While the theology of this film is far from completely realized, the fact that a highly commercial movie like this even attempts to broach such topics is to be commended. I only hope that as The Chronicles of Riddick franchise grows, so does the depth of its spiritual musings.

(2004) Film Review

This page was created on June 19, 2004
This page was last updated on December 28, 2004


Overview
—Review by Kevin Miller
—Review by Mark Stokes
Trailers, Photos
About this Film
Spiritual Connections
Forum


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CREDITS

Click to enlargeDirected by David Twohy
Characters by Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat
Written by David Twohy

Cast (in credits order)
Vin Diesel .... Riddick
Colm Feore .... Lord Marshal
Thandie Newton .... Dame Vaako
Judi Dench .... Aereon
Karl Urban .... Vaako
Alexa Davalos .... Kyra
Linus Roache .... Purifier
Yorick van Wageningen .... The Guv
Nick Chinlund .... Toombs
Keith David .... Imam
Mark Gibbon .... Irgun
Roger R. Cross .... Toal
Terry Chen .... Merc Pilot
Christina Cox .... Eve Logan
Nigel Vonas .... Merc
Shawn Reis .... Merc
Fabian Gujral .... Merc
Ty Olsson .... Merc
Peter Williams .... Convict
Darcy Laurie .... Convict
John Mann .... Convict
Adrien Dorval .... Convict
Alexander Kalugin .... Slam Boss
Douglas Arthurs .... Slam Guard
Vitaly Kravchenko .... Slam Guard
Ron Selmour .... Slam Guard
Raoul Ganeev .... Slam Guard
Mark Acheson .... Slam Guard
Shohan Felber .... Slam Guard
Ben Cotton .... Slam Guard
Kimberly Hawthorne .... Lajjun
Alexis Llewellyn .... Ziza

Produced by
Vin Diesel .... producer
Ted Field .... executive producer
Scott Kroopf .... producer
David Womark .... executive producer
George Zakk .... executive producer

Original Music by Graeme Revell
Cinematography by Hugh Johnson
Film Editing by Tracy Adams, Martin Hunter and Dennis Virkler


MPAA: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action and some language.
Runtime: USA:115 min

For rating reasons, go to FILMRATINGS.COM, and MPAA.ORG.
Parents, please refer to PARENTALGUIDE.ORG

TRAILERS AND CLIPS
Trailers, Photos
CD
Chronicles of Riddick (Score)
Graeme Revell

BOOK
The Chronicles of Riddick
by Alan Dean Foster

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SYNOPSIS
It is a dark time in the universe.

Planet after planet is falling to an unholy army of Necromongers -- conquering warriors who offer ravaged worlds a simple choice -- convert or die. Those who refuse their rule hope in vain for someone or something that will slow the spread of Necromongers. But rebels are short-lived and saviors, its seems, are in short supply.

When things get bad, weary survivors turn to myths for comfort -- murmured prophecies, vain hopes, legends of good vanquishing evil. But good isn’t always the antidote to evil and legends can be wrong. Sometimes the only way to stop evil is not with good -- but with another kind of evil.

So an unlikely figure is summoned from exile and asked to join the fight: Riddick (VIN DIESEL), who couldn’t care less who’s in charge of the universe, just as long as he’s left alone. Since leaving a god-forgotten (and creature-ridden) planet in the Taurus system five years ago, the wanted fugitive hasn’t looked back. Most of his time has been spent evading capture and ghosting whatever mercenaries are on his tail. To him, it’s all the same, apocalypse or no -- this one-man army is interested only in saving his own life. Get in his way and he’ll gladly take yours.
But something has been set in motion, and the coming confrontation propels Riddick into a series of epic, winner-take-all battles: from an idyllic, multi-cultural civilization under siege; to a subterranean prison carved out beneath the surface of a hellish, volcanic planet; and finally, aboard the massive, baroque Necro mothership and the seat of power in their black empire -- the Basilica.

In the final battle, it is foretold that the fate of all may depend upon the destiny of one Furyan.

And all the power in the universe cannot stop destiny.

Featuring a remarkable ensemble cast under writer/director DAVID TWOHY, the science fiction action-adventure epic The Chronicles of Riddick continues and expands the story of cult anti-hero Riddick, with Vin Diesel reprising his star-making role from Twohy’s cult hit Pitch Black. Joining Diesel is a multifaceted cast portraying a myriad of characters within Riddick’s universe, including one returning character (and another one much changed) from Pitch Black:

ALEXA DAVALOS (HBO’s And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself) as Kyra, a young woman whose toughness -- and deadliness -- almost matches Riddick’s. The fugitive had rescued her (when she was a young girl called “Jack”) from the Taurus system planet and re-meets his embittered, abandoned charge now, five years later.

THANDIE NEWTON (Mission: Impossible II, Beloved) as Dame Vaako, the carnal, stunning and ambitious partner of a Necromonger commander, Vaako.

KARL URBAN (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and The Return of the King) as Vaako, the young Necro commander whose loyalty to his leader, Lord Marshal, is sorely tested by his fiercely ambitious wife.

COLM FEORE (Chicago, The Sum of All Fears) as the sixth Lord Marshal, the Necro supreme leader, the highest, holiest and deadliest of all known Necromongers.

LINUS ROACHE (Priest, the title role in television’s RFK) as The Purifier, a high-ranking figure among the Necros in charge of converting the ranks of the newly-captured.

KEITH DAVID (reprising his role from Pitch Black) as Imam, a cleric familiar with Riddick from their previous experiences in the Taurus system. The holy man’s goodness and compassion are rare commodities in Riddick’s universe.

YORICK van WAGENINGEN (Beyond Borders) as The Guv, the informal leader of the inmates housed in one of the universe’s worst prisons -- the Slam on the planet Crematoria.

NICK CHINLUND (Below,Training Day) as Toombs, a veteran and formidable mercenary intent on capturing Riddick.

And one of the world’s most distinguished performers, Academy Award winner JUDI DENCH (Shakespeare in Love, Mrs. Brown, Chocolat) as Aereon, a mysterious ambassador from a rarefied race whose role in the proceedings remains as elusive as her amorphous shape.

Giving full reign to their imaginations, Twohy and his accomplished team of creative and technical artists have fashioned an astonishing backdrop on which the explosive story plays out amidst an array of civilizations, including the light-infused Helion Prime, the scorching Crematoria, the icy wilderness of Planet U.V. 6. With specially designed space vehicles, weaponry, technology and gadgetry, The Chronicles of Riddick fills the screen with a newly discovered universe.

Click to go to Kevin's BlogReview by KEVIN MILLER BLOG
Kevin Miller is a freelance writer, editor, and educator who has written, co-written, and edited over 30 books, both fiction and non-fiction. A film reviewer for the past two years, Kevin is very excited to join hollywoodjesus.com. He currently resides in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada with his wife, Heidi, and their children Huw and Gretchen (and one more on the way). They attend Fresh Wind Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational church that focuses on reaching the disabled, children, and people who've been "burnt by the church." To learn more about Kevin, visit www.kevinwrites.com

The Chronicles of Riddick is basically another entry in the "lone hero saves universe from overwhelmingly superior alien race" category, and not a particularly well conceived entry at that. However, even though the storyline of this film failed to grip me, I was surprised by the number of Christian images and themes that kept cropping up. We may live in a post-Christian society, but we haven't forgotten where we came from. And we haven't stopped trying to reinterpret our spiritual heritage in fresh and exciting ways.

Click to enlargeTake the character of Riddick, for instance. Although he lacks the moral integrity of Christ, he is clearly a messianic figure. And he struggles mightily under the burden such a role entails-as did Christ-only embracing his destiny when all other options fail.

Like Christ, Riddick's birth is also shrouded in prophecy and violence. Riddick barely survives infancy, because an oracle told Lord Marshal, leader of the aptly named "Necromongers," that he would meet his doom at the hands of someone from Riddick's race, the Furions. In an effort to escape this fate, Lord Marshal destroys the entire Furion race-or so he thinks. Turns out Riddick and at least one other Furion slipped through. Sound familiar? It should. Herod tried the same trick on Jesus, as did Pharaoh on Moses, another messianic figure from the Bible. In both cases, the infants were spirited away by their parents before the executioners showed up. Writer/director David Twohy doesn't tell us how Riddick survived, but Twohy was clearly inspired by Jewish and Christian Scriptures when creating Riddick's origin.

Click to enlargeHow many times have we seen this same character archetype repeated in sci-fi and fantasy films? From Luke Skywalker in Star Wars to Neo in The Matrix to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, the popularity of such characters seems to indicate that we are all looking for a savior, particularly one that kicks a little butt. Oddly enough, that's exactly the type of savior the Jews were looking for during Jesus' time. They wanted someone who would lead them in a rebellion against the occupying Romans. No wonder they were so surprised and disappointed when instead of kicking a little "cheek" Jesus urged his followers to turn the other cheek instead. I think most people still have a difficult time with that teaching. We much prefer a guy like Riddick who can give our enemies a taste of their own medicine.

Along this line, The Chronicles of Riddick references a Bible verse that also showed up recently in Man On Fire: "Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). Both films argue that this principle is only effective up to a point. As the voiceover during the opening credits of Riddick says, "In normal times, evil should be fought by good, but in times like this, well, it should be fought by another kind of evil." I love this line, because it does such a great job of summarizing how so many people think today-including many Christians, I'll wager. We have lost our faith in the power of good to overcome evil. When confronted by acts of terror, for example, we don't even consider turning the other cheek. Instead, like Riddick, we respond with "a different kind of terror." Although we often use the same means as the terrorists to achieve our goals-they bomb our cities, we bomb their countries-we feel such means are warranted, because our cause is just. After all, we are bombing to build. "They" are bombing merely to destroy. But if all we are doing is adding to the body count, I question how much good is really accomplished.

Plainly, these are not "normal times." The world is in a constant state of flux, and, for reasons mentioned above, it is often difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys. But does that mean, as these films argue, that otherwise sound spiritual and moral principles no longer apply? If so, then why should these principles be followed at all, even during "normal times"? Such principles are either true or they are not. Either evil can be overcome by good or it cannot. If turning the other cheek won't work in a worst-case scenario, shouldn't we question its utility in a best-case scenario as well? What I'm trying to say is, we can't simply jettison our principles when the going gets rough. That is when we need our principles most, because they are all that prevent us from going over to the dark side ourselves.

Click to enlargeAnother parallel to Christianity featured in this film is the tension between faith and doubt. This conflict is particularly evident in the Necromonger known as the "Purifier." Ironically, he is in charge of the Necromonger's forced conversion program. However, it isn't long before his own faith begins to falter. Like many people today, he discovers that his "faith" is more a product of his community than a personal commitment. The minute he leaves that community, his confidence begins to fade. I suspect people of all faiths, not just Christians, can identify with this dilemma. When they are among fellow believers, their faith seems strong. But the minute they're on their own, doubts start popping up. Some people try to quash such questions; afraid their faith won't measure up. Others allow doubt to lead them away from faith, as if doubt in one area negates the whole. Still others understand that faith and doubt are inseparable companions along the road to understanding. While doubts can be troublesome, they are inevitable, and they should not be feared. In fact, they may even be helpful. No one but God can have perfect knowledge. Thus, there will always be gray spots and spots that are outright black. However, just because we can't know everything does not mean we can't know some things and take the rest on faith. After all, the Bible defines faith as "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is always based on something tangible, but it is always reaching for the intangible. Doubts can derail your faith. But if they are faced honestly, they can also spur you to deeper conviction, because they will motivate you to seek out the truth. Unfortunately for the Purifier, the Necromonger's faith does not leave room for doubt. So when faced with the yawning chasm of uncertainty, he has but one choice: self-annihilation. Thankfully, we all have other options.

While the theology of this film is far from completely realized, the fact that a highly commercial movie like this even attempts to broach such topics is to be commended. I only hope that as The Chronicles of Riddick franchise grows, so does the depth of its spiritual musings.

Kevin's Blog

 Review by MARK EZRA STOKES
Mark Ezra Stokes lives in Ludowici – a peaceful, one-redlight town (that's "one traffic light" for those who don't speak Southern) in southeast Georgia – and is a staff reporter, copyeditor and columnist at The Press-Sentinel in Jesup, Ga. He is also a film critic for HIS Voice, a Christian newspaper in central Georgia. Mark is currently pursuing an M.A. in Screenwriting and Film Studies at Hollins University in Roanoke, Va.

Conquistador Christianity
for a fuzzy-dice God


After a bit of marketing hoopla, Pitch Black -a sci-fi film laced with commentary on the divine and spattered with themes of dark vs. light, self-sacrifice, and redemption-hit the screen in 2000 and essentially fizzled. It did, however, introduce Vin Diesel as Riddick, a rough-around-the-edges messianic figure, kick-starting Diesel's action-star status.

Click to enlargeFor writer/director David Twohy, Diesel's success must have far outweighed the film's failure, and a sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, was born.

Pitch Black wasn't an entirely bad movie. It just seemed to miss its genre. While the story seemed to scream "Make me a thriller!" little was done to add any genuine or unexpected suspense. In the same way, The Chronicles of Riddick wanted to be an edge-of-your-seat action film, but it ended up as a cheap, spectacle-filled Star Wars clone.

Riddick does have its share of action, but its cinematography is so choppy and the strobe effect of off-screen bombing is so constant that the action cannot be comprehended. If there was choreography to the fights, it remains indiscernible.

Click to enlargeThe basic plot structure is this: Riddick (a bad guy) fights a series of "badder" guys and prevails, someone asks Riddick a question, the camera zooms in on Riddick's shiny silver eyes for an uncomfortable period of time, and Riddick responds with a monosyllabic quip that wasn't worth the wait. Then we go through the formula in the next scene, and the next scene, and the... Well, you get my drift.

One of the flaws in the film is the use of verbal and visual cliches. It also seems to blatantly steal elements of other stories. It lifts tracker characters from a 1991 X-men storyline, the fated murder of a ruler from Oedipus Rex, an insightful yet cheesy line from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and the repeated removal of sunglasses to give the illusion of coolness (as found in a pile of 1980s action films).

SPIRITUAL CONNECTIONS

Part of the film's plot, however, remains intriguing. It focuses on the Necromongers, a group of religious fanatics who travel from planet to planet and decimate those who won't convert.

This cult immediately grabbed my attention for two reasons:

1. The idea seems to be directly taken from Jim Starlin's allegorical Warlock comic-book storyline of the mid-'70s (with a couple of cut-and-paste scenes from Julius Caesar and Macbeth).

2. It seems to comment on the embarrassing underside of Christianity that has plagued the world since the conversion of the Roman Empire up to the present. Though the means of intimidation have shifted from crusading swords to militant words, the perversion of a love-based religion remains the same.

We don't really know whether or not Twohy is a Christian, but that's irrelevant to the underlying issue. The fact that anyone recognizes these problems in the church —be he "one of us" or someone who was burned in the name of Christ —should be an eye-opener for Christians.

Like Christians, the Necromongers' converts are promised a "dying to self" (which is literal for the "holy half-dead" Necromongers), a perfect and pain-free existence in the next life (called "Underverse"), and the fellowship of like-minded people.

The Necromongers adorn everything from their helmets to the streets of the worlds they conquer with images of their three-faced god (i.e. Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and they revere statuettes of a mysterious tortured figure with outstretched arms. Though they attempt to show respect to their god by adding a visual element to their worship, they seem more devoted to the image and not what that image represents.

Click to enlargeIn the same way, many Christians instantly add God's stamp of approval to their organizational agendas, political campaigns and personal endeavors without first consulting Him. While this inclusion may appear to honor God, it ultimately lowers Him to the level of fuzzy dice: He's merely along for the ride-essentially becoming an ill-fitted decoration-as we grip the wheel tighter to maintain control.

In the film, the Necromongers live by the motto "Obedience without question, loyalty til Underverse come." One follower explains to his wife that the cult leader's fear equals weakness, thus justifying an assassination attempt as a means to "protect the faith."

In this context, blind loyalty to "the faith" is obviously dangerous. Faith within Christianity, though, is obviously essential (see 2 Corinthians 5:7). However, it too can be abused to the point of becoming a spirituality contest, pushing us to more fanatical behavior to shame "less worthy" Christians rather than to glorify God. We forget the charge to "accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters" (Romans 14:1) and that love is deemed by God as more important (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Faith has also been used in the church as an excuse for ignorance. This "obedience without question" mentality forces Christians to rely on the faith of another instead of experiencing God on a personal level. This "dummy doctrine" has historically resulted from power-hungry leaders who encouraged their followers to trust their sole authority, the exclusive emphases of their particular sect, and a limited translation of the Bible (such as the Latin translation during the Middle Ages that alienated the common people).

Though The Chronicles of Riddick, rated PG-13 for intense violence and language, will probably fall somewhere between Space Invaders and Goodburger in the realm of forgotten films, its basic warning is crucial: Embodying faith does not justify the discarding of love.

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