To counterbalance the intense dark fantasy of Pan’s Labyrinth, I decided to rewatch The Director’s Cut of the Chronicles of Riddick, starring Vin Diesel, Colm Feore, Thandie Newton, Linus Roache, and Karl Urban and featuring Judi Dench.
The greatest strength of this movie is its weakness, and why it failed at the box office, is that the movie attempts to create a sui generis science fiction space opera world which owes little, if anything, to the existing Space Opera worlds out there. Pitch Black, while a nominal precursor to the movie, did not really engage in world building, and in fact COR does deconstruct a bit of the assumptions of that movie. And, starting a world from scratch, the movie rises and falls on the strength of that world building.
The director’s cut does a lot better at this than the original theatrical cut (which I did see in the theater). In point of fact, upon finishing the movie in the theater, I was quite unhappy with the film. The director’s cut solves many of these sins, making the background of Riddick’s life and why he is important, far clearer. It makes it a stronger film overall.
As far as the movie itself, its basic Space Opera in a pulp mode. A theocratic militaristic wave of “Necromongers” seek to travel to a world beyond this universe, by converting or wiping out all life in this one. And to combat this evil, only another evil, the amoral and physically talented Riddick, can stand against their military and spiritual might. The movie mainly eschews too much consistency of plot in favor of action. And the movie, grounded in the action virtues that made Pitch Black a success, does do quite well with fight scenes.
Another strong point are the visuals. From gritty prisons to the baroque architecture of the Necromonger ships and weaponry,to the attention paid to costumes, the movie is full of eye candy that is entertaining to watch amd its eye candy you haven’t seen before. It doesn’t look like a rip off of Star Wars OR Star Trek and doesn’t want to be, and I admire that about the movie. Originality in movies is a rare bird indeed and while some aspects of the movie are old conventions by definition, the movie does at least give an attempt at originality.
As far as the actors, they mostly do a good job. I particularly like Thandie Newton’s Dame Vaako, a straight up Lady Macbeth wife to Urban’s Lord Vaako who pushes her husband to supplant Colm Feore’s obsessed Lord Marshal. Judi Dench has a pivotal role as an “Elemental”. There is definitely the sense in the different kinds of humans that there are many varieties of humans, many ways of being human in this world. It is only when one of these races seeks to dominate and destroy the others that the complex tapestry of human civilization seems poised to circle the drain.
I do like the director’s cut enough to own it.