Saturday, July 03, 2004

"The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 July 2004 in Jay's Living Room (direct-to-video)

Universal wants the next big sci-fi/fantasy franchise badly. They know that even as its latest entries are ridiculed, Star Trek still brings Paramount something like $200M/year, that Star Wars makes George Lucas a similarly mind-boggling amount, and that Fox is still pulling in some dough from The X-Files and Buffy. Both their big summer movies this year (Riddick and Van Helsing) were deliberately left way open for a sequel, and word is that Joss Whedon's Firefly feature Serenity was rewritten to be more open-ended. In addition, all three have had TV spinoffs proposed (NBC passed on Transylvania while Sci-Fi is considering a Chronicles of Kyra set between Pitch Black and Riddick along with, alledgedly, a new Firefly series), and so far, Van Helsing and Riddick have had these direct-to-DVD shorts released.

The reason why is obvious - us nerds buy stuff. I mean, I paid ten dollars for this thirty-minute DVD. I would probably buy Riddick comics if Universal licensed them out, and maybe toys. We are, as a group, sheep. The question is, are we getting value for our money?

In this case, almost. "Dark Fury" isn't bad. Universal threw a fair amount of talent at it, including the appropriate cast members from Riddick and Pitch Black, pretty-decent TV/comics writer Brett Matthews (who worked on Angel and Firefly) working from a story by David Twohy, and Aeon Flux creator Peter Chung to direct. The story strikes a nice balance, filling in some of the time between Pitch Black and Riddick without creating the feeling that something is missing from one of the other movies (remember how "The Final Flight of the Osiris" should have been part of The Matrix Reloaded?). The sound design is pretty nice for something created entirely for home consumption.

It is, however, a little rough around the edges. The 3-D spaceships don't quite mesh with the 2-D elements. The animated Riddick doesn't quite capture Vin Diesel's charisma, and Chung's character designs are all angular enough that Riddick isn't quite the singular, slightly-inhuman presense he is in Chronicles of Riddick - or rather, he's not unique in that regard. One action scene is difficult to see, and the look of the short seems to shift to a slightly more grotesque style about two-thirds of the way through (the first two-thirds looks stylized, but nice). Still, it's not nearly as ugly as Chung's contribution to The Animatrix, "Matriculated".

It does some things pretty well, though. The zero-gravity scenes in the hangar are a blast, showing zero-gravity manouveurs with the ease only animation currently allows, and also making everyone look like pros at it. Most of the action scenes are well-staged, and the villainess is suitably creepy. My biggest complaint is wishing there was a little more time available to let this breathe. Maybe if the franchise thing stick, Universal will allow the next video tie-in a full hour.

P.S.: Man, I wish David Twohy would give us a subtitle for Chronicles of Riddick, a là A New Hope for Star Wars, especially since the other parts of the saga already have one (even Pitch Black is now relabeled "The Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black"); it would certainly make writing and talking about them easier.

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