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If four years ago you’d asked me if I thought we’d ever see a sequel to the original Pitch Black, the answer would most certainly have been no. Although he’d delivered good supporting performances in films such as Saving Private Ryan and Boiler Room, Vin Diesel’s first starring role didn’t exactly set my world alight. So imagine my surprise when, not only was a sequel announced, but an animated short in the vein of the of The Animatrix appeared on the DVD release schedule! Designed to bridge the gap between the two films, The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury is brought to us by director David Towey and the man behind the animated series Aeon Flux, Peter Chung.

Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury, The
The events in Dark Fury immediately follow those in Pitch Black, as we catch up with Riddick, Jack and Imam after they’ve escaped the desolate planet that claimed the lives of their travelling companions. Even as Jack’s concerns about mercenaries echo in their ears, their ship is pursued and ultimately captured by a gigantic Merc ship, Kublai Khan. After a brief and bloody battle between Riddick and the ship’s unfortunate crew, our anti-hero is forced to surrender when Jack’s life is endangered. It is then that we meet Antonia Chillingsworth, a mysterious figure possessed of a macabre fascination with death. Chillingsworth wants Riddick for her bizarre collection of living art, which consists of some of the universe’s most dangerous criminals trapped in the waking hell of cryo stasis…

Universal presents Dark Fury in the 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, but for some unfathomable reason it isn’t anamorphic! This is something I find unacceptable in new releases, and I was forced to deduct points before I even began to look at the transfer in detail.

Thankfully the disc redeems itself when it comes to the actual quality of the video and the animation. One of the beauties of animation is that it frees the scriptwriters to place the characters in bizarre locations, or to create stunning set pieces without fear of budget constraints. Another advantage—at least in some people’s eyes—of using animation is that the show can be considerably more violent than usual. This is especially evident here, where more bloodshed and carnage has slipped past the censors at the ‘15’ rating than would have been possible had this been a live-action follow-up.
Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury, The
The fluidity of the characters themselves is sensational, and everything is superbly designed and coloured (although there is some incongruity between the 2D and 3D elements). Thankfully the transfer does an excellent job of recreating this. Colour rendition is spot-on, while black levels remain consistently inky throughout. There’s little in the way of digital nastiness to spoil the picture, and if only Universal had included anamorphic enhancement this would have archived a very respectable score.

Happily, Dark Fury arrives with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of some quality. The track is very lively from the outset, featuring plenty of discrete effects as gunshots ricochet and alien creatures attack. Bass is also impressive, with each of the many explosions eliciting a satisfying growl from the subwoofer. Thankfully dialogue is not lost in the mix, which is especially important when dealing with an actor such as Vin Diesel, who’s gravel-like voice defines his on-screen persona. The voice acting itself is good, are the myriad of weird and wonderful effects and the soundtrack. All in all this is a pretty satisfying effort.  

Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury, The
Things in this section of the disc begin with a Making of, which lasts for a little over eight minutes. The title is a little misleading, as it’s more of a promotional piece for the forthcoming Chronicles of Riddick than any deep and meaningful exploration of the animated episode, but there are some interesting little bits of info to be gleaned in any case. The segment includes interviews with Vin Diesel, Peter Chung and others involved in the production, although there’s a fair bit of overlap between this and the other bits and pieces on the disc.

Perhaps the strangest feature on offered is the Dark Fury Animatic. When I selected this I was expecting a couple of early conceptual animatics, similar to the sort of thing you find on a many a DVD nowadays. However, I was somewhat taken aback when I was greeted with the Universal logo and the timer display on my player read thirty-three minutes and counting! Yes that’s right: the entire film is available in animatic form! Now I’m sure many of you will be wondering why you’d want to watch a lot of rough drawings accompanied by a scratchy soundtrack, but those of you interested in the creative process will find this intriguing. Although I see myself as someone who falls into the first group, I was still interested to see the way in which the finished article was put together.

Peter Chung: Into the Mind of the Animator is a five minute featurette on the man behind Aeon Flux and the Animatrix episode Matriculated. He talks about the things that influenced his work, and what initially fuelled his desire to become an animator. He goes on to discuss the creative process, working with a team of animators, the differences between drawing for comics and drawing for animation, and the increasing use of computers in animation. As long as I live I’ll never know how guys like Chung have the patience to do their work, so I have a lot of respect for these talented individuals.

Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury, The
A View into the Light is a five minute piece that takes a look at the forthcoming sequel to Pitch Black, the dubiously titled The Chronicles of Riddick. Although basically an extended trailer for the film, the featurette does include short interviews with director David Towhy and Diesel himself. It looks to be a radically different film from the first, both in tone and in scale. We get a brief glimpse of the main villains of the piece, the Necromongers, as well as a few brief action scenes that feature Riddick in all manner of perilous situations. However, after watching this I was no more convinced about the validity of the sequel than before…

The last two features on the disc take the form of trailers. First up we have a short (sub one minute) promo for the animated adventure Van Helsing: The London Assignment. I’ve not heard too many positive things about this prequel to the feature film, and the trailer didn’t really encourage me to find out more… The Vivendi Games Trailer runs for a little under two minutes and acts as an extended promo for the new video game The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. The game looks to be a first person shooter affair, and although it doesn’t feature the best graphics in the world the whole thing looks very atmospheric (Riddick’s character model is good and Diesel himself provides the voice). The object of the game is to escape from a maximum security ‘Slam’, and I particularly enjoyed how you are able to shoot out lights and use Riddick’s ability to see in the dark to your advantage. It also looks like there are plenty of big guns to ply with! I’m not one to praise discs that included shameless promotional fluff, but at least this game looks cool.

Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury, The
In this reviewer’s opinion Dark Fury is an interesting and entertaining bridge between the original Pitch Black and the forthcoming Chronicles of Riddick, although I felt that some of the more important characters (such as Toombs) were given very little screen time. However, I very much enjoyed the freedom afforded to the character of Riddick by his transition from live action to animation, and was most impressed by the quality of the work. The DVD itself is a mixed affair, with a fine Dolby track and a nice video transfer that is marred by the lack of anamorphic enhancement. Supplemental features provide enough insight into the creative process to warrant a reasonable score, but I still found them lacking in any real merit. At the end of the day the decision to buy is most likely to be influenced by your fondness for the original Pitch Black or your devotion to Vin Diesel.