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How The Chronicles of Riddick Turns a Simple Sci-Fi Story Into Dune

Why make Pitch Black 2 when you can make The Lord of the Aliens: Return of the Furyan?

By Brian Silliman
The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)

In 2000, Pitch Black — a relatively small sci-fi movie — introduced audiences to the character of Richard B. Riddick. Vin Diesel starred as a criminal who can see in the dark but cannot see so well in the light. His prison transport goes down, and he has to begrudgingly help some innocents survive a nightmare planet. It's sci-fi horror in the vein of Alien. See for yourself! It is currently streaming on Peacock

Pitch Black is pretty straightforward. The sequel? Less so. 

The Chronicles of Riddick begins with an info dump thanks to a voiceover by… Dame Judi Dench. Director and writer David Twohy did not make another small horror jaunt, he decided to blow everything up and make a giant space opera. He didn’t even follow the Alien-to-Aliens blueprint of following a haunted house movie with a shoot-'em-up action fest. He did something closer to following A Quiet Place with The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

Also streaming on Peacock, The Chronicles of Riddick is one of the craziest sequel swerves that we’ve ever seen. That introductory voiceover from Dame Judi Dench is just the beginning, but that’s the movie right there. It is letting you know exactly what you’re in for.

Expanding the World of Pitch Black

The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)

Pitch Black is contained to one planet. By the 20-minute mark of the sequel, you’ve gotten at least three location titles of planets with names that would make George Lucas chuckle. Riddick soon arrives on the galactic hub that serves as the main battleground, and that’s where the movie clears the decks and loads them up with a whole lot of everything.

The events of the first movie are briefly touched on when Riddick visits Imam, played by the incredible Keith David. He’s one of the only survivors from Pitch Black, so there’s your connective tissue. More will be coming. Dame Judi Dench arrives in the flesh (also before the 20-minute mark) playing a character who can turn into air. Vin Diesel receives exposition directly from Dame Judi and she manages to make it fascinating. It would sound laughable if it came from anyone other than one of the greatest actresses to ever live. You want to instantly turn your small franchise into Dune? Bring in Dame Judi Dench.

(Side note: Dame Judi Dench is in this movie, and then Dame Helen Mirren appeared in the Fast Saga? Is Groot gonna romance Dame Maggie Smith at some point? Diesel gotta Diesel!)

Nun Jedi Dench and Keith David give Riddick a rapid-fire round of questions on what Riddick knows about his own history. We don’t know much about it from Pitch Black, so it’s open season for a ton of lore about who and what Riddick is. Why is he being hunted? Why is he a prisoner? Time to find out. Gear up for fun. 

The lore is hardly confined to Riddick’s own story, as a galaxy of conflict unfolds quickly. The stakes go through the roof; the stakes in the first movie revolved around Riddick fighting a group of monsters on one planet. In the second, he has to save the entire galaxy from an obsessive cult of death. Why? He just does. Let’s light this candle.

The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)

All of it works in a bonkers, backward way. Diesel plays Diesel, and he still makes bada** threats every six seconds. He knows what movie he’s in, or at least he knows what movie he wants to be in. He turns out to be a “chosen one” character, the last of the “Furyan” race. Everybody got that? We meet a character played by Alexa Davolos early on, and it turns out that she’s the other survivor from the first movie. She’s changed her name and has taken on some of Riddick’s more violent traits after finding out that Riddick’s explanation about his eyes was a lie.

Meet the Necromongers

The villains who want to rage across the stars are the Necromongers, and their storyline plays itself out like a space-age Game of Thrones episode. Karl Urban plays one of their commanders, and he knows exactly what movie this is. Thandiwe Newton plays his wife, and she’s got some Lannister-esque schemes going on. She also knows what movie this is. It’s insane to think that the scenes of Necromonger intrigue are in the same cinematic world as Pitch Black, but that’s The Chronicles of Riddick.

The real highlight of the Necromongers is the Lord Marshal, played by Colm Feore. He is living it up in the role, and wow does he really know what movie he’s in. He has Dame Judi locked up for a number of scenes, and they have some kind of Skeletor/Sorceress thing going on that is ripped right out of the live-action Masters of the Universe movie. Aereon the Elemental (Dench) isn’t about to give this Necromonger zealot any information about how to take down Dom Toretto, so worry not.

One of the main themes (and story points) of the movie is [checks notes] religious conversion. The Necomongers don’t just want to conquer, they want you to spiritually submit. The only one who can stop them is Citizen Riddick. He has a raggedy black cloak and more than a few shots feature him looking up to battles in the sky like Batman without a cowl. The action eventually focuses on two distinct worlds (the hub planet and a prison planet, because Riddick is always getting locked up), but the scale always aims to be epic.

The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)

The choice to blow up the world of Riddick to such large proportions is as baffling as it is brave. We’re shocked that a room full of studio suits let this happen. For us, the explosion of lore is a feature, not a demerit. Why make Pitch Black 2 when you can make this? Why make Marriage Story 2 when you can take those characters and toss them directly into Jupiter Ascending 5?

It makes the change of tone from Alien to Aliens look tame. It’s not surprising that they chose to go small again for the third installment, the aptly titled Riddick. That movie plays out much more like Pitch Black. Between those two small and tidy Riddick romps lies this juggernaut, and there’s no universe in which it should work. It certainly doesn’t work for everyone. It works for us thanks to the go-for-broke mentality, a thousand kitchen sinks, and Dame Judi Dench.

Why make a sequel like this? Why not? Why not make a sequel like this? Pray to the Necromongers and see what happens.

The Chronicles of Riddick is now streaming on Peacock. Pitch Black is also streaming on Peacock. Go live it up.

Originally published Jan 23, 2023.