Review by C.J. Bunce
Many times when a movie is heavy with CGI and matte paintings, the overall look can suffer. Not so with Riddick, coming to Blu-ray and DVD on January 14. In his third live-action performance as Riddick, Vin Diesel finds his character marooned on an unnamed desert planet in its own primitive, almost Jurassic stage. The first half of the film showcases the night-visioned anti-hero in an almost Conan the Barbarian-like quest for survival in a very Frank Frazetta-inspired fantasy world setting. It’s a setting that really pops in the new hi-definition Blu-ray format. We’ve previewed the Blu-ray courtesy of Universal Studios, including its extra features.
Riddick manages to surpass the epic second franchise entry Chronicles of Riddick with its more basic and tightly-written survival story. We get a cameo from Karl Urban’s Vaako, including some of those great Necromonger soldiers and futuristic costumes familiar to fans of the series. But this Riddick has more of the feel of the first entry into this world, Pitch Black, also written and directed by David Twohy. Because Twohy has maintained control over the universe and its characters, the three films (plus the early animated entry, Dark Fury) all make for a cohesive and well-designed saga. Twohy discusses his take on the character at length in the special feature “The Twohy Touch.”
Along with the stunning Monument Valley on Mars sets is some excellent CGI and motion capture creature work, including vicious mud-demons which take Riddick down a Ridley Scott-esque path toward films end, and some dog-like jackal beasts. Riddick ends up raising one of these dogs as he finds his way through challenges to grasslands and an abandoned science station, where much of the remaining action takes place. He sets off an S.O.S. beacon which brings two opposing groups of bounty hunter mercenaries, one to get the bounty for his head in a box, the other a military based group with a more personal agenda. Their two ships become Riddick’s target for a plan to leave the planet. His shadow ninja abilities allow him to drop in on these mercs, and create his own form of psychological war. And his early encounter with the mud-demons plays into the coming rainstorm and his face-off with the mercs.
Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff, in her first major motion picture role, is part of the military team, led by Boss Johns (Matt Nable), an actor with Charles Bronson features, who ultimately gets the other team under his direction. That team is captained by Santana, played by Spanish actor Jordi Mollá, who plays the role like one of Javier Bardem’s villains. Their crews and their interaction at the abandoned station gives the film a setting that would be familiar to the crew of Firefly’s ship Serenity. The same elements that made H.R. Giger’s Alien ships so prominent, like mundane technology and corridors, make the dark side of space travel come to life here.
Twohy doesn’t take Riddick’s R rating too far–it mainly allows the characters to throw in some street banter and provides some blood and gore in a few death scenes that are actually integral to the plot, including a satisfying end to one particularly vile merc. For movie watchers looking for some dark sci-fi that falls short of the horror genre and were disappointed in last year’s other sci-fi release Prometheus, Riddick may fill the void. Along with Firefly, Aliens, and Conan the Barbarian, elements of Predator and John Carpenter’s Snake Plissken make Riddick a fun sci-fi action film.
Looks for some cool “space hogs” in the movie–Harley Davidson-inspired hover bikes.
The Blu-ray includes the DVD, and Digital HD/Ultraviolet code for Internet download. It includes both the theatrical release and a slightly longer director’s cut, about ten minutes of the twenty minutes Twohy cut from his original script. The special features include a good interview with Diesel, where he credits his Facebook followers with his getting Riddick in theaters, in the feature “Vin’s Riddick.” “The World of Riddick” takes a look back at the franchise, while “Riddickian Tech” gives a good window into the making of the props and sets. “Meet the Mercs” includes interviews with the cast. The Blu-ray also includes the previously released animated short “Riddick: Blindsided,” showing some backstory and including dialogue from the full-length film.
A great home edition for fans of the series, actors Vin Diesel and Katee Sackhoff, and anyone after a good sci-fi flick, Riddick is available in stores January 14, 2014.