We're a long way from 'Pitch Black' with 'The Chronicles of Riddick.' Much had changed in the three years between 'Black' and its sequel -- namely Vin Diesel became a household name. Emboldened by the his leading turns in such megahits as 'xXx' and 'The Fast & the Furious,' it was good-bye 'Pitch Black 2' and hello to name-above-the-title, splashy star vehicle 'Riddick.' Granted, there is precedent for a continuing series of adventures for the character, as he was borne out of popular literary source material. But the film that was supposed to launch a new franchise might have been more commercially successful (and just plain fun) had Diesel and the filmmakers not taken the whole thing so seriously.
It is 500 years into the future, and after the events of 'Pitch Black.' Riddick is now a hunted man, and finds himself the unwitting pawn in a major battle between the forces of good and evil. Lord Marshal (Colm Feore) is a warrior priest, the leader of a sect that hopes to wage a final crusade against mankind. On Riddick's side is Aereon (Dame Judi Dench, in a career highpoint), the "ambassador from the Elemental race," an ethereal being who helps Riddick unearth his origins. Somewhere in between will come various characters of vacillating alliances, very noisy outer space battle scenes, and lots of shots of Diesel running across apocalyptic landscapes.
If all of this sounds a bit plotty, it is -- I couldn't even begin to explain how intricate the mythos, characters and interrelationships all become by the end of 'Riddick's 135 minutes. Not helping matters is the fact that this Blu-ray contains the expanded "Director's Cut" of the film, which tries to squeeze in even more mythology by adding 16 minutes onto the theatrical cut's already packed two-hour runtime. Now, backstory is not a bad thing (George Lucas has wrung six blockbusters out of far less), but 'Riddick' seems so preoccupied with trying to launch a new franchise it ultimately gets in the way of the film simply being satisfying on its own terms.
Yet, despite the hard sell, 'Chronicles of Riddick' does have some pleasurable moments. There is something oddly sublime about watching Diesel in ultra-serious mode, scowling in every scene while he lobs bad one-liners back and forth with Oscar winner Dench. Just as incongruous is the rest of the admittedly impressive cast, including notable talents as Thandie Newton, Karl Urban and Linus Roache, who stand around looking slightly embarrassed at having to wear funny costumes and make pseudo-profound dialogue about "Necromongers" sound plausible. I also liked the sorta cool, sorta chintzy production design, which has a weird throwback feel to such '70s and '80s camp classics as 'Krull,' 'Flash Gordon' and 'Battle Beyond the Stars.' And of course seeing the filmmakers attempt to sell Diesel in a heterosexual love story is always hilarious.
But perhaps what is most surprising about 'Riddick' is that it likely does not appeal all that much to the horror-oriented fans that made the original 'Pitch Black' such a sleeper hit. Far more epic in scale, grandiose and mythic, 'Chronicles of Riddick' seems as if it wanted to be the new millennium's answer to 'Stargate,' but that may not have been what fans who originally lined up for 'Black' wanted to see in a sequel. But if you forget your expectations and don't compare the two films to each other -- and can deal with Diesel's complete self-absorption as an actor -- 'Chronicles of Riddick' offers a couple of hours of goofy and rather charming popcorn fun.
'The Chronicles of Riddick' debuted on HD DVD back in 2006, and it was a winner -- a terrific transfer that was about as close to reference quality as the format could allow. Universal has repurposed that master for this Blu-ray, giving us a 1080p/VC-1 encode (2.40:1) that remains pretty stellar.
Though shot on film, 'Riddick's transfer was created from a digital intermediate scanned from the original film negative, so this Blu-ray transfer was minted direct from the digital master. As you would except, the image looks flawless -- absolutely clean as can be, with pitch-perfect blacks and terrific contrast. The level of detail is also often breathtaking (and boy, do I hate using such a cliched term) -- there really are moments that look as photo-real as a video image possibly could. Sharpness is also as good as it gets, with no softness to speak of even during the film's extensive CGI sequences. Colors are also very bold, rich, and smooth, with no apparent noise or inconsistencies. 'The Chronicles of Riddick' looks pretty darn fine.
The audio on the 'Chronicles of Riddick' HD DVD was a disappointment -- a Dolby Digital-Plus track that, while good, cried out for the high-res audio treatment. Universal has heeded that call, and given us a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit). The uptick is noticeable, and in some aspects, quite substantial.
The sound design of 'Riddick' is top-flight. Though the film did not perform as hoped, it delivers the kind of sonic wallop only a $100 million budget can allow. Surround use is intense during the action scenes with excellent imaging throughout, with even more seamless pans. I could rarely localize rear sounds -- the mix has that kind of floating feel of the best 360-degree soundtracks. I also like some of the subtle atmospheric effects employed during the films quieter, more talky passages, which in DTS-MA reveal more subtle textures and sounds.
Dynamic range remains sterling, with sounds emanating from the rears and fronts sounding equal in their authenticity and fullness. Low bass is superior as well in DTS-MA, with my subwoofer delivering tighter and punchier vibrations. Dialogue is better balanced than on the 'Pitch Black' Blu-ray, where the action sometimes overwhelmed. Here, the mix is always in proportion. 'The Chronicles of Riddick' sounds great.
This Blu-ray features the same set of standard supplements found on the HD DVD and DVD versions of 'The Chronicles of Riddick.' It's an OK, if far from trend-setting, assortment. All video is 480i/MPEG-2.
'The Chronicles of Riddick' is a pretty silly movie, but it is highly entertaining in the grand tradition of dumb summer popcorn entertainment. This Blu-ray is certainly easy to recommend -- great video, improved audio, and a wealth of extras and exclusives. Non-fans need not apply, but if you are into the 'Riddick' franchise, this Blu-ray is an easy sell.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.