Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Riddick Trilogy

Before hitting the theater to see the new Riddick movie, I decided to dust off my old DVD of "The Riddick Trilogy" and rewatch Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick.

Pitch Black (2000)

A friend introduced me to Pitch Black many years ago, which I otherwise would have missed. It's a sci-fi/horror action flick starring Vin Diesel as an intimidating yet sympathetic antihero. And it's got the most brilliant premise - a ship (carrying the dangerous criminal Riddick) crash lands on a planet with three suns, that's about to experience its only night in every 12 years or so, thanks to a syzygy-induced eclipse. And guess what comes out at night - swarms of man-eating insectoid alien lifeforms! Riddick breaks free of his chains, but when night falls, the stranded crew has worse problems to deal with, and thanks to his surgically-induced night vision, Riddick may be their best (and only) hope for survival.

With such a slam-dunk premise, it's a shame I didn't like the movie more, but I thought that it fell a little short of its promise. It's still a fun movie to watch, and Vin Diesel's Riddick, the badass with a heart of gold, is very charismatic. But, it comes up a little short as a horror film, and I think it's because the CG creatures are not as scary nor as varied as they could have been. I mean, they look more like something out of Starship Troopers than Alien. That's not to say that they're poorly designed, but they feel more sci-fi than horror, and so they didn't really scare me.

The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)

Much to the chagrin of fans of Pitch Black, its sequel drops the horror pretense that made the original so compelling, and opts for more of a straighter sci-fi premise. Upon first viewing of this movie, my opinion was that it was not all that good. And so, when I recently popped in the disc for a rewatch, my expectations were pretty low. And maybe it's for that reason that I didn't think it was all that bad this time. The scale of the movie is pretty epic - an army of "Necromongers" (they worship death, or something) is basically destroying the universe, one planet at a time, and Riddick may be the only one capable of stopping them (according to prophecy) - but if you don't take it too seriously, I think it's a pretty fun and engrossing movie.

And here we get yet another charismatic villain in the form of Karl Urban's ambitious Necromonger named Vaako, who manages to outshine his superior, the Lord Marshal of the Necromongers. The most captivating segment of the movie occurs within and without a maximum security prison on a planet whose daytime surface temperature is hot enough to burn a man alive in seconds, that climaxes in a deadly race against the sunrise. There are a lot more fantasy elements included in this story compared to Pitch Black, like an elementalist who can vanish into thin air, reanimated corpses, and the Lord Marshal's ability to grab people's souls and tear them out of their body. It's no Star Wars, but it's not Plan 9 From Outer Space, either.

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