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RIDDICK Blu-ray/DVD Review

Fourteen years ago, Pitch Black, a mid-budget Aliens riff written and directed by David Twohy (The Perfect Getaway, Below, Timescape) introduced Richard B. Riddick, a mercenary, assassin, and all-around killing machine, to audiences eager for some sci-fi with their horror. For Riddick, Twohy chose a then little-known actor, Vin Diesel. A magnetic, charismatic presence – due, in no small part to Diesel’s bald head and gravel voice – Diesel impressed audiences and movie executives alike. A year later, Diesel would go on to co-star as Dominic Toretto in one of the most successful franchises in history, The Fast and the Furious. Diesel stepped away from The Fast and the Furious franchise for several years and two sequels, at one point concentrating on The Chronicles of Riddick, the much-anticipated sequel to Pitch Black. The Chronicles of Riddick failed to recoup its blockbuster-sized budget, leaving subsequent sequels in limbo.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Diesel refused to let Riddick go. Along with Twohy, Riddick spent the better part of a decade lining up financing for a scaled-back, back-to-sci-fi/horror-basics for Riddick. The result, appropriately titled Riddick, picks up with the title character soon after taking over the Necromongers, a race of death-obsessed, conquest-driven warriors. Like a Roman emperor or feudal lord, Riddick indulges in wine, food, and women (not necessarily in that order, often simultaneously), leaving him vulnerable to the machinations of his rivals’ plotting. Not surprisingly, the Necromongers betray Riddick, abandoning him on a desolate, inhospitable world. Riddick’s survivalist instincts save him from the world’s deadly fauna. He even adopts a canine-like beast as a companion.

Riddick 2

Riddick cleverly uses the still remaining bounties on his head to draw not one, but two groups of mercenaries to the planet. Riddick’s seemingly straightforward plan involves stealing one ship and leaving the two crews to take the other ship. Infighting and conflict between the two groups, however, makes Riddick’s tasks harder. So does an advancing wave of the planet’s fiercest killers, analogs or stand-ins for Pitch Black’s flying monsters. They’re far from distinctive design wise. They don’t have the same nightmare quality of the first film. Even worse, Twohy and Riddick (a producer and rights owner, it should be mentioned) simply replay Pitch Black’s action beats, presumably to give moviegoers what they wanted and didn’t get with The Chronicles of Riddick’s ambitious (some would say pretentious) space epic leanings.

Riddick suffers from several other, potentially fatal problems. Going back to basics means going back to a limited budget and with that limited budget, a film shot primarily on a soundstage (and it looks it), less-than-stellar visual effects, and a misguided attempt to sketch in the new characters – most of whom are, as expected, monster fodder – before turning Riddick back over to the title character. Riddick disappears for long stretches of the film, a cardinal sin considering moviegoers want to see him, not the other generic characters. Even more disturbingly, the script slips into misogyny on multiple occasions. The mercenaries speak in faux-machismo dialogue, much of it heavily reliant on misogyny. It’s the near-rape of one female character, Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), by the leader of the rival mercenary crew, Santana (Jordi Mollà), and Riddick’s repeated use of sexually charged language with her that diminishes what should otherwise be a guilty or not-so-guilty pleasure for sci-fi/horror fans or fans of the first and still best entry in the series, Pitch Black.

Blu-Ray/DVD Extras:

• Blu-Ray Exclusives: Unrated Director’s Cut / The World of Riddick / Riddickian Tech / The Twohy Touch

• Additonal Features: Vin’s Riddick / Meet the Mercs / Riddick: Blindsided

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The Author

Mel Valentin

Mel Valentin

Mel Valentin hails from the great state of New Jersey. After attending NYU undergrad (politics and economics major, religious studies minor) and grad school (law), he decided a transcontinental move to California, specifically San Francisco, was in order. Since Mel began writing nine years ago, he's written more than 1,600 film-related reviews and articles. He's a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Online Film Critics Society.