Today: June 13, 2024

Riddick Retrospective

Over the last ten years, Vin Diesel has carved out a solid career as an action star in films such as XXX and The Fast And The Furious.  But it was as space criminal Richard B. Riddick that he first came to everyone’s attention. As he returns to the role in Riddick, Ed Boff explores the previous films’ teaming of Vin’s shiny-eyed badass with David Twohy‘s direction. You’re not afraid of the dark, are you?

Pitch Black
A long distance ship is forced to make an emergency landing on a world with three suns.  The survivors soon find signs that there was an expedition there before them, and they left behind a lot they could use.  The problem is that the planet isn’t uninhabited. There are a lot of very hungry creatures below the surface, normally kept at bay by the light, but a long eclipse is due very soon.  To survive, the crew needs the help of the ships’ “secure cargo” – the captured convict Riddick.

It’s a simple but effective set up for a space action thriller and Pitch Black was quite a success, but not all of it has aged well.  While the design of the alien creatures is impressive (full props to designer Patrick Tatopolous), the CGI used to animate them is somewhat basic (a good reason to keep them in the dark).  The plotline also all seems a little too contrived. It is unbelievably convenient that they happen to land on this planet just as an inexplicably long eclipse is due with a guy who happens to be able to see in the dark.  Finally, few of the characters are really fleshed out. Many only get proper names just as they’re about to die.

Nevertheless, Pitch Black is still good – in a drunken video night way.  David Twohy keeps the tension up, although going from blindingly bright scenes to literally pitch black scenes isn’t easy on the eyeballs.  The main conflict, between Riddick and bounty hunter Johns (Cole Hauser) and who is more deserving of the survivors’ trust is a strong one to base the story around.  It also deserves praise for taking more than a few risks with the plot, having characters one might think would be safe, getting eaten by the monsters early on.

The big plus point in retrospect is the character of Riddick.  It’s clear the studio knew what they had and based a lot of the marketing around him.  He ends up being very memorable and a lot of that is down to Vin Diesel’s performance.  However, one gets the sense that he wasn’t really supposed to be focused on that much.  It’d be wrong to call him the lead, as he’s basically a wildcard – there to build tension.  In that respect, he works fine, and it leads to some nice confrontations.  However, the movie’s obsession with him, even down to saving him from the death the original script had slated, is a disservice to the real lead Radha Mitchell, who gets a far more interesting character arc.

As a big, cheesy monster filled thrill ride, Pitch Black delivers.  It’s a bit dated nowadays, but it still has good performances, neat visuals and lots of monsters.  Don’t go in expecting a full action extravaganza like the others, this is far more building up to its big scenes rather than revelling in them.

Dark Fury
There has long been a trend of doing direct to video animated tie-ins to big blockbusters, started by The AnimatrixDark Fury was done to promote The Chronicles Of Riddick and was intended to plug the gap between it and Pitch Black.  Following straight on from Pitch Black, Riddick is captured by a massive mercenary ship; but their leader (Tress MacNeille) isn’t interested in the bounty on his head.

The short’s fun, with a lot of striking visuals and design from director Peter Chung (though the caricatured look of the characters takes some getting used to), and plenty of Riddick being a badass.  In terms of “plugging the gap” though, its additions to the Riddick lore are fairly light and by skipping this and going straight from one film to the next all you miss is half an hour of (admittedly very well done) cartoon carnage. Take it for what it is – a DVD bonus feature that got its own disc.

The Chronicles Of Riddick
Riddick has been dug out of hiding to aid in events of a galactic scale.  A huge army, the Necromongers, is on a warpath across space, killing or converting all in their path, and the peaceful Helion system is next.  Riddick himself could barely care about this but like it or not he finds himself involved.  Turns out he’s from the planet Furya, and the Necromongers’ Lord Marshal (Colm Feore) knows of a prophecy saying a Furyan will kill him.

The main issue this film has is its status as a sequel.  Pitch Black had a very simple, dirty, ‘Used Frontier’ look to its world and technology, similar to Alien.  This has a completely different feel, with huge armies, talk of ‘elementals’ and the ‘underverse’ giving it a more high fantasy in space vibe.  Even though we saw little of the wider universe last time, it really doesn’t sit right.  As such, if you have a Riddick marathon, the transition is more than a little jarring.

Another big issue is Riddick himself. In the first film, he’s just part of the ensemble.  Here a lot had to be changed to make him a suitable lead antihero, inadvertently making the character a lot less interesting.  In Pitch Black, you never knew what he was going to do next – whether he really would just leave everyone in the lurch to save his own skin.  Here, by overplaying his connections to fellow Pitch Black veterans Jack/Kyra (Alexa Davalos) and Imam al-Walid (Keith David), we have a pretty good idea what he’s thinking all the time.  Further, by making him full on action hero near superhuman, and giving him a ‘chosen one’ back story, there’s a lot less to distinguish him from other antiheroes.

Now this isn’t to say that Chronicles is a bad film. Far from it, there’s much to enjoy.  The script has some interesting ideas. There are some laughably implausible, but fun action scenes, and it’s cool to look at.  The medieval/gothic/art deco look of the Necromongers is a triumph of design. There hasn’t been a space opera this ornate looking since Dune (which seems to have inspired quite a few aspects of the script).  It’s a big, dumb, silly but very pretty action movie that ends up a lot like Conan in space and is enjoyable on that level.  Don’t expect too much from a film with planet names like U.V and Crematoria (can you guess why they’re called that?  Well done!) and it’s worth a rental.  Just don’t worry about the headaches over reconciling a world with angel Judi Dench and a villain who’s been to Hell and back with the world Pitch Black portrays.

Riddick is in cinemas TODAY, check out the review HERE

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