Friday, 20 September 2013


Hope Begins In The Dark. (An Introduction)
Looking back Pitch Black was a remarkable film, a perfect blend of strong Science Fiction, A interesting and unique protagonist surrounded by a cast of likable and well developed secondary characters (with Keith David's Imam being the standout but Cole Hauser and Radha Mitchell also deliver power performances in an already strong cast), a new and different visual style (courtesy of Riddick's Eye-Shine and the Monster's Point of View) and a surprisingly original Alien creature design.

Directed by David Twohy back in 2000 Pitch Black saw a spaceship crash land on a desolate world where the survivors slowly realize that an escaped murderer may not be their biggest threat as a total solar eclipse frees a light sensitive race of murderous aliens and sends the planet into complete darkness, Riddick (whom carries a unique ability to see in the dark) may be their only hope of survival.

And while people give Pitch Black's sequel The Chronicles of Riddick a hard time (and I agree with many of the complaints) I respect what they were attempting to achieve by taking the series in a dramatically different direction rather than simply rehashing the premise of the original which had already proved a successful formula,
With the film  instead focusing on the growth and continuation of Riddick's story as he is forced to contend with a planet destroying army whom threaten the whole universe while at the same time fleeing from bounty hunters who are out for the price on his head.

However the difference in the two film's styles proved too jarring for audiences with Riddick going from talented killer to near superhero qualities between movies. 
Chronicles attributes this to Riddick being a member of the Furyan Race and therefor naturally stronger than most but the increase in abilities causes the film to loose the sense of realism created in the original where it seemed like Riddick could just as easily die as any other member of the cast.

(It is also important to mention that The Chronicles of Riddick is another example of how a film's Director's Cut can be infinitely better than the general release version with Chronicle's Director's Cut:
  • Delving deeper into Riddick's Furyan heritage.
  • Better developing both major and minor characters.
  • Better explaining the universe of Riddick.
  • More details on the Necromongers.
It is also more violent restoring footage that was cut to allow for a lower age rating and is all in all a much better movie.)

Humorously due to the lukewarm financial and critical reception that Chronicles received and diminished interest in the series due to little movement over the past years Diesel and Twohy are attempting to regain public interest in the franchise by skipping the planned follow up to Chronicles that would explore the Necromongers and the Underverse and instead returning to the franchises roots with a filler story that retreads elements of Pitch Black (What Chronicles was attempting to avoid), which is a great way to both gain new fans and win back old fans who's interest may have wandered in recent years by giving audience exactly what made them fall in love with the series in the first place.

And so Riddick returns to his roots.

This Ain't Nothing New. (The Plot)
Riddick picks up shortly after the events of Chronicles and sees everyone's favorite Eye-Shined Killer unhappy with his new position as the Necromongers Lord Marshal and longing for his home-world of Furya but he is promptly betrayed by his loyal subjects and left for dead on a wasteland world.
But when Riddick discovers that its is only a matter of time until tropical storms will free a countless number of murderous Mud-Monsters he is forced to activate an abandoned mercenary station's emergency beacon which attracts the attention of two groups of Bounty Hunters with very different goals. 

The films plot progression is pretty basic, easily being separate into its various acts:
  • Act One - Riddick vs. The World.
The first 20 minutes of the film see's Riddick stranded alone struggling to survive a hostile world, this is actually where the film is at it's strongest with a wounded Riddick attempting to reconnect with his animal-side and simply survive on a hostile planet where everything seems set on killing him. 
Its an impressive sequence as the audience gets to see just how capable a survivor Riddick is as he resets bone, scavenges for food, builds up an immunity to the Mud Monster's venom and creates his own weapons.
  • Act Two - Riddick vs.The Mercs.
Riddick himself actually takes a back seat for the majority of this act as the film focuses on introducing and exploring the mercenaries who come hunting for Riddick (namely Dahl, Johns,  Diaz and Santana) before they begin to get picked off one by one as Riddick implents his plan to escape the planet. 
  • Act Three - The World Takes All.
Which finally sees the deadline reached allowing for the emergence of endless swarms of Mud-Monsters forcing all parties to team up in order to flee the planet.
Although their are surprisingly fewer deaths at the hands of the Mud-Monsters than you might expect with Riddick himself killing off the majority of the human cast before the storm even hits.

Who's The Better Killer? (The Cast)
Richard B. Riddick still makes a likable protagonist and 'Riddick' proves that no one understands the character of Riddick better than Vin Diesel himself who continues to effortlessly make the character charismatic and memorable, Playing him as a murder with his own code and sense of honor, while his new found desire to search for his home-world of Furya adds a new perspective on the character that while never fully utilized here is great set up for potential sequels.

The film cleverly introduces two separate teams of Mercenaries who come hunting for Riddick one of which is a large team of brutal and immoral mercs led by Santana (Jordi MollĂ ) and a second smaller and more professional team led by Johns (Matthew Nable - In a surprising twist the farther of the bounty hunter Johns from Pitch Black which is another nice call back to the film that I really did not see coming).

Out of the majority of the supporting cast Johns is arguably the most likable character driven solely by the need to uncover the details of his sons demise, who's morals begin to unravel as his need for closure builds.
While his methods seems far more professional and calculated than that of Santana whom uses brutality of the sake of brutality. 

John's second in command is Dahl played by Sci-Fi's strong female actor Katee Sackhoff who does well here despite perhaps not being as well developed as she could otherwise been, also the film seems to be drawing a lot of fire due to a misplaced line about her character being a lesbian that is disregarded later, but Sackhoff delivers a strong performance regardless with Dahl coming across tougher than most of the male characters present easily fighting off the constant and unwelcome attention of Santana.

Santana is a bad man - pure and simple. He is a murdering, raping monster albeit not a particular threatening one, in fact I found it hard to invest in the character at all once I realized that Santana's death was revealed in an early trailer for the film
A sequence in which he is forced to disarm a rigged explosive by turning a key multiple times with each turn threatening detonation (effectively playing Explosive Russian-Roulette) had the possibility of being incredibly tense and dramatic sequence but it's impact is somewhat diminished by the fact that I knew not only that Santana was going to survive this but also exactly how he would eventually die, this seems to suck the energy from not only this scene but the character entirely which is a shame as while Santana is not a likable character, Jordi MollĂ  is able to portray Santana well as the Merc who is so used to being the most feared killer on the planet that he suddenly seems unable to cope when someone more dangerous turns up.

Riddick finds a Jackal Pup (I named him Jim Carrey for reasons involving Kick Ass 2) and raises it to adulthood (Raising the question: Just how long was he stranded?). It quickly becomes one of the more memorable movie mutts and you cant help but enjoy Riddick and the Hound's interactions, with the Jackal eventually becoming the character I most wanted to survive the movie.

The rest of the cast are little more than corpses in waiting with none of them really developed beyond minor traits - one is religious, one is superstitious and its hard to care for any of them but since its their deaths you are watching for anyway this doesn't impact the film at all. 

Karl Urban's Vaako returns (albeit briefly) in a short flashback that explains Riddick's fall from Necromonger Glory and while It is a shame to see the Necromongers swept under the rug and the dramatic resolution of the previous movie resolved so quickly it is necessary for the plot to move straight into Riddick's current situation without a lot of unnecessary back story.

Just Add Water. (The Creatures) 
The planets Eco-System is much more developed than that of the planet we were introduced to in Pitch Black with multiple life forms ranging from
  • A Reptile Bird-Like creature - similar to a vulture. 
  • A species of Eel - that resides in the small water-holes of the planet.
  • Jackal like pack creatures - nicknamed Dingo Dongos by one character.
  • And the Scorpion-esc Mud Monsters - that look like Xenomorphs crossed with Grabboids. 
One of this film's series biggest strengths has always been creative and unique creature design  from the Light Sensitive Monsters of Pitch Black to the Color changing Hounds of The Chronicles of Riddick and in this installment the creatures designs are at their strongest yet with each design seemingly perfectly 'Alien' but at the same time realistically plausible.

As much as I enjoy the species diversity that is found in Riddick, the strength of the creatures in the original came from the fact that they had grown to such enormous numbers below ground that they had effectively crippled the ecosystem, wiping all life off the planet almost entirely (With the only exception being a creature that had evolved to produce light - the one thing the carnivorous species couldn't survive) and as a result the predators had resorted to cannibalism in order to survive due to a lack of any other food source.

While Pitch Black's instigating incident was an eclipse that allowed the light sensitive monsters to swarm the surface in 'Riddick' the catalyst is a traveling storm, when the storm hits thousands of the poisonous Mud-Monsters emerge from the earth where they were hibernating due to needing to keep their skin constantly wet to survive, but what happens after they emerge? do they roam the land until the storm passes before reburying themselves before it passes again? or do they travel with the storm like a roaming plague killing off all life in the storms path? 
(As much as I hate to keep bringing it up) Pitch Black was able to deliver a clear understanding of how life on the desolate planet functioned, It didn't function particularly well, with only one species thriving after murdering off the rest of the planet 'but' the life cycle made perfect sense and the audience could piece together a clear picture of how the planet had reached such a unbalanced state.

Riddick's introduction of a more varied wildlife means more complex ecosystem and as such more species interaction (Do all of the dog creature get killed off now that the mud-monsters have overwhelmed the planet? the bird like creatures would arguably survive due to being able to fly beyond the monster's reach) which makes the emergence of the doomsday creature a little more complicated than first time around.
Now I will concede that perhaps I am giving this more thought than is necessary and in truth the storm and the monsters it brings are nothing more than a plot devise to give the film an impending deadline in order to force Riddick off world.

The Action. 
The action is well handled be it fighting creatures or humans with memorable sequences including a nighttime attack on the mercenaries base by Riddick which ends in a great shot of Riddick disappearing into the dark dragging a corpse behind him and another sequence in which Riddick and Johns are forced to fight their way through the hordes of Mud-Monsters up-close on foot as well as a impressive one-on-one confrontation between Diaz (Dave Bautista) and Riddick.
But the standout is easily the films climax that sees Riddick alone facing an endless stream of Mud-Monsters atop a jagged mountain as a thunderstorm rages the scene is stunning and the musical score perfectly dramatizes the moment making it seem both bleak and epic.

Gone To The Dogs. (Conclusions) 
At it's core I suspect that Riddick's biggest problem is the same as the one that can be found in the 2011 prequel to The Thing (and to a much lesser extent the movie Predators) in that while it is a original film that expands the series universe it also follows the pattern of the previous film a little too closely. 
Riddick never reaches the levels encountered in The Thing but the film cannot help feel a little familiar but overall the film is an enjoyable Sci-Fi Monster Movie delivering exactly what you expect from this kind of film.
It's far from perfect but there is no denying that it is an enjoyable watch boasting action and humor and impressive monsters while proving that Vin Diesel and Riddick himself are once again on top form. 

1 comment:

  1. Good review. You know what to expect from a movie starring Vin Diesel, so expect this one to be stupid and fun. That's all.