Riddick gets animated.
Who made it?: Peter Chung (Director), Brett Matthews (Writer), John Kafka, Jae Y. Moh (Producers), Universal Pictures.
Who’s in it?: Vin Diesel, Rhiana Griffith, Keith David, Roger Jackson, Tress MacNeille, Nick Chinlund.
IMDb rating: 6.6/10.
As detailed at great length in my Pitch Black review, Vin Diesel’s Riddick was the most memorable element of David Twohy’s sci-fi/horror flick, leading the Universal suits to commission the considerably-bigger-budgeted The Chronicles of Riddick in 2004. The much-maligned epic wasn’t the only way to see Riddick that year, though. Hot on the heels of The Animatrix, the creative artisans in charge of the franchise developed an animated prequel. It was a big craze in Hollywood at the time, and even the dire Van Hesling had its own cartoon tie-in. In my mind, The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury is one of the more entertaining of these titles, providing another glimpse into the developing mythology without relying on those silly Necromongers. It’s also a lot of fun.
Dark Fury takes place right after the events of Pitch Black. Riddick has escaped the planet that claimed the lives of his captors, travelling through space with fellow survivors Imam (Keith David) and Jack (Rhiana Griffith). However, they soon run out of fuel. Stranded yet again, they are picked up by a mercenary vessel led by the deranged Chillingsworth (Tress MacNeille). Riddick’s plan is to pose as deceased bounty hunter Johns, but the ship’s engineers aren’t easily fooled, pulling them into their cargo bay. After slaughtering several mercs in a bid to escape, Riddick is eventually brought to a stand-still as Jack’s life is placed in danger. Perhaps he does care about them after all…
Riddick is bound and an explosive device planted in his neck in a great reference to Escape from New York. You can never be too careful, it seems. Led into the heart of the ship, Chillingsworth’s macabre operation soon becomes clear: She collects the bodies of the universe’s most wanted men, placing them in an advanced level of stasis. They are alive but moving so slowly that the human eye cannot detect it. According to Chillingsworth, “Closing an eye is a week’s work.” She intends to subject Riddick to this horrid fate, but first he is pitted against a horde of creatures to test his abilities. He survives, and with Imam and Jack, makes a run for it. Soon enough, they are being hunted down by the ship’s mercenaries, led by Toombs (Nick Chinlund), a killer that has a personal distaste for our bald “hero.”
Based upon a story drafted by Twohy, Dark Fury is brought to the screen by director Peter Chung, who also worked on The Animatrix saga (and the perpetually underrated series Phantom 2040). With a decent script from Brett Matthews, this animated episode certainly has its moments. If you’re new to the Riddick phenomenon, you’ll be clueless. They assume you’ve seen Pitch Black, with no explanations whatsoever. The details about Riddick’s past or his knack for seeing in the dark will be incomprehensible to anyone not schooled in Diesel’s character. However, points are given for picking up directly where the film left-off. It makes perfect sense and, despite being animated, there is a great deal of continuity.
Running for a mere thirty minutes, there isn’t a lot covered here. If you’re expecting a lengthy look into the character or a detailed background of the years between PB and Chronicles, you’ll be very disappointed. While there is more than a whiff of commercial exploitation about this release, Dark Fury is an entertaining brew while it lasts. Its a short burst of cartoonish action that would be perfect as the pilot for a television series. The animation by Chung is brilliant. Featuring 2D sketches against computer-generated landscapes, Dark Fury looks suitably impressive. The interior of the mercenary vessel is strange and foreboding, with a decent level of atmosphere generated. The team also did a good job of recreating the film characters, even emphasising Diesel’s already-huge figure.
The voice performers are top-notch, too. Many complain about Diesel’s so-called wooden performances, but if there is one character he excels at, Riddick is it. The return of David and Griffith is also a nice touch, adding to that continuity. The voices gel with the ambience cooked up by Chung, and the cast also includes some animation regulars. Listen out for the voice of Roger L. Jackson, best known for being the terrifying “phone voice” in the Scream series.
The action scenes are pretty engaging, too, raising it from mediocrity. One of them is even original. As the mercs surround Riddick’s ship in zero gravity, the resourceful killer fills the room with fire extinguishing foam, pulling his predators into the cloud and killing them with cover. For a cartoon, Dark Fury will surprise many in terms of violence. Watching the cloud turn red from the blood is a savage delight, as is the moment when Riddick plunges a knife into the eye of an enemy. Typically, that year’s motion picture was nowhere near this brutal.
Despite being a treat, Dark Fury is also flawed. Twohy and Chung have stated that the intention was to “bridge the gap” between films. Here is where Dark Fury fails. It doesn’t really bridge the gap but widens it instead. Too much is left uncovered, the most obvious of which is the character of Toombs, who is a key figure in the sequel. He is merely introduced with no sufficient detail. You should also consider the fact that Chronicles happens five years after the events here, leaving a lot of history that could have been documented.
If you want more Riddick, Dark Fury is a worthy purchase. This might be the best medium to carry on the anti-hero’s exploits.
A selection of Riddick’s best quotes.