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Video Reviews

MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Drama, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Cast
Vin Diesel as Riddick; Judi Dench as Aereon; Colm Feore as Lord Marshal; Thandie Newton as Dame Vaako; Karl Urban as Lord Vaako; Alexa Davalos as Kyra; Keith David as Imam; Nick Chinlund as Toombs
Director
David Twohy (Pitch Black, The Arrival)
Distributor
Universal Pictures
Reviewer
Tom Neven
The Chronicles of Riddick

The Chronicles of Riddick

This movie is a sequel of sorts to Pitch Black, which did so-so at the box office in 2000 but has since become a cult sci-fi horror hit. The Chronicles of Riddick is set several years after the events of the first story, but Riddick is still on the run from bounty hunters.

Soon enough he is caught and taken to the planet Helion Prime, where he meets up with a fellow Pitch Black survivor, Imam. But it is not Imam who brought him there. That would be Aereon, the leader of a mysterious race called the Elementals. She believes, based on an ancient prophecy, that Riddick is the only man who can save Helion Prime—indeed, the entire universe—from the Necromongers. These fascist death-lovers travel the universe, conquering worlds while in search of the “underverse,” a supposed dark world of the dead. The leader of the Necromongers is Lord Marshal, who is described as “a holy half-dead who has seen the underverse.”

Before saving Helion Prime, though, Riddick has to make a detour to Crematoria, a hellish volcanic planet that serves as a huge prison. There he finds Kyra, the only other survivor from Pitch Black. (Long story short, she went by the name Jack in that movie because she was traveling disguised as a boy to keep from drawing unwanted attention.) After busting out of the supposedly unbustable prison—hey, he’s Riddick after all—the two return to Helion Prime to take on Lord Marshal and the rest of the Necromongers. Add the power-hungry Dame Vaako, who makes Lady Macbeth look like Pollyanna, a conflicted Lord Vaako, and a lot of mysterious religious mumbo-jumbo and you have a loud, stylish, action-packed sci-fi thriller.

Positive Elements

The story contains a lot of subtext about honor, courage and self-sacrifice, but it’s never fully developed because of the decision to make Riddick an antihero. Therefore, while Riddick and Kyra, who is an antiheroine of sorts, always make the right choice when confronted with a dilemma, you have no understanding of why they chose that course over another.

Spiritual Content

The Necromongers follow a dark religion in which Nirvana is the underverse. Upon conquering a planet they demand the survivors convert or die. On Helion Prime a man says, “We will not renounce our faith.” (His faith is never defined.) Lord Marshal pulls the “soul” out of the man, and everyone drops to their knees in worship. A man, about to be executed, says, “There will be an afterlife for me. Will there be for you?” One Necromonger seals a pledge with, “From here to underverse come.”

The interiors of the Necromonger ships are twisted baroque affairs with friezes of conquered foes, reminiscent of Roman architecture. In one, the camera lingers for a second on a crucified figure. The Elementals are described as a race of “witches and spies.” Aereon says, “Elementals pray to no god.” She talks of a warrior who consulted a seer.

Sexual Content

Some of the female characters wear low-cut blouses or dresses. A man frisking a female prisoner lets his hand linger around her privates. She kicks him in the crotch with a blade-studded boot. Riddick, while fighting Kyra, picks her up by the crotch, and she mockingly asks, “What, are you going for the sweet spot?” A man mocks another by calling him a "p---y," and another jokes that all the whorehouses have been shut down. Riddick sensuously sniffs around Dame Vaako and says, “It’s been a long time since I smelled beautiful.”

Violent Content

Riddick is good with a knife. He cuts and slashes his way through crowds of Necromongers, and a few times threatens characters by holding it to their throats. There's also a lot of sci-fi warfare with blasters, beams and gravity guns, as well as battleaxes and spears, but very little gore.

Bounty hunters try to capture Riddick by firing spiked nets at him. Prison guards sic huge hyena-like creatures on the prisoners, and one lunges on a man and presumably eats him. During a prison fight Kyra swings a large chain to kill a man, and Riddick kills another man by ramming a metal cup into his chest. (We see the bloody rim of the cup when Kyra pulls it out.) Lord Marshal has the power to fling people across a room, and he often slams them against ceilings or walls. One character is impaled on a spike.

The sun’s rays on Crematoria vaporize everything they hit, and an extended scene features people trying to outrun them as night turns to day. Some don’t make it, and we see them burn up.

Crude or Profane Language

One use of the f-word and about 10 of the s-word. Jesus' name is improperly used twice, and there are a few milder profanities such as "h---", "a--" and "d--n."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Toombs drinks a couple of times. He, and a few other characters smoke cigarettes.

Other Negative Elements

A man frightened by an encounter with Riddick is told to “throw on a fresh pair of panties.”

Conclusion

The Chronicles of Riddick is a richly imagined world; the set and costume designs make for great eye candy, something like The Lord of the Rings meets The Matrix meets the recent remake of Planet of the Apes. Otherwise, the movie is confused. Some of that comes from unnecessary distractions in the story line. But most of it comes from the moral elements within it.

The Riddick character is a bad dude forced to choose between saving his own hide and helping others—in both movies. And in both he does the right thing in the end. Unfortunately, the marketing of Chronicles emphasizes his badness. In a voiceover in TV commercials for the film, Aereon says, “Sometimes the only way to stop evil is with another kind of evil.” And in a “making-of” feature on the Sci Fi Channel, writer/director David Twohy said, “This isn’t about good and evil, like a lot of stories. It’s really about bad vs. evil, or evil vs. a worse evil.” And with a laugh and no sense of irony, he added, “You can have a whole movie of evil. How good is that?”

Worse, since this is a sequel, we would expect the Riddick character to be the same one we saw at the end of Pitch Black. He’s not. In the first movie, he seems to undergo a genuine transformation by the selfless example of another. Indeed, Riddick says that the old Riddick died on that world. So why, at the beginning of Chronicles, is the bad Riddick back? The filmmakers make no attempt to answer that question—if they were aware of it in the first place.

Modern audiences probably no longer have the patience for a pure white-hat character, which was always unrealistic anyway, but Twohy couldn’t simply settle for a flawed hero. He had to make Riddick an antihero. That kind of devotion to the dark side will wreak havoc on moviegoers who refuse (or aren't equipped) to challenge it on philosophic and spiritual levels. But if families wish to face it head-on, it also raises opportunities to discuss the meaning of good and evil. Why, for example, do most of us root for Riddick to save the others? Why does he do it? If he was truly as amoral and "bad" as the filmmakers want us to believe, doing the wrong thing would be an equally valid choice. In fact, there would be no “right” or “wrong” at all for the character. (Compare these issues with what Paul wrote in Romans 2:14-15.)

Even considering such talking points and The Chronicles of Riddick's toned down language and gore (Pitch Black was rated R), I suspect many families won't be willing to expose their teens (especially younger ones) to the moral ambiguity, dicey language and violence it contains.

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