David Twohy, 2004, USA, 120 mins
Cast: Judi Dench, Vin Diesel, Linus Roache
"All the Power in the Universe Can't Change Destiny", cries the subheader for The Chronicles of Riddick. Don't worry, muscular, stony-faced killing machine Vin Diesel delivers every time. No matter what obstacles the evil Necromongers and his supreme leader Colm Feore try to throw in his way, it's clear from the initial sequences that the imperturbable Riddick was born to kick ass. He doesn't have much of a facial expression, but if he did it would be Luke Skywalker's wry smirk on the gangplank in Return of the Jedi. If you think this is a tight spot, think twice. Baddies should know whose movie this is.
Apart from the irritating lack of any vulnerabilities, there's another reason why it's so hard to root for the immutable Riddick. He has few apparent motivations other than survival and not much at stake in this story, apart from the fact that, as one of the few remaining members of a legendary warrior race, he's the galaxy's last hope of stopping the Necromonger menace. But it's hard to stop wondering why he doesn't just walk away from his quest at any moment and move to some quiet corner of the Universe where he can keep crushing bad guys with no one to disturb him.
The sketchy characterisation doesn't stop with Riddick and most of the cast share the same unengaging, two-dimensional woodenness. The best attempts at creating complex motivations are found among Necromonger officers like Linus Roache, a member of the same lost race as Vin Diesel whose rebellious spirit hasn't been completely wiped out by Necromonger conditioning, and Karl Urban, the Macbeth-like high-ranking commander tempted by his wife to try and replace the supreme leader. Not that any of this brings The Chronicles of Riddick anywhere near classic epics with memorable protagonists like Dune (which clearly influenced writer/director David Twohy) or the original Star Wars.
That said, the visual exuberance of The Chronicles of Riddick in terms of design, special effects, massive battle scenes etc., would make Gladiator's Ridley Scott proud. The action moves through several spectacular locations: Helion, a peaceful planet where different races co-exist in harmony and where Riddick clashes with the invading Necromongers for the first time; Crematoria, a barren world blasted by the heat of an unforgiving sun which is about to kill Riddick and his young protegée Alexa Davalos as they flee the subterranean Slam prison; and finally the darkly ornate Necromonger flagship, the Basilica. The lushness of the settings is not surprising given Twohy's dedication to the process of creating the world of the movie, including his decision to build the sets to full scale so that the actors would be surrounded by a convincing environment. The resulting interior of the Basilica spacecraft alone was so big that actors got lost in it. In fact, the ship and all other aspects of visual design related to the Necromongers (from the mass scenes of their fleet and army to the individual uniforms, armour and weapons) are among the most stunning in the film.
Just a look at the big names behind The Chronicles of Riddick gives an idea of the scale of the project, from producers Scott Kroopf and Ted Field (The Last Samurai, Jumanji, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle) to director of photography Hugh Johnson (1492, GI Jane) and production designer Holger Gross (Broken Arrow, Windtalkers, Stargate). The cast list (including Judi Dench) is pretty impressive as well, and the actors, in spite of Vin Diesel's statue-like performance, do a good job generally and make the most of the indifferent script and equally wooden dialogue ("This is the biggest payday ever").
If brilliant visuals, lush effects and great stunts are your thing you may enjoy The Chronicles of Riddick. Unfortunately, money and resources can't make up for a shallow, unimaginative script and if you were expecting a space opera to rival the classics you're probably in for a disappointment.