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The Chronicles of Riddick: Unrated Director's Cut

When 2000's Pitch Black hit theaters, Vin Diesel (real name Mark Vincent) was an up-and-comer who'd just finished Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. Black performed respectably for a B-movie, but it found its most loyal audience in geek circles. However, the surprise success of 2001's The Fast and the Furious was mostly attributed to Diesel (though the success of that film now seems to have had more to do with good timing and a pop-culture interest in cars than its stars), while 2002's xXx was meant to launch The Big V into a franchise — it managed to do respectable business without reaching whatever level of success the studio fantasized it might have. Still, Diesel seemed like someone to build a blockbuster around, and it was decided to use Pitch Black as a starting point. But where Black was an A-movie on a B-movie budget, The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) is a would-be blockbuster that never manages to look or feel any better than a made-for-cable movie. Diesel returns as Riddick, who's sought out by returning cast member Imam (Keith David) to help his people fight off the Necromongers, a band of evil aliens who take the best people from each planet to be new recruits to their army, and then nuke the rest. They're led by the Lord Marshal (Colm Feore), who is half spirit and spends much of his time in a ridiculous Janus-inspired helmet. Among the Necromongers Vaako (Karl Urban) is thinking of questioning the Lord's leadership because his wife Dame Vaako (Thandie Newton) has delusions of Lady Macbeth-inspired grandeur, and she uses Riddick as a pawn to try to make her husband the new leader. Riddick ends up in prison again, and he reunites with the grown up "Jack" (again, from the first film) who's now going by Kyra (Alexa Davalos) and has become a Riddick-in-training. Because Lord Marshal kidnaps Kyra, and because Riddick's "Furian" race was killed by the Necromongers, Riddick plans to get his revenge. Overplotted, and filled with the sort of names that only 12-year-olds dream up for a match of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, there are times in The Chronicles of Riddick when David Twohy (who's made silk purses out of sows ears with lower-budgeted films) manages some smart, interesting sci-fi and action moments, but too much of the picture looks like it was shot in front of a green-screen or on Hollywood backlots (especially in the first half hour). Diesel is a fine leading man, but his slightly evil Riddick (he was a nasty criminal in the first film) is declawed in this new effort, lacking the appeal of the classic Clint Eastwood/Kurt Russell-esque antihero, while the episodic narrative never gets enough wind under its sails to not feel clunky. That noted, the absolute dearth of sci-fi cinema almost makes this worthwhile, if you have a taste for spaceships and CGI. But it's no Pitch Black. Universal has released The Chronicles of Riddick in an "Extended Director's Cut" that adds 15 minutes to the running-time, in a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. (Cinema purists can grab the theatrical version in a separate DVD release.). Extras include a brief introduction by director Twohy, an audio commentary with Twohy, Karl Urban, and Alexa Davalos, a subtitle track filled with factoids about the production, and three deleted scenes (8 min.) with optional commentary from Twohy. After that, everything's pretty much padding — there's the "Virtual Guide to The Chronicles of Riddick" offering eight minutes of explanations for the sci-fi gobbledygook, "Tombs Chase Logs" offers 10 minutes of backstory for a supporting character, "Visual Effects Revealed" (6 min.) is exactly what it sounds like, while "Riddick's Worlds" offers stills from the gigantic sets along with a Vin Diesel walkthrough (3 min.), while absent is any real behind-the-scenes stuff. Maybe that'll come in the inevitable Riddick box set. Keep-case with paperboard slipcase.

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