September 26, 2013 by bck1402
Stars Vin Diesel, Katee Sackhoff, Jordi Molla, Matt Nable, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine and Karl Urban
Directed by David Twohy
Where do I start with this? There have been movies that have split personalities. You know the ones. They start off as one kind of movie and the somewhere int he middle, veer off unexpectedly into something completely different. Riddick, however, plays up three different movies (and bit more) in one. Coming in almost ten years after the last outing, Riddick makes the attempt to realign and reestablish its mythology. You’d think this wouldn’t really be an issue for a film series that has only had two prior outings. However, Riddick himself has become something of a cult phenomenon, as much as the actor portraying him, Vin Diesel.
Richard B Riddick first appeared in a little science fiction movie back in 2000 called Pitch Black. While the original story and script was written by Jim and Ken Wheat, it was reportedly a straight forward sci-fi/horror movie. Director David Twohy did a pass on the script and changed the character of Riddick from female to the anti-hero we know of today.
If I had to guess… If David Twohy didn’t change much of the structure to the original script, and the horror angle was traditional, Riddick would probably have been the ‘final girl’ – the one that survives to either defeat the monsters or just get away (see Laurie Strode, Sidney Prescott, Julie James, Susan Tyler, Nancy Thompson, et al) But that didn’t happen, and we get Vin Deisel instead.
Con, killer, hunter, and in Pitch Black, Riddick is also prey. The introduction to Riddick played into some very dark and primal instincts. He remains off-screen for a long while, seemingly stalking the survivors of a crashed spaceship. The most we get to know about him at the time comes from the character of Johns (Cole Hauser), telling us how dangerous a person Riddick is. From the way we see Riddick taking a particular liking to ship’s pilot Carolyn Fry (Rhada Mitchell), it makes him come off as a serial killer targeting his next victim. But we soon learn that there is much more to Riddick than meets the eye. He’s everything that makes bad boys cool. The attitude, the swagger, the seemingly cold attitude to everything like he’s fighting the establishment, rebelling against everyone, living by his own code – and also being the only one seemingly aware that there is something more dangerous than he on the desert planet. And when night falls, the monsters come out, but just who should the survivors be afraid off?
Pitch Black wasn’t a big success, but found its audience through home video and among the science-fiction and horror fans. It was popular enough to warrant a sequel – The Chronicles of Riddick in 2004. Riddick himself became so popular that an animated short, Dark Fury, was created to bridge the gap between the two movies. In addition to that, two games spun off as prequels (Escape From Butcher Bay and Assault On Dark Athena), but ultimately seem a little out of continuity.
While Pitch Black was a relatively small and contained scenario, The Chronicles of Riddick opened the universe and unravelled a mythological tapestry around its core character. A part of what made Riddick appealing was the mystery surrounding him, and yet here, we learn a little of his past and his part in some prophecy. We also get some dark subversive religious zealots in the form of the Necromongers and visit at least three planets of extreme environments. Riddick gets chased around by bounty hunters, spiky dog creatures, ‘ghost soldiers’ and even a rising sun. It is a very far cry from the simplicity of Pitch Black.
Even the fans had a love / hate relationship with the second film as it skewed into two different movies. A prison escape movie with a war fantasy mystical epic wrapped around it. In short, it seemed like an adventure for the likes of Conan The Barbarian. There was a lot going on especially so with Riddick’s own past and the revelation that he is a Furyan. Over the single movie, things got complicated very quickly. Perhaps too many things got tossed at the screen to see what stuck.
And like with Pitch Black, it didn’t quite succeed at the box-office, and did reasonably well on home video.
And almost a decade later and here with are with the simply titled Riddick. An attempt to go back to the simplicity that made him so intriguing. An attempt to reintroduce the character. An attempt to sidestep the mythology that became a touch burdensome, but not completely ignore it as well.
As the movie opens, we find Riddick on another desolate planet. He appears, broken, battered and beaten. The occasional, and fairly unnecessary narrative voice-over (which hopefully will be removed in the upcoming Blu-Ray release) feels redundant as it tells us what we’ve already seen happening. Was Twohy not confident enough with the first third of the movie that he needed the narration added in? Or was it some executive who figured that the audience wasn’t going to be smart enough to follow the events on screen? Between Twohy’s writing and Diesel’s performance, I felt that the first third of the movie was bravura film-making. The language of cinema at its best. A textbook example of “show, don’t tell”… If only the voice-over was taken out.
As writers, we tend to be overly fond of our characters. We create them, we nurture them and we build their lives. Sometimes it works, sometimes, it doesn’t. When the latter happens, we take a step back and go back to basics. That’s what’s happened here. We see just how much of a bad-ass Riddick is in the first third. One Furyan versus the harsh and hostile environment. Sure, a quick little flashback scene acknowledges the Necromongers storyline, and shows how he came to be in this sorry position. It caters to the fans, showing that the mythology is still in place although not so relevant for now. And it provides a window for any newcomers to the series to the bigger picture. It’s significance, ultimately, is for the satisfaction of both writer and star, and it shows just how much Twohy and Diesel love Riddick. They’re trying to reestablish the character but not totally discard his history, even if the viewers may complain.
All that ends when Riddick activates the beacon at a way-station and two sets of characters turn up. A gang of mercenaries out for the bounty on Riddick, and a bunch of professional bounty hunters led by a man in search of answers. The ‘back-to-basics’ approach takes us full circle to what is essentially a remake of Pitch Black with a few too many characters who are essentially cannon fodder for the creatures that pop up.
Speaking of which, some people have criticised the creatures, although I think the design for the main ones this time is intriguing. They’re not superior or inferior to the ones in Pitch Black, but at least they are different, even if they only emerge under the right conditions. Still, it is normal behaviour for some animals on Earth to emerge under specific conditions. There is careful thought into the overall design of the creature, especially its predatory nature.
In any case, the middle third sets up our newcomers and the final third lays out all the action you could want out of the movie itself as the creatures all come out to play. For most, it’s like the movie will peak through the first third and then slide down the scale towards the end. Nothing of significance really happens, nothing of note really gets set up to continue the series, even if there are two more planned. Definitely a return to the mythology, settling accounts with the Necromongers and the final destiny of Riddick and the Furyans yet to be revealed. I’m just guessing, really, but given the nature of the series, I think it’s a safe bet. And maybe Twohy will prove me wrong by doing something completely different.
Still, Riddick itself, as a film, manages to entertain. Moreso if you’ve never really seen any of what’s come before. Even if you are familiar, then, it might be seen as just more of the same. If you’re a fan of the character, you’ll most likely enjoy the first third and tolerate the remaining two thirds while finding some new stuff to enjoy. There are shades of Mad Max 2 there, maybe a little of A Boy And His Dog (or Grizzly Adams, if you want) and it’s not quite Conan anymore. It really is just a pit-stop in the series, Taking a moment of pause to just reflect on the character before heading for the next big thing. Let’s see if the next chapter will pop up…
Pitch Black ****
The Chronicles of Riddick ***