Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Riddick Trilogy

While I had avoided horror movies in my younger days, I'd always been attracted to what I referred to as "creature features."  Whether it was a natural enemy like the sharks in Deep Blue Sea or the vicious aliens in Pitch Black, I loved watching a group of people try to survive against seemingly impossible odds.  I think those kind of movies really primed me to enjoy slasher films before I ever watched them.  Pitch Black was probably my favorite of these types of films, at least until I finally watched the Alien series.

Pitch Black

Like many others at the time, I was very impressed with the character of Riddick and with Vin Diesel himself as an actor.  But he's not the only one giving a great performance, as the entire cast is strong and give the characters a depth far beyond the fodder they easily could be in the film.  Radha Mitchell is particularly good as she shows Carolyn's journey from selfish survivor to brave leader.

I watched the film again after not seeing it in years, and I was amazed at how strongly it held up.  While the special effects are dated, the film still looks clean and beautiful.  The tension builds at just the right pace, making us question the motives of Carolyn, Riddick and Johns before the three of them show their true colors in the end.  I also think the subject of faith is handled well, not too heavy handed but not too cynical either.  I was at the right age when I saw it to truly appreciate Jack.  Around that time I might have gone impersonating a guy myself if I thought it would make me more easily accepted.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury

Remember how The Animatrix was released before the Matrix sequels, and everyone really liked that?  It caused a bit of a trend there for a while of making these animated films that fit in between the live action movies.  This one is pretty bad.  It was directed by Peter Chung, creator of Aeon Flux.  Personally, I've always found his designs to be hideous, so I find this incredibly ugly to look at.  The story is also weak.  While it does help bridge the gap a little between the two films, it can be summed up very easily: the three survivors were picked up by a Merc ship but managed to get away.  Riddick sent Imam and Jack to New Mecca while he moved on to a deserted planet.

The Chronicles of Riddick

I really feel like this film is missing a subtitle.  Without one, it sounds like it should be an anthology film, like a collection of unrelated tales in Riddick's life perhaps.  Instead, it's a sci-fi action fantasy where Riddick is revealed to be the chosen one.  I didn't dislike this movie as much as some people did, but I do have to admit that it drags in parts and doesn't seem entirely sure what kind of film it wants to be.

I remember this was my first time seeing Karl Urban without his Eomer hair and beard and it seemed really weird to see him any other way.  Thanks to his recent turn as Bones in Star Trek it feels more natural.  But his character is still an odd supporting role, and his wife played by Thandie Newton is just bizarre.  I like what they did with Jack and I think there are some decent action scenes in the film, but it's also kind of a mess.

I don't think I had watched this film again until I sat down to write this review, whereas I watched Pitch Black so many times I almost had it memorized.  So I can understand why for the third film they decided to do something closer to Pitch Black, and I was happy to hear it.

Riddick

Riddick does feel like a closer followup to Pitch Black, for certain.  They acknowledge both former films in the series, but in structure this is definitely the Aliens to Pitch Black's Alien, in that this time rather than a mixed group of normal people, we've now got a bunch of mercenaries facing both Riddick and the strange creatures on this planet.  But making that comparison is dangerous, because Aliens is a fantastic, strong movie, as good as its predecessor, just with a different tone and feel.  I would not say the same for Riddick.

It was a bold choice to have a large part of the beginning of the film to feature Riddick alone.  It would be easy for this part to lose a lot of people with its lack of dialogue.  For the most part though, it does manage to hold your attention.  While I'm not sure it had to go on as long as it did, I now want my own tiger hyena puppy for a pet, so clearly it built the proper connections it was supposed to.  I think it also gave us plenty enough Riddick exposure so that when the second act focuses primarily on the mercenaries, we weren't missing him so much.   And then he comes back for the third act and it's not entirely Pitch Black all over again, but it's pretty darn close.  The three acts of the film do almost feel like three episodes of a television show, but they flow from one to the other well enough to not make the film feel disjointed.

Vin Diesel slipped back into the role of Riddick almost effortlessly, and I think you can tell it's a character he really loves to play.  He is still cool, confident, and a bit of an ass while also having just enough of a heart that you can still sympathize with him as the hero.  His dynamic here with Johns the elder continues the Pitch Black story well and has just the right amount of tension.  While I was fairly confident I knew how this would end, I did appreciate the path it took to get there.

At this point, there's really one problem with the film that is really holding me back from loving it as much as the original, and it has everything to do with the character of Dahl.  I love Katee Sackhoff.  I fell in love with her portrayal of Starbuck, and I was very excited to hear she would be in the film, and that her character was going to be fairly similar.  She was made to play tough chicks, and I really hope the recent rumor of her portraying Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel in some capacity is true.  So I was really looking forward to her appearance here, to see if she would play a similar role as Carolyn in the first film or maybe even be a proper foil for Riddick, since she was a mercenary.  Unfortunately, that's not really what I got.

While she's certainly capable and strong, her role is problematic.  She largely just does whatever Johns tells her to do, and when the shit hits the fan, she stays behind along with the young rookie.  I understand that she's a sniper first, but we also see she's capable of hand to hand combat and there's no reason she couldn't have gone out there with the guys.  Add to that the fact that she is leered at and has to fight off a rape attempt and various lewd comments (some even given by Riddick himself) and it just left a really bad taste in my mouth.  It's disappointing, because without this issue it is otherwise a fun, enjoyable film.

3 comments:

  1. I saw Pitch Black and enjoyed it, for pretty much the same reasons as you did. Didn't see any of the others - though i did see Dark Fury, the anime that was supposed to serve as transition between Pitch Black and Chronicles of Riddick. It had an interesting concept - RIddick, Jack and Imam vs a ship of idle rich collecting criminals and freezing them. I wouldn't have minded seeing a movie that expands off of that. It might have gone over better than the weird genre change they went for with Chronicles of Riddick. I mean, I don't necessarily mind series changing genres (see Alien and Aliens), but I'm not sure that sort of change serves Riddick well as a character. And it seems like most of the audience thought the same way, which is why they went back to Pitch Black template.

    I'm going to see if I can catch Riddick once it comes out on DVD. Your review made me a bit weary - it sounds like the film doesn't really use Katee Sackhoff well, and I'm sick to death of media using a threat of rape to raise tension. But most of the reviews have been leaning toward positive, so I guess I'll have to see it for myself. Maybe the good will outweigh the problematic.

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  2. Second attempt, as Blogger ate the first.

    Pitch Black

    I agree. A blast of a film, with more creativity to its characterizations and visuals that most other Alien pastiches. I especially love the opening crash sequence, which is so sharply put together, and littered with some astonishing shots which never fail to blow me away, that I'm always a bit disappointed if I see this is on the TV schedule too late to catch it from the start.

    If you haven't seen it yet (and most haven't as it never got a wide theatrical release), I very much recommend Below, the film Twohy did right after this. Perfect for the Halloween season, if you can find it. :)

    Dark Fury

    Haven't watched it yet. I'm not as instantly put off by Chung's designs as you are (though they are admittedly grotesque and garish), but he is pretty hit-or-miss as a director overall.

    Chronicles of Riddick

    I like this more as a throwback to Leigh Brackett's old space barbarian novels than I do a sequel to the first film. It's almost as if they worried they wouldn't get another installment, so they threw in as many ideas as they could, and the rushed schedule meant they didn't have the time to fine tune it, leading to the pacing issues, random twists, and a few outright contradictions to the first film. I also don't like the recasting of Jack, not because the new actress is bad, but because I feel bad for the old actress, who was all set to do the role and even put herself through months of kickboxing and stunt training, only for the studio to nix her.

    I still mostly enjoy it, though, as it looks great, has solid action scenes, the prison sequence is neat (and recycled a bit from Twohy's old, unused Alien 3 script), and the Necromongers are such a gloriously over-the-top force of sinister intentions.

    Riddick

    Didn't get a chance to catch it in theaters, but absolutely will be picking it up on disc. You're not the only one I've heard criticizing the handling of Sackhoff's character, so I'm curious to see that for myself.

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    Replies
    1. Apparently, the disc version of Netflix doesn't have Below, so I guess I'll have to find a way to track it down myself. Disappointing.

      I agree, I don't really see the need in switching actresses for Jack. The former even does the voice for the character in Dark Fury, and I thought she was great for the role.

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