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A Bright Star in the Darkness of Sequels!
By Kurt Kuersteiner (© 2004 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards) for The Wrapper Magazine

 

If you're scared of the dark, you should be rather nervous about Richard B. Riddick. There are three reasons for this: (1) he's very strong (2) he's an escaped killer and (3) he can see in the dark.

Riddick (Vin Diesel) is the shaved headed ubber-warrior who lives to kill in a galaxy far, far away. His neighborhood is not a pretty place. Although technology and space travel are extremely advanced, civilization is not. The law of the jungle seems to rule more than any other legal system. This isn't to say there are no policemen. There are. But they seem too scared to be seen much in public. Instead, an informal network of bounty hunters and "mercs" (mercenaries) kidnap criminals and sell them to the prison planets. Riddick has one of the highest paying rewards offered for capture. He not only killed a lot of people, he also escaped a lot of prisons. His fighting skills and night vision make him almost impossible to catch and keep caged.

One of the interesting aspects of Riddick is that he's not very likable. He's the hero, and yet, he's a cold blooded killer that none of us would want to hang out with... unless our life depended on it. He first appeared in a sci-fi/horror movie called Pitch Black. He was being transported to prison when his ship crash lands on a planet that only sees night one month out of every 22 years. The planet's colonists are all missing, and his ship mates get a very bad feeling about the upcoming eclipse.

You might be able to guess the rest. When night arrives, blood thirsty night creatures pour out of the planet's interior and slaughter anything alive. Riddick ends up being the only one who can see and kill the creatures, and the killer turns into a life saver, helping a precious few survive the terror. But not before a lot more of the crew die horrible deaths and blood is splattered everywhere.

The new film picks up several years later. Riddick is pursued by bounty hunters again, only this time they seem to know more about his whereabouts than they should. Riddick goes on the offensive and tracks down a former friend who apparently betrayed him. He discovers things have changed since he last bounced around in the neighboring star systems. An invading species known as Necromongers are invading and destroying each planet. The Necromongers fear only one race, a virtually extinct people known as the Furyans. The only surviving Furyan is Riddick.

The new Chronicles of Riddick makes the original Pitch Black look low budget in comparison. It was very exciting to watch. The sets, costumes, and special effects are literally out of this world. The true test of a really good film is whether or not you want to see it more than once. I rarely get that feeling, but Chronicles of Riddick is the exception. I plan to see it again tonight (at the discount movie house, natch). It's not really the plot that makes this movie so much fun to watch, but rather, the incredible visuals and the grand spectacle of the Necromonger's awesome military conquest. They are very reminiscent of the Romans, both in costume and attitude. One gets the feeling of what it must have been like to have such a ruthless force arrive at your doorstep and systematically wipe out your defenses, then impose their government and religion on you and your neighbors. Resistance is futile. A few nations had delayed the inevitable, but no one had ever succeeded in stopping the invaders from eventually killing all who stood in their way. Then again, that was before Riddick arrived on the scene.

Rittenhouse Archives has brought this celluloid epic to cardboard. The new series is limited to 3,000 boxes (40 packs per box). There are 72 cards in the base set, three of which are checklists and nine of which are movie poster puzzle cards. There are also nine casting cards (1:10 packs) and nine autographs cards (1:20 packs). That's two per box and pretty generous. The stars who signed are Vin Diesel (Richard Riddick), Judi Dench (Aeron), Colm Feore (Lord Marshal), Thandie Newton (Damme Vaako), Alexa Davalos (Kyra), Keith David (Abu 'Imam' al-Walid from "Pitch Black"), Radha Mitchell (from "Pitch Black") and Claudia Black (from "Pitch Black"). Also included is a sub set devoted to the first movie. The 18 Pitch Black cards are inserted 1:3 packs. This is the first time that movie ever appeared on cards.

As is often the case with Rittenhouse products, this one also offers a factory binder for $45. The high price is softened by the inclusion of a costume card and promo card packaged exclusively with the binder.

There are also 600 cards featuring the t-shirt worn by Riddick sold for $40 each (making it a $24,000 t-shirt). If you noticed how much Riddick sweated on the 700 degree planet of Crematoria, you might wonder why they chose that particular item to enshrine in the set. (Let's hope they bleached it good and it's not scratch n' sniff!)

One thing that is missing in this movie that was present in the first are the monsters. Their absence is made all the more obvious because so many of the images in this set are of people standing around facing each other or looking at the camera. The movie itself dazzles viewers with all sorts of space ships and special effects, but not near as many of those appear in the cards. Another disappointment is the lack of expanded text on the reverse. Most of the base cards contain only one or two sentences to explain what's happening on the front. If you've seen the movie, you will fill in the gaps. But if you haven't seen the movie, you might feel a little lost. This does, however, allow more room for interesting photos on the reverse. With today's short attention spans, reducing the text to expand space for photos may have been a well calculated trade off.

The most exciting parts of the Pitch Black movie occurred in the dark. For Chronicles, they did the exact opposite. They put the most nail-biting action on a planet of intense light and heat (Crematoria). The sun is so powerful, people caught in its rays become toast in seconds. One character deliberately walks out into the light to die, and it's shocking but fascinating to watch. I confess, that scene still haunts me...

Remember back a few decades, Hollywood didn't release near as many sequels as they do today. The modern mega-million dollar costs of movie making means that any of today's hits are virtually guaranteed to spawn a sequel tomorrow. In general, I think that stinks. But one has to admit, Hollywood has gotten better at it. Terminator 2 was the first sequel I ever remember seeing that was actually superior to the original. (The third installment was decent, but not as great.) And there's been a few others since then as well. Shrek 2 was better than the first movie. Spiderman 2 was nearly as good as (but certainly not better than) the original. I won't include Lord Of The Rings or Kill Bill because they were all shot at the same time and sold separately, so they weren't really sequels but different installments of the same movie. But Chronicles is one of that rare breed that meets and exceeds its predecessor. So at least in this case, I'm glad they made the sequel. It almost makes up for the disappointment of Matrix 2 & 3! (Almost, but not quite.)

So if you saw the movie, you should enjoy this new Rittenhouse set. And if you haven't seen the movie, warp drive to your nearest video store and check it out. Which reminds me, I better blast off myself if I'm going to make the 9:30 showing. I just hope I can find an open store afterwards that will sell me a night light...

 

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