The Raping of Riddick
One of the surprise sci-fi/horror hits of 2000, Pitch Black, launched the career of Vin Diesel, who plays convicted felon/killer Richard B. Riddick in the film with charismatic chutspa. So powerful was his performance, and so lucrative the bank from the film, a sequel was ordered and David Twohy was allowed to continue his vision.
The result was 2004's The Chronicles of Riddick. My impression from the trailer was that the film was going to be quite a ride, so I dutifully bought my ticket for this summer's showing. The film, if nothing else, is a visual masterpiece, full of amazing sets, CGI effects, costuming, lighting, you name it. On that level, it is a science-fiction fan's wet dream. I remember thinking, "damn, how much did this movie cost?" while marveling at the numerous effects.
Chronicles had more than just effects, though. Its villains, the Necromongers, are trying to convert the universe to their religion, which requires undergoing a painful tranformation (and basically turning onself into some sort of undead creature). In one scene, a defiant subject who refuses to give up his faith has his 'soul' ripped out by the major bad guy. This was both particularly chilling and fascinating to me. These people defiant in their own faith, are now suddenly confronted with the choice of conversion or having your soul destroyed. There will be no afterlife, in other words. I haven't seen that kind of persuasion in a film before, but that's just one of the extra little things about Chronicles that makes it more than your average film.
Diesel is once again commanding and riveting as Riddick, and with supporting roles from Judy Dench and Thandie Newton, there's no shortage of interesting characters. Unfortunately, none of these characters were developed that much, and the plot was, well, confusing. I found it difficult to figure out the motivations for characters, and the whole film seemed, well, incomplete. A little more here and there, and you could have had a great film. Instead, I left the theater, knowing I'd seen a good film, but having this disturbing sense that something had been left out. Why else would Twohy spend all this money, time, and effort to produce a hollow film that he envisioned?
Tuesday, I bought the director's cut DVD of Chronicles the day it was released. Despite my reservations of the theatrical release, I still enjoyed the film, and thought that perhaps Twohy would add some extra stuff in the film that made it better. Boy, was I wrong, that little '15 minutes' of extra footage entirely changed the movie. Plot lines that were vague were explained, characters were fleshed out more, and action sequences were actually enhanced. I watched the film with both new excitement and disgust, for while I was thrilled at the new depth of this great film, my anger towards the studios grew. There is no other way to put it than the title of this blog. This film was raped by the studios. I encourage everyone to rent the director's cut of this film, even if you were put off by the theatrical release, EVEN if you aren't a Diesel fan. (Here's a professional review to give you an idea what you are in for from Walter Chaw.)
As a footnote, I've been a moderate fan of Pitch Black, but after this experience, I've ordered the
Pitch Black director's cut to see if I'm missing another great movie left on the cutting-room floor.