No Chronicle Worthy of Mention
by J. Scott Southworth
Watch it… if you think that the sci-fi action genre could be perfected if only it abandoned the use of intelligence, characterization, or much action.
Avoid it… if being forced to watch a bunch of one-dimensional characters shout inane threats at each other while hunting an even more one-dimensional character sounds like a special circle of hell to you.
Riddick is an exercise in brutish violence, interspersed with occasional mindless dialogue and vast, extended stretches of boredom. It is also immaculately shot, framing its bleak deserts – both physical and the intellectual – with breathtaking cinematography. I can respect the skills of the cameramen, and the choices of framing. Individual shots are occasionally breathtaking. But the subject matter is wanting. If the best that can be said of a film is that it would look better in a single frame, muted and hung on a wall, then that film is a failure.
Riddick disappointingly dodges the interesting situation set up in 2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick, which in its final scenes placed Riddick (Vin Diesel) upon a throne of galactic significance. Riddick takes all of ten minutes to dismiss this situation entirely, all shot in flashback and gratingly narrated. That narration was seen as necessary at any point of the film was a mistake in my opinion. Even without it, the plot of Riddick could be understood by an 8-year old. It’s one of those films that you could watch on mute without missing many details.
So Riddick’s crown is stripped from him, and he is left stranded on a desert planet, which I suppose must make grand substitutes for desert islands in space sagas. My question is, if the man who stranded him wanted to assassinate him (he did), why didn’t he just throw him out of the airlock? The answer, of course, is because then there would be no more Riddick sequels.
In any case, here we are, on a desert planet, and Riddick is trying desperately to survive. He is aided by a detailed use of perhaps the worst survival strategies imaginable. At one point he straps armor to himself by screwing it directly into the muscles of his leg. It seems to me that any armor that seriously injuring oneself to wear it is defeating its own purpose.
At some point, a group of incompetent mercenaries arrive (one, the captain, has one of the most annoying fake French accents this side of Monty Python), followed by a group of somewhat less incompetent mercenaries, all seeking to collect a price on Riddick’s head. Riddick’s response is to hide from not only them, but also apparently from the cameramen. Little is seen of Riddick for much of the film, with the screenplay instead choosing to follow about what must be one of the most undeveloped sets of characters ever to appear on screen. Characterization is simple: All the men are characterized primarily by how much violence and betrayal they are capable of, and all the women are sex objects. Apparently, no further details were deemed necessary.
I will say this: If there is one interesting character in Riddick, it is the desert planet itself. The ecosystem is not as well developed as that of, say, James Cameron’s Avatar (2009), but it is still arguably the most developed thing in Riddick. There are scavenging birds, hyena-like dogs that hunt in packs, some rather mundane fish, and a particularly interesting ambush predator that lurks in small bodies of water.
One Riddick’s of the best scenes takes place during what seems to be a migration and perhaps mating season for these ambush predators, and I found the sight of so many of them carousing hurriedly across the plains to be one of the film’s few truly captivating moments. It was almost enough to give a moment’s relief from the sting of the rest of the film, but not quite. Alas, for most of its running time, Riddick was instead an exercise in endurance; a boring affair where very little happens, even less is of consequence, and at no point did I desire to experience any of it again.