Saturday, September 14, 2013

Riddick (2013)

Based on my originally lackluster reception of the Riddick saga, I didn't have very high hopes for the new Riddick movie when I first heard about it. But then I saw the trailer, while sitting in the theater for The Conjuring, and get this - I actually got excited! It looked like the movie was relying more on the scaled back formula of Pitch Black than the bloated Chronicles of Riddick, and best of all, the nighttime creatures shown in the trailer actually looked kind of scary this time! So I changed my tune and decided I'd give this new Riddick movie a try.

Well, it certainly follows the formula of Pitch Black - some might say too closely, that it becomes a bit repetitive. I was wondering how they were going to tell another isolated marooned-on-a-desolate-planet story after the ending of Chronicles, and they actually make a point to tell how Riddick gets from Point A (the Necromonger throne room) to Point B (random desolate planet), but honestly, it feels like a hastily-thrown-together explanation, and I'm left wondering if maybe the series would have been better off just picking off where Chronicles left off and not trying to repeat the success of Pitch Black.

In any case, the movie as it is, is still pretty interesting. The first section features Riddick, left for dead on the aforementioned desolate planet, nursing himself back to health while avoiding becoming prey to the planet's local fauna. It's a pretty neat marooned story, with some beautiful alien landscapes. The creatures are all obvious CGI, which is not a look I particularly like, but they're designed pretty well. There are some reptilian bird creatures, and a race of doglike animals, one of which Riddick befriends, but the real star is the badass, creepy-looking, scorpion-like puddle beasts, which appear to be the planet's apex predator.

At the end of the first act, Riddick spies a massive storm advancing on the horizon, with hordes of those puddle beasts in its wake, and decides to ring up some bounty hunters in the hope of catching a ride off the planet. Of course, the bounty hunters want nothing more than to capture Riddick's head as a trophy (or better yet, paycheck). So then we're treated to another pretty much by-the-books "Riddick vs. bounty hunters" match, with the approaching storm acting as the deadline that the coming eclipse served in Pitch Black. And when it arrives, well, all hell breaks loose, of course.

Riddick (the movie) is probably not as effective as Pitch Black. And one of the things I appreciated about Pitch Black is that it wasn't really a movie about the character of Riddick, Riddick was just an awesome character in a movie with an awesome premise. But by this point, the Riddick character has become the raison d'etre for the movie. Which is okay, I guess, but sort of defeats the purpose of trying to do another Pitch Black instead of continuing the story of The Chronicles of Riddick. I don't know why I thought this, but I was expecting this movie to wrap up the series and provide some closure for its titular character (maybe I just didn't think they would try to stretch it out beyond a trilogy). On the contrary, the door is wide open for another sequel. And if it means they'll readdress the Necromonger plot thread, then I think that's a good idea.

In the meantime, we have this movie. If you like the character, and especially if you're fond of Pitch Black, more so than The Chronicles of Riddick, then you're probably going to want to watch this movie. Your opinion of it, ultimately, may vary. I view it pretty much the same way I view the rest of the series - no groundbreaking masterpiece by any means, but an entertaining way to waste a couple of hours. And one thing that Riddick has over the other two movies so far in this trilogy (besides the surprise of a little bit of nudity), is the creature design for those puddle beasts. It's one of the things Pitch Black didn't do well enough - create an effectively scary-looking monster design. Well, they nailed it this time around.

It's only too bad Riddick has to spend time being an action and a sci-fi movie, because it kind of takes away from the massive horror potential this monster has. Hell, I've seen too many horror films that hinge on the creepiness of its monster design falling short, and they would kill for a monster this gruesome. Horror directors (and special effects crews) take note.

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