After the visually ambitious but very divisive 'Chronicles,' David Twohy returns to basics in 'Riddick,' the third installment in the sci-fi series that began with 'Pitch Black' and went on to follow the ongoing exploits of the Furyan antihero. The last movie was grandiose in design and larger in scope as it tried to expand on the universe and mythos of the character established in 'Pitch Black.' Love it or hate it, the movie at least accomplished that much and turned the escaped convict into a laudable baddie worth cheering on. Admittedly, there is something drab and dreary about the Necromongers — perhaps it's their malefic religious fanaticism — but they nonetheless make interesting foibles counter to Riddick's own search for purpose.
In this second sequel, however, Twohy eschews another storyline with the rigorously faithful empire in favor of the lone warrior against a hostile planet approach that worked for him so well in the first film. He does away with them very early on in a flashback sequence that feels quickly pieced together and attached as an afterthought. Living like a king to a congregation of death worshipers, Riddick (Vin Diesel reprising the role that made him an action star but also doing excellent in it) explains he grew soft and comfortable, leaving him open to a betrayal he never saw coming. After a coldly-detached conversation with Commander Vaako (Karl Urban) using the location of Riddick's home planet Furya as leverage, our hero is abandoned on a desolate, barren world to die.
It's a rocky start to an otherwise entertaining entry in the series. As Riddick wanders the desert licking his wounds — both literally and figuratively — he finds time to raise and domesticate a chest-high jackal-like beast, evolve a resistance to venom, and make himself a variety of Ginsu-sharp weapons from bones and rocks. One of his most amazing creations is an enormous femur-like bone that opens like an oversized straight razor, which he uses against a deadly monster that hypnotizes its prey with a serpentine tail that looks like the larger, nastier cousin of the 'Prometheus' snake. Thankfully, Riddick is neither a biologist nor a geologist, so he focuses on killing these creatures rather than studying them. It's also a good thing he takes this tactic since these viciously aggressive mud demons will return for our hero in larger numbers.
But before coming to that point in the story, Riddick calls for a taxi ride off the dry, red planet the only way he knows how — announcing the location of the most wanted man in the universe. This is how and where Twohy and producer Diesel return to basics — while also, to some extent, feeling like they're repeating the first film on a negligible level that I'm willing to forgive because frankly, I like it. What makes Riddick such a fascinating character is his interaction with others, his unabashed confidence in his abilities, intelligence, and physical prowess, especially in light of overly cocky bounty hunters like Santana (Jordi Mollà) and his ragtag team, which includes Dave Bautista. It's fun watching his big mouth get slapped around a few times by a woman, but the highlight is Riddick detailing Santana's death in a matter seconds and then delivering on that promise.
But again, before getting to that awesome, holy sh*t moment, Riddick faces the ghost of his past in the second group of bounty hunters, a professional, well-prepared mercenary team led by Boss Johns (Matthew Nable) who harbors a specific agenda. Katee Sackhoff is part of the crew as second in command Dahl, the tough, hard-hitting woman that wipes the floor with Santana to teach him some manners. And as mentioned earlier, Riddick's interaction with these folks, as well as seeing handle himself exceptionally well in hand-to-hand combat, is ultimately the joy of watching these movies. The pace is sadly a bit sluggish in the middle, but with Twohy's dazzling camerawork, imaginative production design — although much of it thanks to CGI — and Diesel's performance as the eponymous antihero, 'Riddick' churns out plenty of entertaining action, making for a good entry in the series and finishing with hints for future adventures.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings 'Riddick' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy and dubbed the "Unrated Director's Cut." The Region Free, BD50 disc sits comfortably on a panel opposite a DVD-9 copy. Both are housed inside a blue, eco-elite case with a glossy cardboard slipcover.
The unrated cut adds approximately 8 minutes of footage to the movie's 119-minute theatrical version. The difference is mostly minor with some added blood and gore, but the bonus scenes are most notable at the beginning because they show an assassination attempt and the conversation with Vaako is also longer. The ending on the director's cut is also different from the theatrical. At startup, viewers can skip a few trailers before coming to a static window with music and the usual menu options along the left side where one can choose between the two versions.
Riddick is abandoned on the barren plains of a Blu planet with a first-rate and highly-detailed 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Every pebble and grain of sand is distinct while the tiniest pockmark in the various rock formations can be individually made out. Lifelike complexions, especially during close-ups, reveal every pore, scar and blemish with superb definition. Each hair, whether human or jackal beast, is clear, every thread and stitch discrete, and every smudge and dirt is well-defined. The body armor of Riddick and the professional mercenaries shows the scratches, nicks and abrasions of battle with outstanding clarity and detail.
Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the freshly-minted transfer, taken directly from a digital source, arrives with an excellent but deliberately stylized contrast balance. Daylight sequences intentionally run hot with blooming whites that surprisingly don't clip or wash-out any surrounding details. At night and during poorly-lit interiors, the video is stunningly crystal-clear with exceptional visibility of the smallest background information. Blacks are luxurious and inky rich with remarkable gradations and cavernous shadows that heighten suspense. Although the palette is generally limited, primaries still pop with intensity and energy while the softer hues add variety, making this a splendid high-def presentation.
The second sequel in the Riddick film series also crash lands on Blu-ray with an extraordinary DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that will excite and energize the room. The design delivers a fantastically wide and broad imaging, creating an amazing wall of sound that's nearly consistent from beginning to end. Makeshift bone-swords swing, shots from pulse rifles whir and wild alien creatures jump from one side of the soundstage to the other with incredible fidelity and flawless clarity. Dynamics and acoustics are superbly detailed with sharply-defined highs and distinct, room-penetrating mids. Although it never hits ultra-low depths, the low-end is nicely responsive and palpable, especially with the spaceships and hover bikes, providing the movie with welcoming impact and presence.
The most fun to be had is, of course, the often lively and enthusiastic surrounds with activity that generates an engagingly immersive soundfield. Vehicles soar and whiz from the fronts to the rears with faultless panning, and debris from explosions or gunshots fills the room with exceptional directionality. When the rain finally arrives, the listener is engulfed with perpetual showers, as every drop of water falls and lands on the ground all around. The best moments are those with the mud demons and their screeching sounds as they move unseen from one speaker to the next with excellent precision. Amid all this, dialogue remains crystalline and accurate in the center of the screen, making this a marvelous lossless mix.
Although the pace is sadly a bit sluggish in the middle, 'Riddick' manages to churn out plenty of entertaining action and makes for a good entry in the ever-expanding series. With Twohy's dazzling camerawork, imaginative production design and Diesel's performance as the eponymous antihero, the second sequel will maintain devotees wanting more but will not likely garner a larger fanbase. The Blu-ray arrives with an excellent, reference-quality audio and video presentation, and with a healthy selection of bonuses that includes the director's cut with an alternate ending, the overall package is definitely worth checking out.