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Universal release The Chronicles of Riddick: Director’s Cut onto the UK market on 19th September 2005. Only a couple of months shy of the first anniversary of its US debut, but spread across two discs with a healthier amount of features, is this new(ish) incarnation of the film any good and is the extra girth worth your time?

Before I get started, what I want to know is where they came up with the title The Chronicles of Riddick. In itself it is fine, but when it occurs five years after Pitch Black *ahem*, sorry, The Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black and there is also The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury to contend with I have just one question...

Should this film not have a subtitle too? You know, something along the lines of The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Destiny (just off the top of my head, honest), or The Chronicles of Riddick: Electric Boogaloo? Well, okay, forget the last one, but you get my drift. I know it’s picky, but for some reason it irks me.

Still, that’s not what I’m here for so let’s get down to the real business of the review.

Chronicles of Riddick: Director's Cut, The
Some five years after the events of Pitch Black, the three survivors (oops, sorry about the spoiler) have gone their separate ways—Imam (Keith David) has finally made it to New Mecca and has a wife and child, and Riddick (Vin Diesel) left years ago to keep Imam and Jack from being caught in the crossfire when the Mercs came a-knocking.

Making do with a fairly harsh existence on Planet UV 6, evil goings on in the universe lead the forces of good to raise the price on Riddick’s head, spoiling the good time he’s having. When a group of Mercs led by Toombs (Nick Chinlund) track him down, it doesn’t go very well for them. Riddick heads to Helion Prime in his new ship to find out who would offer a bounty of 1.5 million credits for him only to find Imam has betrayed him.

The thing is, there was a method to Imam’s madness. It is thought that only a certain type of person would be able to do battle against the oncoming hordes of the aforementioned evil—hereafter known as the Necromongers—and Riddick has what it takes. At least someone reckons he does. The universe is about to go to Hell in a hand basket and Riddick is going to find himself right in the middle of it.

‘But what of Jack?’ I hear you cry. Well Jack took our anti-hero as a role model and went looking for him when he didn’t return. Hardened by her experiences—and bitter that Riddick left—she had tried to become a better killer and ended up being shipped of to the inhospitable prison planet Crematoria (at 700 degrees in the daytime what else are you going to call it?). With the return of Toombs in the middle of the Necromonger’s invasion of Helion Prime, and some gentle nudging from Riddick, we find ourselves hurtling off after Jack—now called Kyra (Alexa Davalos) because Jack doesn’t fit as a name anymore.

The Necromonger’s Lord Marshal (Colm Feore) wants Riddick dead, however, and sends the ambitious Lord Vaako (Karl Urban) to kill Riddick off before he can fulfil his alleged destiny.

I have yet to see the theatrical cut of this film, so I came into this fresh. I enjoyed Pitch Black so I hoped this was in the same vein (but not a rehash) and although not disappointed I wasn’t really enthused either. The story had promise but I never felt that Riddick had his mind on the gathering storm. It may be typical of your anti-hero to take care of number one I suppose, but my problem was that a little too much of the film was spent on his little side-quests involving Toombs and Kyra. The Necromongers weren’t enough of a threat and the resolution—left nicely in a semi-cliff-hanger state for a sequel that may never materialise—all seemed a little too rushed.

Still, it’s only my opinion. It didn’t drag, was fairly entertaining and I don’t think it deserves some of the negative comments I have seen (mine are constructive comments, thank you very much). As a piece of escapist science fiction it does a pretty good job and creates an interesting universe for Riddick to charge around. The sets are well realised and the settings diverse enough to keep things bubbling along, but the fight scenes do suffer from that annoying ‘let’s keep it dark and do a lot of strobing effects to keep people on their toes’ style of shooting that tends to mean you don’t see as much as you would like.

From what I have been able to glean about the additional footage included here, this would appear to be a much more rounded attempt than the theatrical cut. Various minor cuts that were necessary to bring the film down from a US ‘R’ rating first time around have been reinstated, as well as a few more major inclusions (times shown are the approximate position in the film):

—The first reveal of Kyra on Crematoria (7m33s-8m52s);
—A fellow Furyan, Shirah (Kristin Lehman—all her scenes were cut from the TC), hints at Riddick’s fate while he is in Cryo-sleep (8m52s-9m50s);
—The Purifier’s (Linus Roache) speech to the Helion Prime public (extended - 32m);
—The first confrontation between Riddick and the Lord Marshal (extended – 36m);
—Shirah appears to Riddick again during his interrogation (40m40s);
—At Home with the Vaakos—Lord and Lady Vaako (Karl Urban and Thandie Newton) get a little rougher with each other than in the TC (48m25s);
—One of Toombs’ team (Christina Cox) finds herself attracted to an unconscious Riddick (50m16s-51m26s);
—Riddick, Kyra and ‘The Guv’ (Yorick Van Wageningen) in slam on Crematoria (1h05m14s-1h06m14s)
—An uncut fight scene between the slam guards and the Mercs (1h15m00s);
—Another quick scene between Christina Cox and Vin Diesel (1h17m40s);
—An extension of the scene between Riddick and Vaako on the surface of Crematoria (including another appearance by Shirah) (1h34m40s);
—At Home with the Vaakos II—more ambitious discussions about bringing about the Lord Marshal’s downfall (1h41m21s);
—Directors Cut Credits (2h08m08s).

Hopefully I won’t get slammed to hard if I’ve missed anything. The impression I get is that things are a little more fleshed out here, and with the new run-time coming in at around 2h08m36s there is a little over fourteen minutes of extra footage. The pacing does not suffer too much from the inclusions as they are only the odd minute here and there, and it does give a showing to a couple of characters that didn’t make the theatrical cut.

Chronicles of Riddick: Director's Cut, The
Overall though, the film would be nothing without a decent cast and while not going for any Oscars everyone is fairly solid. Vin is moody and gruff-voiced as usual, and Karl Urban is a decent foil even though they don’t spend that much time on screen together. Alexa Davalos brings to the role of Jack/Kyra the feistiness she displayed in her few guest appearances on Angel and she does well in the fight scenes, but one surprise for me was Thandie Newton, who puts in a performance miles away from the one in M:I-2. Again, there’s not that much screen time but she is suitably scheming, devious and—if you’ll pardon me for saying so—quite nice-looking in that dress.

Colm Feore is a little menacing as the Lord Marshal, and he makes the most of his time—getting to kick some Riddick rear-end as well. And while I haven’t mentioned her so far, Dame Judi Dench makes a perfect Air Elemental. As regal as you would hope for a higher being she is, however, not much more than a narrative device.

The humorous role (there always has to be one, doesn’t there?) is played with aplomb by Nick Chinlund. Toombs often gets the raw end of the deal but a wisecrack is never too far away. The rest of the supporting cast help things along, even if quite a few of them are just there for Riddick to punch (or use his teacup on!).

So, what did I really think? It’s a film that isn’t particularly memorable but it is a good adventure romp, and if the mark of a decent film is wondering what is going to happen next (rather than not giving a flying wotsit) then the ending does its job well. Rewatchability may not be terribly high, but it is fun while it lasts—although the fates of some of the characters did leave me a little cold.

It has to be said; this transfer isn’t bad at all—but then for a relatively new film bristling with special effects you wouldn’t want any less. The aspect ratio is just shy of 2.40:1 (about 2.39:1, actually) and it manages to present the somewhat subdued palette with a large amount of clarity. Scenes can have an almost sepia-like quality at times, but the overall balance holds up well with nice deep blacks not sacrificing the shadow detail. That’s not to say that it’s all subdued. The surface of Crematoria gives ample opportunity to show colours in the harsh light of day (and boy, is that daylight harsh!) with the VTF (Visible Thermal Front) throwing a nice, flaming sunrise onto the screen.

The average bit-rate of 6.67Mb/s seems a little low, but there are no obvious glitches when the action kicks in and the ash-storm on Crematoria presents no visible problems to my eye. There is a little edge enhancement here and there, and a couple of occurrences of moiré (on some steps at 37m42s and again on the Lord Marshal’s staff at 1h58m20s) but detail is never a problem. The little touches with the heat haze behind the ships are also shown off nicely. It isn’t a reference quality job, but it doesn’t disappoint.

The subtitle tracks—of which there are many, many choices—show up well, but some may be interested to know that the in-film captions (i.e. for planet names, etc.) are duplicated with a player-generated translation if your language does not happen to be English (the Hungarian audio track has a stand-alone caption track to accompany the full subtitle track offered). The layer change happens during chapter 12 at 56m49s.

I was somewhat less impressed with the soundtrack. Well, okay, that may be a little unsympathetic—I just didn’t find anything earth-shattering to really pick out. Both Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround tracks are encoded at the lowly rate of 384Kb/s, and on the English track at least there are times when it sounds less dynamic than those films that have been afforded the higher 448Kb/s rate. Being somewhat of a treble-freak, I do tend to notice when the high end of the audio isn’t quite as crisp as I would like—it’s adequate, but I did find it lacking.

Bass is used to good effect in the .1 channel (although it probably won’t worry the neighbours too much), and overall the soundstage is well represented with the surrounds used fittingly. As for the Hungarian track, the dubbing does result in vocals that are too clear for a lot of the locales present in the movie, but otherwise it is not dissimilar to the English track.

Chronicles of Riddick: Director's Cut, The
The region two release of this director’s cut manages to bring along most of the features from its US cousin.

On disc one, and accessible from the bonus menu as well as tacked to the beginning of the main feature, is an Introduction by David Twohy (48s, 4:3, DD2.0 Stereo). The director gives us a short explanation as to why this version exists and why the insertion of the additional material is not as seamless as it could be.

Three deleted scenes—totalling just over eight minutes—can also be found here. Presented in a non-anamorphic 2.37:1 ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English audio, they can also be viewed with commentary by David Twohy:

—Aereon and Imam on Helion (1m41s) is a bit of excised exposition that would have come before we meet Riddick on UV 6.
—Original Planet UV 6 (3m00s) shows us the original confrontation between Riddick and Toombs which was rewritten when it was deemed not good enough.
—Toombs Demise (3m22s) is the original death of everyone’s favourite Merc, replaced in the final cuts with something a little quicker due to pacing issues.

All three were quite rightly deleted, although Twohy does express a little regret at the last scene being dropped due to it delivering a pay off from an earlier scene, but at least the cuts are explained. The CGI is not completely finished (how menacing can a wireframe Hellhound be anyway?!), but the scenes are a nice inclusion. Subtitles are available in English, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish for both the commentary and original audio tracks.

While you are watching the film you can also activate the ‘Riddick Insider’. Functioning much like MTV’s Pop-Up Video, ‘fascinating’, ‘fun’ and ‘informative’ factoids pop up on screen via one of the subtitle tracks. This unfortunately means that the other subtitles are unavailable for those who require them, but then there is little to be gleaned from here in the way of useful information anyway.

Finally on disc one, we get a director’s cut specific audio commentary with director David Twohy and two of the cast—Karl Urban and Alexa Davalos. Even though they are not all in the same room together (Karl Urban was actually in New Zealand while Alexa and David were in London) there is a satisfying amount of banter between the three and each contributes fairly equally. There are a few pauses while they let some of the action on screen take centre stage, but otherwise we get a good, informative, and not at all dry track which is also subtitled in English, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish.

Moving on over two disc two, where we get a slightly different set of languages for the subtitle tracks (English, Dutch, French, German, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish), we get the bulk of the bonus features.

First up is a ’Virtual Guide to The Chronicles of Riddick’. This is a set of rather short featurettes (30 to 60 seconds in length) that explain the various facets of the Riddick universe. All are 4:3 with all the available subtitles and a choice of English, French or German Dolby Digital Stereo audio. Enlightenment is available on:

—The Conquest Icon;
—Helion Prime;
—Planet UV 6;
—The Lord Marshal;
—New Mecca; and

Chronicles of Riddick: Director's Cut, The
The menu allows you to choose your poison or to ‘Play All’, and it all amounts to about 7m39s of viewing that you may wish you had spent doing something else.

‘Toombs’ Chase Log’ (9m59s, 4:3, Dolby Digital Stereo (English, French, German)) gets Nick Chinlund back into character to fill in the gaps as he chases Riddick to Planet UV6. Displayed as a console view with a small loop of Toombs just fuzzy enough to give the illusion that it’s all unique, this would have been far more interesting as an animated short and doesn’t take long to bore.

Moving over to ‘Riddick’s Worlds’, Vin Diesel himself gives us a whistle-stop ‘Guided Tour’ of the sets (3m12s, 4:3, DD2.0 Stereo English). He is very enthusiastic and you will find out a little of what went into the impressively scaled sets, but like much in this package it is over very quickly. To back this up you also get the chance to view the following sets through 360˚:

—Basilica Centre Floor;
—Helion Fountain Square;
—Crematoria Main Hangar;
—he Lord Marshal’s Throne;
—Imam’s Living Room;
—Quasi Grotto;
—Planet UV 6;
—Slam Centre.

Sadly, these are not the sort of (admittedly unrelated) panoramic presentations you can find out there on the web, and each only allows you to scroll right or left with about four stops and an annoying pause between each key press.

‘Visual Effects Revealed’ (6m02s, 4:3, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround English) is—as has been pointed out in the reviews on this very site of other releases of this film—the only true featurette. Delving into the creation of the Visible Thermal Front, Hellhound and the Elemental effects, it doesn’t hang about but does give you a good idea of what was involved.

Now most of this is going to be very familiar to those who have any of the other versions available on DVD. Aside from the deleted scenes and the commentary everything else is carried over from the UK theatrical cut, and what is here is also identical to the US Unrated director’s cut release.

Except that it would appear that we are getting a little bit more for once, and the one true featurette from the other version has brought along some friends.

Attempting to justify the inclusion of the second disc we get the following features, all in 4:3 with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English audio:

‘Creation of New Mecca’ (11m12s) concentrates on the costume, sets and effects aspects of the city scenes. It is once again quite short, but still manages to inform.

‘Riddick Rises’ (13m27s) is the usual promotional ‘Making Of...’ fare, featuring snippets from the cast and crew.

‘Keep What You Kill’ (17m31s) is in the same vein as the Mecca piece, this time concentrating on the movie’s Big Bad and their environment. The Necromongers and Necropolis are suitably laid bare (not literally, obviously) and this is again a decent insight into the approach taken to create Riddick’s universe.

The final, non-hidden, film-related feature is an ‘Interactive Production Calendar’, and by interactive I mean that you have to select each and every section individually. Showcasing on-set footage from the duration of the shooting schedule (a period of about 90 days from 11th June 2003), Thirty three short 30-60s pieces can be viewed showing everything from tomfoolery to serious bits, with a view on most aspects of the production. This is one place a ‘Play All’ feature would have been most welcome as the navigation is a pain and the only way out is to press the menu button (not that you are actually told this!), but it does give you an idea of what went on during the making of the film.

From the hint above—and from the even bigger hint in the information pane on the right—the sharp ones among our readership may have surmised that an Easter egg has secreted itself on the second disc. Instructions on how to get to it can be found by clicking the link in the information pane, and you will be led to Colm Feore waxing lyrical on-set about his lot in the film (47s).

Now while I haven’t been able to confirm the ‘exclusivity’ of the extra bits included here, I’m hazarding a guess that—much like the Star Trek sets—we are getting access to material only previously available to the US as a ‘Best Buy Exclusive’ extra disc. Topping that off, it is nice to finally get a commentary track for the film in the UK (having been denied it on the theatrical cut) and the deleted scenes and meatier featurettes are also most welcome.

Finishing the disc off is a set of four trailers. The Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black – Special Edition (1m13s), The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury (25s), Van Helsing (1m04s) and The Bourne Supremacy (1m57s) are all presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio (although only the latter is anamorphic) with DD2.0 Surround English audio and all the subtitle tracks available for the other Disc 2 features.

So there you have it. It all boils down to the commentary, deleted scenes and three of the featurettes being the only things worth your time, but that said those aren’t half bad. The X-Box game demo has disappeared, and there aren’t any DVD-Rom bits either, but is anyone really going to miss them?

Chronicles of Riddick: Director's Cut, The
A fairly good film that is probably more of a 6.5 than a 6 to be honest, but not quite a 7. It is backed up by a decent smattering of extras and a good commentary track, but slightly spoilt by the lack-lustre audio. Nevertheless, the film will undoubtedly strike a bigger chord with some and this release does get bonus points for including material that is hard to get hold of elsewhere, which may sway some who have the original theatrical cut disc. Even though I have not seen the original cut, knowing where the additional scenes have been placed and the information that they hold still gives me the impression that it is better off this way and those that were put off by the TC may want to give this a go instead.

Before I go though, I know the cut of the film and the addition of a commentary does mean that space is at a premium. There are times, however, when I despair of the sacrifices made by the creators of discs just so that they don’t have to produce too many different versions. This one, for instance, is coded for regions two, four and five. If an additional soundtrack choice means a lowering of the bit-rate for the other(s), then can’t someone take a hint that maybe another disc needs authoring? And does this approach hint that the advent of HD formats may just mean an abundance of soundtracks and a single disc for an entire region? This set doesn’t suffer greatly, and I could be completely wrong in my assumptions, but there is no doubt that some of the better discs out there are that way because they concentrate on a single territory...