The Chronicles of Riddick. Universal presents a film directed by David Twohy. Written by David Twohy, Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat. Running time: 118 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violent action and some language). Starring Vin Diesel, Colm Feore, Thandie Newton, Judi Dench, Karl Urban, Alexa Davalos, Linus Roache, Nick Chinlund, Keith David.

The Chronicles of Riddick

Sometimes, when reading about the response a film is getting, I just have to shake my head and wonder what the hell the writer was thinking. Such was the case with the occasional exaltant review of The Matrix Reloaded (deep and visionary my ass), or the critical drumming recieved by its sequel, Revolutions (entertaining, and smarter than Reloaded, too, no matter what everyone else says). Now, witnessing the hugely negative response that The Chronicles of Riddick, the sequel to 2000's Pitch Black, is receiving, I realize that sometimes the critical community just plain gets it wrong.

Well, no, that's not true - it's their job to state opinions, and accusing anyone of failing to "get" a movie because they didn't like it is the height of arrogance (Reloaded fanboys, I'm looking your way) - but I seriously don't understand the criticism being leveled at The Chronicles of Riddick. This is an epic science fiction film, an ambitious piece of universe building. Writer and director David Twohy has not made a self-contained work; The Chronicles of Riddick is the beginning of a saga, and he has created a world that deserves to be explored. Like Star Wars, Riddick has a mythology that should flourish outside of the films. At a time when mindless action and high concepts are what is accepted as science fiction, this is a breath of fresh air.

One popular criticism - that the film is rife with holes - comes from this ambition. But what separates the "holes" in Riddick and the holes in, say, Signs, is that here they don't feel like mistakes or oversights, but rather conscious omissions, shreds of the big picture that will be revealed in later installments. In Riddick's defense, I find myself drawing another comparison with Star Wars (and don't get the idea that the two films are equals in quality - Star Wars is quite superior); when the first installment of George Lucas's saga was released, no one complained that the various alien races and worlds were undeveloped, that the real purpose of the Empire was unclear, and that there were threads of the story that were left unexplored - now that film is a bona fide classic. The Chronicles of Riddick tries the same thing, and the critics pounce.

Another claim being leveled at the film is that of incoherence. Frankly, that's not even close to accurate. Either those critics are mistaking the aforementioned "holes" for incoherence or they just weren't paying attention, but The Chronicles of Riddick's plot isn't at all hard to follow. It picks up five years after the end of Pitch Black, with Riddick (Vin Diesel, proving how effective he can be in the right role) once again on the run from bounty hunters. He ends up meeting with his old friend, Inam (Keith David), who, along with Air Elemental Aereon (Judy Dench), warns Riddick of the incoming Necromonger invasion. Led by the half-dead Lord Marshall (Colm Freore), the Necromongers are on a crusade to convert or kill everyone in the universe. Riddick is sent to a penal colony on the planet Crematoria, where he meets up with Jack, the girl he saved in Pitch Black, only now she calls herself Kyra, and is played by Alexa Davalos. The two must escape from prison and fight back against the Necromongers.

The action sequences of The Chronicles of Riddick are a testament to Twohy's attempt to stray away from the ordinary. Adeptly directed, the fight scenes and chases never feel superfluous or out-of-place, and visual effects are used to enhance the action, rather than the other way around. Consider the centerpiece action sequence, a fight between Riddick and a group of Necromonger guards; Twohy, instead of going for flat-out excitement, creates real art by shooting mainly from above and cutting the music. It's ingenious and beautiful.

Surprisingly, the one place that The Chronicles of Riddick falls short in is the special effects. They are somewhat unpolished, and some of the most elaborate shots look artificial. Still, the look of the film is spectacular. Using a number of different filters, cinematographer Hugh Johnson creates distinct moods for the different planets and settings of the film. The art direction is equally impressive, except for Colm Freore's helmet, which is ridiculously stupid looking.

If you're a fan of science fiction, you owe it to yourself to check out The Chronicles of Riddick. It is a wildly ambitious piece of work, one that I hope will gain appreciation as time goes on. If allowed to continue, the Riddick saga could grow into one of the great science fiction series. If the critics' unbelievable negative reviews stop any further sequels, then shame on them. We'd be missing out.

© 2004 Matt Noller