. David provides a lot of dialog describing the various scenes of the film while the actors are a little quiet. Especially in the beginning of the commentary you’ll almost think Alexa Davalos isn’t actually in the recording booth. Her voice pops in very little. But because what we really want to hear is what the director’s views are, I guess David’s comments are more important. Well worth watching if you’re a fan of the film. And for those who can’t spot the added footage, David does mention when new footage is shown on screen.

Like I mentioned earlier, fans of the character will most likely pick this film up whether they were disappointed with the theatrical cut or not. Thankfully this is one of those director’s cut’s that really is necessary and makes the film much more enjoyable. For those who have never heard of the name Riddick, if you’re interested in a really cool science fiction action picture do yourself a favor and check it out. And please purchase it only in the hopes that Universal will agree to complete the series in its trilogy entirety.