Contains 'Pitch Black,' 'The Chronicles of Riddick,' and 'The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury.'
A little bit western and a little bit 'Alien,' 'Pitch Black' is a sci-fi horror film with an undemanding and insular plot focused on achieving just one goal. This is not an entirely bad thing, mind you. The movie is good brainless fun with plenty of exciting action sequences courtesy of writer/director David Twohy ('A Perfect Getaway,' 'The Fugitive,' 'G.I. Jane'). Only, there's very little that makes the sleeper hit standout or seem uniquely worthwhile. It often balances its more thrilling moments with humdrum scenes of empty conversations that surprisingly do even less at moving the narrative forward. Running across a barren landscape in pitch-black darkness without being mauled to death pretty much sums it up.
Still, the script, which Twohy co-wrote with Jim and Ken Wheat, tries to introduce some depth to a high-concept premise by touching on themes like self-preservation, self-sacrifice and fate. Much of the discussion points come from Radha Mitchell as the pilot of a transport ship willing to sacrifice not only the cargo but the passengers as well in order to save herself. After crash-landing on a harsh, lifeless desert planet, the remaining survivors place their trust in Mitchell to whisk them away before becoming the latest meal to a hungry alien horde which hunts at night. The band of strangers includes a bounty hunter (Cole Hauser), an impressionable runaway (Rhiana Griffith), a British antiques collector (Lewis Fritz-Gerald) and a Muslim group on pilgrimage led by Keith David.
The most dangerous of the bunch is also the movie's main attraction and offers the better theme by having him be the reluctant, accidental hero of the picture. Launching his career as an action star, Vin Diesel makes his breakthrough performance as the intimidating but amusingly belligerent Richard B. Riddick. His journey from indifferent, heedless criminal to willing, thoughtful champion is ultimately the real appeal in 'Pitch Black.' Other than his very cool, somewhat superhero-like eyes, the discussion of his past is hardly talked about, which works to the story's advantage. Mixed with Diesel's brooding portrayal of the muscular anti-hero, he is the only three-dimensional character worth remembering in a movie that quite frankly could easily be forgotten. (Movie Rating: 3.5/5)
The Chronicles of Riddick
Taking place five years after the events of the first movie, the sequel to 'Pitch Black' is a bit more effective, with a somewhat complicated storyline that's more intriguing. Granted, director David Twohy borrows rather blatantly from other, better-told stories, both in thematic design and plot device. But he manages and balances the entire thing fairly well, connecting all the dots so that we don't lose perspective and bringing it to a satisfying conclusion. Or at least, the best he can, given the course of the narrative. He establishes a clearer sense of the popular Riddick character, revealing a few secrets of his mysterious origins, while also providing him with a purpose and direction for his unresolved, Freudian angst.
Vin Diesel returns to the shaved-head, muscle-bound, spooky-eyed role that launched his career and is reunited with co-star Keith David as the Muslim holy-man. He also bumps into an older version of Jack, who now goes by the name of Kyra (Alexa Davalos), on a blacken prison planet that incinerates in daylight, yet has enough atmosphere for a small band of inmates to run 10 miles during an escape. These are minor subplots which function rather well with each other and set the path for Riddick's journey of self-discovery, one which seems vaguely similar to the Biblical Moses. There aren't any grand moments of exodus in 'Chronicles,' but we do see the storyline unfold to a final confrontation with a very Pharaoh-like religious leader known only as Lord Marshal (Colm Feore).
The faith in question is one that worships death with a strong affinity for a highly gloomy interior design. It seems they even hired the same architect as David Lynch's 'Dune.' Riddick takes personal beef with the head honcho of the doomsday cult as they pillage and destroy planets while on pilgrimage to their promised land, "Underverse." Another minor subplot, which surprisingly doesn't distract too much, has the beautiful Thandie Newton playing a Lady Macbeth figure to an ambitious but annoyingly insecure commander (Karl Urban). Award-winning actress Judi Dench, who has had the pleasure of playing Lady Macbeth on stage, is also amongst the cast as a strange creature made from one of the natural elements. 'The Chronicles of Riddick' is a fun sci-fi actioner that's arguably more satisfying that its predecessor. (Movie Rating: 3.5/5)
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings the 'Riddick Collection' to Blu-ray as a three-disc set, with two Region Free, BD50 discs and one DVD-9 that contains the animated short film 'Dark Fury.' Both Blu-rays come with the theatrical versions of 'Pitch Black' and 'The Chronicles of Riddick' as well as their unrated Director's Cut counterparts via seamless branch. All three are housed in the typical blue keepcase with a shiny cardboard slipcover. When placed in the player, the two Blu-ray discs commence with internet-based trailers than can be skipped. Afterwards, Universal's standard menu selection fills the screen.
'Pitch Black' arrives with the same 1080p/VC-1 encode (2.35:1) as previous high-def releases. It's a highly-stylized presentation with overemphasized contrast levels and intentionally blown-out highlights to properly reflect the desert planet's intense heat. While blacks remain true and deep, the unique photography exposes film grain to the extent of almost looking like chroma noise in many areas, and ringing is noticeable when characters hide from the intense heat. The monochromatic palette gives the movie a very metallic veneer, but primaries and flesh tones appear natural and accurate. Due to the heavy processing, fine details can suffer a bit, but nothing too damaging. The overall picture is generally sharp and terrifically well-defined. (Video Rating: 3.5/5)
The Chronicles of Riddick
The sci-fi sequel comes with an 1080p/VC-1 encode (2.35:1) that's identical to the two prior high-def editions already available. The cinematography is sleeker and more polished than the first movie with brighter contrast levels and a cleaner, crisp veneer. Colors are somewhat limited, which is intentional, but the overall palette is richly saturated with more emphasis on secondary hues, giving the picture a unique cinematic quality. Blacks are vital to the movie, and they are superb with beautiful gradational details between the various shades, providing the image with excellent dimensionality. The transfer displays outstanding definition and clarity with sharp, distinct lines throughout and lovely, life-like textures in the faces of actors. (Video Rating: 4.5/5)
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack comes in with a slightly better presentation than the video, delivering clean, decently-prioritized dialogue and excellent channel separation. Imaging is rather unique and spacious in that listeners gain of good sense of the planet's isolation without also seeming like the track is missing anything. Dynamic range is nothing special or extensive either, but moments of shock and sudden action remain crystal clear and discrete. Low-frequency effects are punchy and effective, giving those same scenes plenty of weight. The surround speakers are noticeably silent for a big part of the movie's runtime but when employed, they create a welcoming and immersive soundfield that's satisfying. (Audio Rating: 4/5)
The Chronicles of Riddick
The audio presentation for 'Chronicles' is also the same near-reference DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack seen in the previous Blu-ray. It comes with excellent moments of action that are quite enjoyable and immersive. Directionality is brilliant and convincing, providing a good amount of activity in the rears with great discreteness and clean movement. Dynamic range maintains exceptional clarity and differentiation of the varied effects, creating a wonderfully engaging lossless mix. Low bass is powerfully responsive and robust, making those scenes of action quite effective. The soundstage exhibits pitch-perfect dialogue and great separation, feeling very expansive and spacious throughout. (Audio Rating: 4.5/5)
For the supplemental side of things, Universal simply recycles the same set of bonus features from the previous releases of each film. With that in mind, we will also repurpose the same information from our own previous coverage (done by Peter M. Bracke) for this review.
Vin Diesel makes his breakthrough performance as fantasy-action favorite Riddick in 'Pitch Black,' the criminal with the amazing infrared vision. The super anti-hero returns in 'The Chronicles of Riddick' and battles a doomsday cult while discovering more about his past. 'Dark Fury' is the short animated film directed by Peter Chung and bridges the two films together. Universal Studios Home Entertainment offers the entire collection in a single three-disc set with great video and excellent audio. Supplements are recycled from previous releases, making this package worth the purchase if you haven't already.