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DVD Review 

by Marty Demarest

Big stars don't just make movies these days. They make franchises. Pop stars "branch out" into perfume brands and religious movements. Mid-celebrities reinvent careers by producing reality TV shows about themselves. And pray for the poor soul who isn't a live actor at all, but is instead computer-generated: Before you can say "Disney," they're the stuff of sponsorship deals and Happy Meals.

Smart celebrities, however, take the more creative route. Instead of waiting around to be replaced by a special effect, they take their personas and start turning them into multi-media characters. The sooner they stake out territory in the franchise realm, the better they'll be able to play the game of being a star in the age of video games and CGI movies.

In this case, Vin Diesel further develops the killer Riddick he created in the sci-fi film Pitch Black. Dark Fury was released on DVD at the same time as Pitch Black's sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, arrived in movie theaters and a Riddick video game -- Escape from Butcher Bay -- started receiving praise from gamers.

Among them, Dark Fury is easily the best-looking. The animation is liquid and dynamic, with shadows and lights rippling across characters. That's to be expected from director Peter Chung, the animator who created Aeon Flux and delivered The Animatrix's lavish conclusion "Matriculated." He's the ideal choice to direct Dark Fury with his kinetic visual style and demonstrated ability to work with franchises. The latter quality means that he doesn't mess with the Pitch Black feel, and the former means that Dark Fury is often stunning.

Unfortunately, there are some sequences done using computer-generated images (mainly space ships and large groups of soldiers) that don't mesh with the film at all. Which is a surprise, because Chung's computer-enhanced work usually shows a skillful touch with technology. In Dark Fury, for example, Riddick is forced to fight an in-the-dark battle with glowing, floating aliens.

I say "forced to fight" because the story -- which picks up immediately after Pitch Black -- is designed to give Riddick the opportunity to engage in fights that would be too expensive in a regular motion picture. These include a haunting, cinematic battle in zero-gravity, and a time-slowed duel that shows how astonishingly lethal Riddick is. In fact, it explains why the character abandons his friends before The Chronicles of Riddick.

Publication date: 06/24/04

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