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The Chronicles of Riddick, the 2004 sequel to the surprise cult hit, Pitch Black [2000] polarised audiences with its complete departure in theme, genre and vein from the previous Riddick film. Where Pitch Black was sparse, tense and dark: The Chronicles of Riddick is outlandish, extravagant, bold, epic in scope, and mostly adventure in nature. If the first Riddick film was a sci-fi horror thriller in the tradition of Scott’s Alien [1979], , this sequel is a sci-fi action / adventure that more closely resembled an amalgam of Lynch’s Dune [1984], DeLaurentiis’ Flash Gordon [1980] and the Wachowski’s The Matrix [1999].

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Riddick (Vin Diesel) is chased out of seclusion by Toombs (Nick Chinlund), a mercenary after his massive bounty. After escaping from Toombs and his crew, Riddick tracks down the source of his new bounty and discovers that his old acquaintance Abu ‘Imam’ al-Walid (Keith David) is trying to enlist his help in saving the known universe from an evil death cult army, the Necromongers. The bad Necro guys kill a shit-ton of innocents then Riddick escapes to go and save his surrogate defacto daughter Jack, who has changed her name to Kyra and become an arse-kicking tough ‘hottie’ in a short tank-top and tight cargo pants. They escape a ‘triple-max’ prison on the uninhabitable lava/ice planet (painfully named Crematoria) then go back to where Riddick started so that he can kill all the badguys. There’s a side plot where the 2IC Necrodude, Vaako (Karl Urban) has a ‘sexy’, tight-latex-dress wearing wife, (the unnamed) Dame Vaako (Thandie Newton), who tries to usurp the Necro boss while air elemental Aereon (Judy Dench) keeps making oracle-like predictions that Riddick will defeat the Necromongers (…no shit lady!). The rampantly obvious camera oggling of the film’s main female characters (and a random sexy mercenary that may or may not threaten to rape Riddick at one point) would be a lot more offensive if the film didn’t treat the men, special effects and every other aspect with the same ‘eye candy’ type regard (or maybe if I were more of a feminist).

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Calling this film camp or kitsch is only a slight overstatement…slight. The plot is far-fetched and ridiculous; full of inconsistencies and irritating oversights that are guaranteed to send even the mildest sci-fi viewer into a nerdy incongruity spasm (and sends real nerds into appoplexy). In fact The Chronicles of Riddick really hardly qualifies as science fiction at all; it’s basically just a space fantasy.

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Examples of some of the ridiculous and absurd flaws are that the baddies are pathetically called Necromongers (a name so uninventive it could have come from an 80s kids’ cartoon) and they are neither alive nor dead, having visited the edge of the universe or something stupid, but of course they can still be killed again…for good; the Necromongers seem intent on either killing or converting everyone in the universe, but are actually kind of a big suicide cult with inexplicable and contradictory behaviours; Judy Dench plays an air elemental – another ridiculous race of humanoid aliens that are all supposedly descendants of Earth humans – that can supposedly float on air, become invisible and see the future; Riddick visits a planet so hot that rock melts into lava in the sunlight, but manages to survive by hiding in the shadows; also there is no atmosphere but everyone frequently breathes outside; and finally, Riddick is a member of the Furyan race from the planet Furya whose special powers seem to be getting really angry or something just as stupid.

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All that aside, this is a great rollicking fun space adventure film full of great action scenes, outrageous costumes, and cool special effects. Vin Diesel can’t not be cool, and the rest of the outrageous characters, over-the-top action sequences, epic sets and special effects and hilarious concepts make for a very entertaining 119 minutes.

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Chronicles of Riddick is basically just a future version of Conan the Barbarian [1982]… and while that may not be the cleverest of cinematic product, it’s a damn fun great piece of escapist fantasy.



Addendum: Incidentally, is it just me or is Riddick way too close a name to Ripley, and even Ridley for that matter?