Let’s roll the tape : The Chronicles of Riddick Saga

When David Twohy wrote Pitch Black, I’m sure he didn’t imagine a trilogy would come out of it. Truthfully I think all Twohy wanted to do was write a good action horror movie. That action horror genre began to get a little stale in the late 90’s/early 2000’s. The horror genre was in the middle of shifting to more supernatural and/or gore that dominated the 2000s. David Twohy had a very simple story in its premise, the creature that go bump in the night. Vicious creatures who see in the dark. The premise isn’t really original but Twohy had the foresight to add an X-factor to the equation. The most famous character he’ll probably ever write, Riddick. An ex-con who has special eye-sight that allows him to see in the dark.

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It wouldn’t be a stretch to see the influences Twohy took for the Riddick character: An ex-soilder, pilot, mercenary, wise cracking bad ass. More than anything Twohy wanted Riddick to be cool, the kind of cool the late 90s would respond too, and he was right. Pitch Black was a movie filmed on a modest budget and despite mixed reviews did exceptionally well in the box office. This is often how low-budget horror films work, you can probably set your watch too it now. Low budget horror films find success with audiences: The Blair Witch project , Saw , The Purge. I want to say, low-budget allows for a better concentration of the narrative. However, all low-budget films don’t receive the kind of love that the horror genre tends to enjoy.  The Chronicles of Riddick Saga is good example of how you can expand a franchise out of the horror/action genre for better and worse.

PITCH BLACK

PitchBlack

Most trilogies start out with an origin story. Pitch Black does not fit this mold in any type of way. Like I mentioned, there is no way this movie was originally penned as a trilogy. At best maybe Twohy wanted to make three horror films of the same vein. The result? Pitch Black is a pretty bad origin movie with all things considered. You’d be expecting to learn about who Riddick is and what motivates him. If you are, you won’t be getting any of that. There is so little known about him that he seems like a supporting character sometimes. Pitch Black like most horror films is really a movie about the situation more than anything. Fortunately for Pitch Black, Riddick was such a great character that it was able to do more. Riddick is a good character only because he is the end product of the mcguffen at hand. A group of people need to survive the onslaught of deadly creatures in the dark. To mitigate this problem, they gave one of the characters the ability to see in the dark. Riddick’s eyes are easily the most fascinating thing about him. There is even a younger character in the group, Jack, who spends most of the movie just fondling over his shiny assets.  She ask him the where, why and how about his eyes.  Stuff that we all really want to know too. We don’t really get to know much about them even with all the heckling.  Riddick isn’t the only character to suffer from a lack of back story, all of them do. You learn the officer in charge of transporting Riddick really isn’t a officer. He is just a bounty hunter and happens to be a bit of a drug addict. Fry, the only surviving pilot of the transport ship is a bit detached but not much else is noteworthy about her.

You came for the eyes anyway
You came for the eyes anyway

There is a lot to like about Pitch Black, which is why for fans of the trilogy it tends to be the favorite. There is dignity in simplicity. Pitch Black doesn’t waste too much time with character back story because for the most part we don’t care. We’re all really just waiting for the lights to go out. When they do , it becomes a lot of fun. Riddick’s advantage puts him right in the middle of it. Being charged with navigating the group through the darkness. It becomes pretty thrilling because Riddick is the only one who actually knows how bad it is. You’ll love him for his demeanor and wise cracks. He knows he might not be the smartest guy in the room, but he is pretty confident he’ll live the longest. You spend most of the movie in the same boat as the rest of the survivors. Which is, can you trust Riddick? If you can’t, when will he try to dump us. Riddick is your standard anti-hero. For what it’s worth you don’t really see him do anything bad, he just has a reputation of looking out for himself. You’ll notice that he generally has a conscience and at least some moral platform. He might operate outside the law but he isn’t a servant of anarchy.

The Chronicles of Riddick

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Pitch Black was met with mixed reviews but plenty of financial success and fanfare. This was mostly achieved on the back of Vin Diesel and his portrayal of Riddick. Fans wanted to know more about Riddick. Especially since so little of his back story and future after pitch black were revealed or alluded too.  The message was received loud and clear. This is when pitch black transformed from a small independent horror to the first piece of the new Chronicles of Riddick Saga. Pitch Black was a quiet first installment and the studio wasn’t going to make that mistake twice. An amped up sequel was not the only thing they had in the works. They also put effort into an animated movie that would bridge the gap between Pitch Black and Chronicles of Riddick. Also in development was the game Riddick : Escape from Butcher Bay. A story which precedes Pitch Black. Exploring one of Riddick’s storied escapes from one of the toughest prisons in the galaxy. All of this content was set for a release int he summer of 2014. Fans were gonna get what they wanted, and they hoped by hitting some many mediums they’d bring in a bunch of new fans.

Chronicles of Riddick pretty much had everything you want in a sequel. More Riddick for one, getting to find out what happens next. Even the survivors of Pitch Black were gonna be in the movie. A much bigger threat, no more aliens bump in the night. Riddick new nemesis was an entire evil undead army. A prison escape, we’ve heard about his skills in this area and now we’re gonna get to watch it. With all this being said, it’s not a secret at this point that The Chronicles of Riddick is universally panned as the weakest entry in the series. So what exactly went wrong with The Chronicles of Riddick? The first problem is in the details.. Riddick was rated PG-13….

pg-13
you went and ruined another movie for me, for shame!

Yup.. that’s right.. the dreaded downgrade to a PG-13 rating. The major attempt to broaden the audience of Riddick is what may have ultimately did it in. Pitch Black was a R-rated horror action film, very gritty, very intense. The Chronicles of Riddick up the anti in some ineffective ways to make up for the lack of violence. The Chronicles of Riddick feels like a comic super hero movie. If you were a fan of the character, this is not how you wanted to see him. If you were watching this film for the first time, you realized how inadequate he was to an actual comic book super hero. The Chronicles of Riddick managed to slight both intended audiences at the same time.

The Chronicles of Riddick also suffers from information overload. They needed Riddick to be a more compelling, so they added a lot of elements to his character. The first being that he is one of the few remaining members of a dead warrior race, the Furyans. Let’s just stop here for a moment, really… Furyans? They really didn’t set the mark for a unique name. The Furyans were a very defiant people, often not prone to resist authority. They were also excellent combatants and posses above average physical abilities. This is the beginning of the seemingly needless additions to the Chronicles Lore. Pitch Black was based in reality, but Chronicles of Riddick added a lot of magical fantasy elements. It’s filled with magic and mysticism , including and not limited too: undead solders , wraith, spirits, prophecies and teleportation. Not to say all this doesn’t fit in a big expansive sci-fi universe, it’s just absolutely none of it was in the first film. When i first saw this film, when it was over I thought for sure it had to filmed by a different director. Nope, this was one of the most striking examples of a director completely shifting the tone of his series. They even removed the grounded nature of Riddick’s eyes. In Pitch Black he alludes to it being a black market surgery he got in prison. However you learn that it was really a magical ability just given to Riddick at some point in Butcher Bay, because he is the one of prophecy or something like that. Why make that magical? We were all fine with it being some freak surgery he had to endure.

The Chronicles of Riddick isn’t all bad though. It does further the Riddick narrative, not in the best way but fans of the character enjoyed the second look. The filmed has a generic three acts, act 1 when he is searching for Jack and learning about the Necromonger army, act 2 is about Riddick capture (willing) and escape from prison with Jack, and act 3 is Riddick confrontation with the Necromonger army. Act 1 and 3 are riddled with all the fantasy lore that I thought was unnecessary. It had some pretty cool moments, but it still felt like such a departure. Act 2 however is the best part by far. This is the only time we actually recognize Riddick. Riddick allows himself to be captured by some mercs. Using his witty banter we all love him for, he actually convinces the mercs to take him to a specific prison. A prison he knows jack is currently being held in. We now know for a fact that his interactions with mercenaries is when he is in top form. Pitch Black one treated us to just one merc and Chronicles successfully proved, the more the merrier. What follows is the most grounded part of the film. It feels the closest to Pitch Black. We get to see Riddick reunite with Jack, who has become an outlaw just like Riddick has.

While he is disappointed that she had become like him, you can’t help but get excited because you know some tag team ass kicking is due soon. You see Riddick work his Houdini magic and escape from prison. Act 2 is perfect in my opinion, and if it was a stand alone short film. I think it would have been nothing short of universal praise. In the end they gave us a film that was too big for its own good.  In 2004 two x-men movies came out to great success, and a new batman was on the way.  You gotta figure Twohy wanted in on the ground floor of what looked like the revival of comic book movies.  For what it’s worth, he may have been right to try.  The Chronicles of Riddick seems like a poorly done super hero comic book movie.  To also be fair.. gritty comic book movies were not a thing yet until Chris Nolan’s Batman begins showed the way.  Had Chronicles come out in 2006 , a year after batman begins.  I imagine the movie would have been much much different.

Riddick

After the very lukewarm reception of The Chronicles of Riddick. It was up in the air if we’d get a third installment. When news of a third installment was released, it came with the news that it would be returning to its R-Rating. It would also be a more personal story. To be honest, Riddick feels like a reboot. Everything from the modest name and returning to its previous rating. The story is pretty similar to Pitch Black as well. Riddick does it’s very best to return to old form. It does what it needs to do to be considered a sequel.

It starts off where Chronicles of Riddick left off, with Riddick in charge of the Negromonger army. It isn’t long before he is double crossed and left for dead. He is alone on an unknown planet, where he’ll need to fight for his own survival. This opening act of the film acts like a cleansing of the previous film. Riddick literally narrates to himself about how he became soft, became… civilized. A node tot he film going PG-13 maybe? I’d like to think so. He goes on to say he needs to go back to his roots, and become the man/monster he used to be. Meanwhile he is shedding his old Necromonger armor and everything. This introduction is nothing but a big old apology, and you know what Twohy? apology accepted. The first act is solo Riddick on this mystery sun scotched planet. We get a first look at his resourcefulness as he tries to circumnavigate this dangerous new place. We’ll see him hunt for food, create makeshift weapons and even raise a pet dog/wolf like animal. This pet by the way, almost steals the show. The relationship he creates with this dog is the first actual relationship we see him engage in and its great. Think of the way you felt with Will Smith and his dog in “I am Legend”. Try and not want one of those things by the end of the movie, just try. It doesn’t take Riddick long to come across the alpha predator of the planet. Which lucky for him seems to only reside is muddy water. Just to get an idea of his resourcefulness, Riddick manages to capture a young one and injects himself (and his dog) with small amounts of the creatures paralyzing venom to build an immunity. The entire segment is a great visceral look at just why Riddick is so renown. The conditions would seem fit to have beaten lesser men.

The rest of the movie shifts to the tones of old, giving us two tired and true interactions. The first with a two very different groups of mercenaries and that of creatures that go bump in the night. Riddick comes across an abandoned mercenary station. Riddick gets wind of an impending storm that will bring with it a large amount of that alpha predator I mentioned earlier. Short on time, he sends out a distress signal to any merc in the area. Two groups of mercenaries pick up the distress beacon and arrive on the planet. The first group is very focus on collecting the “Dead” portion of the bounty on Riddick’s head. This is very literal as they actually have a glass box in which to encase his head. This isn’t so much a spoiler, but cmon.. a glass box on-screen? It’s only a matter of time until some bodies head finds it way in. The second group is led by the father of the bounty hunter from the original Pitch Black. See, I told you everything about this movie is an ode to the first film. What follows is some good old fashion Riddick having fun with the mercenaries guerilla warfare style. Riddick interaction with mercenaries was the best part of The Chronicles of Riddick and they give us double that dose in good taste. Eventually the party is over when the storm arrives and puts everyone in a dangerous situation. For fear of Riddick stealing one of the ships, the mercenaries hid the power nodes at another location. So now, very much like Pitch Black, there needs to be an expedition into the storm to retrieve a power source to bring back to the ship.

“Now here’s what’s gonna happen. In 60 seconds you’re gonna take these chains off me. We’re gonna make a play for those nodes and get off this rock. But somewhere along the line, when it gets really bad, Johns is gonna fold just like Little Johns did. Then when it’s all over and the rest of you are ready for Dead Animal Pickup, I’m gonna go balls deep into Dahl (Kate Sackhoff). But only because she asked me to. Sweet-like.”

Sweet Like

In the end what you get is probably the best Riddick experience. An apology for what Chronicle’s of Riddick did, then revisiting everything we love about the character in a refreshing but familiar way. How did it do in wrapping up the trilogy? pretty poorly actually. This film felt like a reboot in way too many ways to ignore. You don’t finish this film with a sense of conclusion. It has the direct opposite approach, it feels like the beginning. Which is fine, because Vin Diesel and Twohy plan on making three more films. While “Riddick” marks the end of what is called the “Chronicles of Riddick Saga”. It will probably and hopefully best be remembered as an introduction to the next “Riddick Trilogy”. I hope it turns out to be something special too. While we have plenty of iconic science fiction universes already established. The success of those franchises makes it pretty difficult for new ones to emerge. The Riddick universe is fitting for an opportunity to break into popular culture. We just gotta hope we don’t end up with another Chronicles. *fingers crossed*

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