BUY FROM AMAZON

THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK

Region 2 (UK) Edition

Director David Twohy

Featuring:  Vin Diesel, Colm Feore, Thandie Newton, Judi Dench, Karl Urban

THE FILM

The Chronicles of Riddick is a follow-up to the 2000 sleeper hit Pitch Black, which introduced the character of Richard B. Riddick, a sociopathic psychopath. It is not, however, the sequel to Pitch Black. Between Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick Universal has slotted in a short animated film, The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury. Don't worry if you haven't seen it, though, because it doesn't take long to figure out what is happening, and where all the characters from Pitch Black have ended up. (If you're a fan of the original film, and get a chance to pick up Dark Fury for a reasonable price, it's certainly worth getting).

We've already reviewed the film itself (here), so you can read more about the plot there, if you're interested.

I will add that the film, which relies a great deal on sheer cinematic spectacle, works remarkably well on the small screen. The film is visually very stimulating, with a broad array of contrasting settings, and alien landscapes. Whatever the other shortcomings of the film, it looks fantastic.

THE DVD

Universal Home Video has released The Chronicles of Riddick as a single DVD-9 disc. This is a little surprising, since there's a healthy appetite for this sort of film among genre fans. It certainly merits the two-disc treatment that - for example - Van Helsing received.

The film must have presented a substantial challenge for the disc producers: the camera never rests, and there are lots of scenes with dizzying movement. Added to that, lots of the locations have dust, smoke or ash in the air, all of which make the MPEG compression more difficult. Thankfully the disc copes with it all pretty well. The transfer has good colour balance and contrast. The image is stable and generally spotless (although with all the gunk floating in the air in some scenes, it would be difficult to tell!) There is, however, a fair degree of edge-enhancement, which manifests itself as halos around objects with edges that contrast sharply with their backgrounds, and shimmering aliasing (jagged diagonal edges). On a modestly-sized screen this shouldn't be too distracting, but punters with large screens or projection systems might find it unbearable.

The average bitrate is 5.76Mb/sec.

Unusually, there's only one audio track offered, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded mix, presented at the inferior 384kbps bitrate. The mix is dynamic and elaborate, with plenty of sequences that will show off a surround set-up (and plenty to bait your subwoofer - the arrival of the Necromongers at 18'35", for example). There are also numerous fire-fights, with energy beams zipping all over the place, so surround enthusiasts have a lot to get excited about. The mix doesn't particularly favour Graeme Revell's score, though.

The film and all the bonus material have English HoH subtitles (which are toggled on or off - if you switch them on for the film, you'll automatically get them on the bonus materials, too).

The film has several on-screen captions. Thankfully, only English is supported on this disc, so the captions are presented as they were in the original theatrical version (i.e.: not player-generated).

The film is divided into twenty-eight chapters, split into seven sections. The Chapter Selection menus are animated, but only one loop of film plays for each block of four chapters, making precise navigation difficult (especially if there's not going to be a list of the chapters in the disc's packaging). A minor inconvenience, for those who like to go back and re-live highlights of the film.

Another quirk of the menu screens is that the viewer is confronted by a screen with two options ("Convert" and "Fight") before they proceed any further. This obviously won't mean much to anyone who hasn't already seen the film. It doesn't matter too much, though, since both options lead to different sets of menu screens with the same options.

The layer-change isn't ideally placed, but isn't too disruptive (it's approximately 68'34" into the film). As always, some systems will cope with the change better than others.

THE BONUS MATERIAL

If you're interested in the behind the scenes production of the film, you're going to be very disappointed with the DVD's bonus materials. Only a fraction of it deals with the film's production: the rest is further background information about the film's characters and the worlds they inhabit.  

Virtual Guide To The Chronicles of Riddick

This is a collection of ten very short snippets of data about the film's characters and locations, each narrated by one of the film's cast members, in character (Toombs, Kyra, etc). These include topics such as Crematoria, Necromonger, New Mecca and Quasi-Deads. These are presented as if they're being shown by some sort of holographic projector, so the image is deliberately distorted and of low-resolution. Clips from the film itself are presented mixed in with computer animation tests, and design sketches. There's a Play All option - watching them like this is the best way - which offers about quarter of an hour of uninterrupted material. There was plenty of opportunity for individual featurettes on all these subjects (and many others, such is the richness of the Riddick world), so you can't help feeling short-changed by their brevity.

Toombs' Chase Log

A video-diary of the mercenary, Toombs, offering his thoughts on his ninety-two day journey. This lasts fro just under ten minutes. It's broken into chapters, but plays back in one long - and rather dull - sequence. Visually, there's not much to look at. The image of Toombs himself is thumbnail-size (and there's not even been any effort to change his clothes or appearance from one entry to the next, to support the illusion that this wasn't all shot in a couple of hours!) Virtually worthless.

Riddick Insider: Facts On Demand

It's not clear where the "on demand" element comes into it, but this is an option to play the film with pop-up text information bubbles. These are nicely designed and animated, but offer an odd mixture of facts about the film's universe (as if it was "real"), and behind-the-scenes information. Ideally this would have been presented in two separate streams. Since this information spans the duration of the film, it adds considerably to the disc's value for money (assuming you're going to watch the film a second time with them on!) They won't answer all the questions an inquisitive mind might raise, but they've obviously been written by someone who knows Riddick's universe and the production intimately, perhaps even Twohy himself.

Visual Effects Revealed

At only six minutes long, this is a shamefully short look behind the scenes of The Chronicles of Riddick. Fans would have been better served by watching the various promotional TV shows that were shown to coincide with the theatrical release. Only a handful of sequences are covered, and in no great depth, of course. Subjects touched upon include the firestorm on Crematoria; Aereon's translucency; and the hell-hounds.

Riddick's Worlds

This section is introduced by a short piece where Vin Diesel gives the viewer a whirlwind tour of the film's enormous and extremely impressive sets, including the Necromonger's basilica, and the chamber of the Quasi-Deads (where Riddick's mind is read, a process which takes surprising effort and time). Ten locations are also offered in panoramic-view, where the viewer can choose to move left or right in order to see an "Interactive 360 view of the sets". Typically this means moving left or right half a dozen times, to see the full layout. If you pause, you'll hear some appropriate soundtrack music play, but the loops are short, so you won't be hanging around - a nice touch, though. These guides are certainly less technically ambitious (and less revealing) than those on another recent Universal DVD, Van Helsing.

Trailers

Adverts for the Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black Special Edition DVD, the Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury DVD, the Van Helsing DVD, and trailers for The Bourne Supremacy ("In Theatres") and, rather absurdly, Billy Elliot: The Musical.

Play the X-Box Game

Put the disc into an X-Box, and you can sample an entire level of of the Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay game.

Finally, the disc also features some DVD-Rom material. These bonus features use the invasive and disruptive InterActual software, which I refuse to install. It apparently also requires Windows 95 or later, so I assume Mac owners are going to be disappointed.

The bonus material really don't play to the film's strengths. The pieces on the special effects and the sets are insubstantial. There's nothing at all about the wonderful costume design, or the beautiful Necromonger art deco-style statuary (inspired by the work of Italian artist Adolfo Wildt), or the props, for example. No, this is a film that virtually demands a two-disc set, and, if Universal's loathsome double-dipping track record is used a yardstick, eventually it will get one.

SUMMARY

Only a fool would bet that this will be the last time that The Chronicles of Riddick will be released on DVD. Even though the film wasn't a huge hit, the voraciousness of its core audience - not to mention the the possibility of further sequels - offers plenty of potential to revisit the film with a more lavish set, perhaps one that will offer an un-rated cut, a DTS audio option, and a second disc of in-depth behind the scenes materials.

JULY 2005 UPDATE

A two-disc Director's Cut of The Chronicles of Riddick will be released in the UK on September the 19th.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Site content copyright J.A.Knott - 2002-2005