I suspect that I enjoyed and admired The Chronicles of Riddick so much primarily because I expected so little of it; I hope I don’t diminish anyone’s pleasure with this rave. Do not read about this film. See this on the big screen while you still can. It has been surprisingly unpopular and I only caught it because the Anonymous Economist nagged me to to go to one of the few remaining one-night showings in Cambridge with him/her because no one else would.
There is nearly nothing new in Riddick. It steals from half-a-dozen science fiction movies and a couple of the Bard’s plays. (He’s hardly in a position to complain, being a thief himself and, for that matter, dead.) Nearly everyone in the cast speaks in a portentous, gravelly voice. It is relentlessly macho. It is camp in the sense of “failed seriousness”, but also camp in the same way that a polished Broadway musical is camp.
It is a magnificent spectacle, dominated by terrible vistas of destruction. The suicidal cult of the Necromongers is a thousand-storey, dark pewter metaphor for Islamism—“Convert or die!”. The plot is at once obvious and unpredictable in its critique of regime change. There is symmetry and poetry to the story and the script. The fight sequences are inventive. A crackling playfulness animates the details.
I don’t want to give anything away, so I will offer one example of this last quality in the hope of persuading you that this work is more than popcorn and worth six quid of your hard-earned to see widescreen. Judi Dench plays an “Elemental”. She is simultaneously Greek chorus, probability distribution, Ann Clwyd, and talisman of British theatrical “qualidee”. She is a translucent, fluttering presence, winking in and out of substance, drifting on air currents. At one point, by some subtle means, she is imprisoned. As she sits and reflects in her captivity, she amuses herself by blowing across her fingertips idly. They flicker and smear like bright smoke. In a film of noisy, broad strokes, this little wonder is one of many mischievous, muted asides.
At the end, for the first time in years, I heard smatters of unironic applause in a cinema theatre.