Alas, poor Riddick, I knew him, Vin Diesel

Science fiction, at least in the movies, has seemingly slid into a subgenre of action in recent years. With an increased ability of computer graphics, and the matching budgets - at the high end at least - the studios are targetting this fare at the broadest possible audience. And what else is new?

The Chronicles of Riddick is the ultimate of action flicks, clothed in science fiction garb. From opening to credits, the screen bustles with frenetic activity, much of it life and death, and when there's dialog, much of it one-liner sound bytes for everyone's collection of glib remarks.

There is no place here for the great tradition of speculative sci-fi. New technologies are replaced by vague mythology and nebulous faith. Among the weapons we see used are gatling guns, but mostly what we see are blades of varying sorts. The film postulates a universe where life is cheap, and one person (Riddick, who would've guessed?) has an element of the invincible about him.

Now, like I said, this is an action film by design, and has no pretense of being otherwise - so that's the measure by which it ought be judged. Pining for genre fundamentals is my own problem. And as an action film, this one succeeds from its visual detail, through to its clever methods of keeping the action engaged. Still, I kept falling out of the story through the first three quarters, wondering about how so much money could yield such a one-dimensional film. It's difficult to surrender to the film's "reality" when its surface will smudge away with the batting of an eyelash.

Character development is at a minimum, naturally. That's to be expected, but on top of it, there's logic and motivation issues that slide. Why do these armored thugs want to destroy everything? Why do they spend nearly as much effort pursuing a gothic aesthetic of stone headed architecture and fashion? Why does Riddick speak like an action figure with a pull-string coming out his back? Okay, I guess that last one was rhetorical.

The biggest question for me, though, is why did Judi Dench take this movie? It's not that the role is small - check out Shakespeare in Love for a minor part she brought some real character to. Here, she's an elemental (something not well explained, by the way) who gets treated with a strange kind of respect. She gets to say some vaguely spooky things, like a bitter futuristic medium, but there's no depth, no real character. She's the older, spooky equivalent of the Riddick pull-string doll (with a lot fewer lines), and I don't see how this would appeal to someone who has had such a tremendous and varied career.

As an action film, which is all Chronicles is trying to be, this one excels, and can be enjoyed by those who aren't looking for anything more. For the rest of us, the film is wanting.

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