Wednesday, September 18, 2013

It Came From The Cineplex: Riddick

Riddick was written and directed by David Twohy. He also co-wrote and directed the first film in the series, Pitch Black, and wrote and directed The Chronicles Of Riddick

When we last saw our favorite gravely-voiced Furyan at the end of The Chronicles Of Riddick, he'd killed the Lord Marshall of the Necromongers and became ruler of the Underverse (whatever that is). I think it's safe to say that most fans of the franchise expected to see a continuation of that storyline in this third film. Silly fans!

So why isn't this film all about the Necromonger/Underverse story? What happened? In a word-- money. The Chronicles Of Riddick cost around $120 million to make but grossed just $57 million domestically. The Necromonger plot line would no doubt have cost even more to film and the producers couldn't find a studio that wanted to gamble all that dough on a less than sure thing. So… the dangling threads of the Necromonger plot line get resolved in thirty seconds and we go back to basics with what amounts to a stripped down remake of the original.

Yep, that's right. Riddick is pretty much the same movie as Pitch Black. Don't believe me? Let's examine the evidence, shall we?

Pitch Black: Takes place on a planet with a harsh environment full of deadly alien life forms.
Riddick: Takes place on a planet with a harsh environment full of deadly alien life forms. 
Pitch Black: Features a large cast of characters who get picked off one by one by the aliens (and Riddick). 
Riddick: Features a large cast of characters who get picked off one by one by the aliens (and Riddick). 
Pitch Black: The crash survivors find an abandoned outpost station on the planet and seek safety inside. 
Riddick: Riddick finds an abandoned outpost station on the planet and sends out a distress signal. 
Pitch Black: Riddick is captured and chained. While incapacitated, he tells the survivors that there's something far worse on the planet than him and if they want to live they'll release him. 
Riddick: Riddick is captured and chained. While incapacitated, he tells the mercs that there's something far worse on the planet than him and if they want to live they'll release him. 
Pitch Black: A once-every-twenty-two-years eclipse blocks the planet's three suns and plunges the landscape into darkness. A horde of deadly light-sensitive creatures take advantage of the dark to come out of hiding to feed. 
Riddick: A rare and violent rainstorm softens the ground, releasing deadly creatures that were hibernating under the hard-packed dirt who come to the surface to feed.. 
Pitch Black: One of the characters is a Muslim imam on a pilgrimage, who believes everything that's happening is the will of Allah. 
Riddick: One of the mercs is a Christian and believes everything that's happening is the will of God. 
Pitch Black: The survivors find an abandoned shuttle ship, but can't use it to escape the planet until they replace its power cells with those from their crashed ship. 
Riddick: Riddick steals power cells from the two merc ships and hides them. This prevents either group from taking off until they agree to give him a ship and he returns the cells. 
Pitch Black: In the final scene Riddick pilots a ship (with two other survivors) off the planet. 
Riddick: In the final scene the remaining mercs give Riddick a ship and he pilots it off the planet.
There are differences of course (especially in the first third of so or Riddick), but for the most part the two films are very similar.

They seem to be trying to make Riddick a bit more sympathetic here, or at least less morally ambiguous than he was in Pitch Black. There he killed people to save his own skin; here only kills mercs who are bad. I'm assuming his pet dog-thing was meant to soften him up a bit as well.

ANTI-HEROIC SPOILERS AHEAD! ALTHOUGH IF YOU'VE SEEN PITCH BLACK IT WON'T MUCH MATTER.


The Plot:
Anti-hero Richard B. Riddick, last of the Furyans (maybe) wakes up and finds himself marooned on a harsh alien planet. Apparently his last gig as Lord Marshall of the Necromongers didn't go so well and Commander Vaako ordered him exiled.

Riddick survives as best he can on his new world, dining on the local fauna and domesticating a wild alien dog-thing. After several months he finds an abandoned outpost station on the planet. He sends out a distress signal, knowing it will attract numerous mercenaries and bounty hunters eager to capture him. When they arrive he plans to steal their ship and escape the planet.

Eventually two sets of mercs arrive, both wanting Riddick's head. The more "civilized" mercenaries are led by a man who calls himself Boss Johns. Johns has a particular interest in Riddick-- he believes the Furyan killed his son William Johns during the events of Pitch Black.

Unfortunately everyone's plans are complicated even more when a rainstorm unleashes a horde of deadly alien creatures.

Pros:

• Vin Diesel seems like he was born to play Riddick, what with his sub-woofer voice and menacing stare. Maybe I'm just imagining it, but it seemed like this time out he played Riddick a bit weary, like his brutal life's finally catching up to him. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but if it was, kudos to Diesel.

• I enjoyed the first third or so of the film, in which Riddick is simply trying to survive on the planet against overwhelming odds. The lack of dialog helped intensify Riddick's plight.

• I liked Riddick's new alien dog sidekick. He acted and moved just like a real dog and was totally convincing to me. I wonder if they motion-captured a dog or just filmed and observed one?

• Nice to see Katee Sackhoff again. Wow, Starbuck ain't afraid to lose her top if it's "essential to the plot." Damn you, new version Of BattleStar Galactica! Why couldn't you have aired on Showtime or HBO instead of the Siffy Channel?


• I'm surprised but pleased that Riddick is rated R, especially after the previous film was a watered-down PG-13.
 
Cons:
• In the flashback that dispenses with the Necromonger storyline as hurriedly as possible, Commander Vaako offers Riddick a deal. He tells Riddick that if he hands over his title of Lord Marshall, he'll have him flown to his home planet of Furya, the location of which only Vaako knows.

Riddick accepts the deal, but Vaako betrays him by flying him to some no-name planet and ordering his men to kill him.

This makes zero sense. Why go to all the trouble of flying a guy clear across the galaxy just to kill him? Why couldn't Vaako have just poisoned Riddick back in the throne room like members of royalty have been doing for centuries?

• Are there any "nice" planets in the Riddickverse? Every planet we've seen in the series so far has featured an incredibly harsh and brutal environment, is filled with hordes of deadly creatures and has a name like "Furya" and "Crematoria." No, I'm not making that up. There's a planet in the Riddickverse called "Crematoria." I guess "Hellholia" was already taken.

Are there no planets anywhere with blue skies and nice green fields?

• Speaking of planetary names, every time I see "Furya" written out I read it as "Fur YA." Spelling it "Furia" would make more sense, but then you wouldn't get to have "fury" in the name.

• Speaking of names yet again, Katee Sackhoff's character in the film is named "Dahl." Every time anyone said her name I thought they were saying "Doll." I just figured it was a nickname the other mercs gave her, like calling her "Toots" or "Hot Pants" or something.

Why would you give a character a synonym name whose true nature is only evident when you see it spelled out in the end credits?

• All through the film Dahl implies she's a lesbian and threatens to kill any man who dares to so much as touch her. When Riddick is chained up in the station, he does his Riddick-y thing where he tells everyone exactly what he's going to do to them the minute he escapes. Part of his matter-of-fact plan involves having sex with… OK, strike that-- with raping Dahl. Instead of becoming incensed at his crude innuendo and shooting him between the eyes as you'd expect, she actually becomes intrigued! She does everything but bat her lashes, get the vapors and say, "Why Mr. Riddick, you do go on!"

I guess Richard B. Riddick is just that good.

• Late in the film Boss Johns asks Riddick to tell him how his son William died. Riddick gives him the short version of the events of Pitch Black and says Young Johns was a morphine addict and was willing to sacrifice a young girl to save his own life. When Boss Johns asks if Riddick killed him, he says no. Technically Riddick's telling the truth here. Technically.

In Pitch Black, Acting Captain Fry walks in on Young Johns as he's shooting up morphine and rebukes him. Johns tells her that Riddick stabbed him in the back in their first encounter and part of the blade is still inside him; he can feel it pressing against his spine. He implies that he's addicted to morphine because he's trying to dull the constant pain from the blade fragment.

So yes, Young Johns was an addict, but it's all Riddick's fault! He conveniently left that whole stabby part out of the story he tells Boss Johns.

Additionally, near the end of Pitch Black, Riddick, Young Johns and a handful of survivors are surrounded by bloodthirsty creatures. Young Johns actually does suggest sacrificing a young girl so the rest of the group can escape. Riddick apparently takes exception to this and slashes him in the back. The blood attracts the creatures who then attack and tear Johns apart.

So again, Riddick was technically telling the truth. He didn't directly kill Young Johns, but wounding him in the middle of a horde of ravening beasts wasn't exactly good for his health.

A back to basics chapter of the Riddick saga that unfortunately is pretty much a remake of Pitch Black. It's not a bad movie, but it doesn't offer anything we haven't seen before. I give it a B.

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