You know it feels really silly? The fact that I’m probably going to spend more time talking about this particular feature that I did watching it.
Riddick blindsided is a 6-minute short feature that premiered online, looks like it was on Fandango site but it may have hit a couple other places as well. It’s basically a 6 minute long deleted scene from the final Riddick movie… And that makes it kind of weird.
It’s animated, but not the anime style that we saw on Dark Fury. These are more like animated storyboards, or a motion comic book with some glitzy special effects throwing in. It’s not bad, an interesting atmosphere and the deleted scene itself actually ads just a touch of death to the rest of the third film, but it’s not quite enough to stand on its own.
We see Riddick waxing poetic about his position as Lord Marshall and witness and assassination attempt… It’s basically exactly what he was talking about in the film when he describes himself as losing his edge. This is the moment that brought him to that.
If this isn’t a special feature on the DVD then it really needs to be… Because it’s a great deleted scene, and deserves better than to just vanish into the darkness of lost web content.
You see, I’m just not sure where this series goes wrong. This was the last gasp, Vin Diesel put up his own money and secured financing for this film because he believed in the character. I think he was right about that as well, he sees what I see in it, but perhaps fails to understand what’s required to make it work.
Approach. Perhaps it’s greatest problem is that it’s to back to basics. In a lot of ways I feel like I seen this story before and it borrows far too heavily from Pitch Black. We start off with Riddick stranded on a alien planet with absolutely gorgeous alien life forms. It’s one of the things that has always impressed me about this series and this entry in particular, just how well thought-out the creatures are. When I was a teenager I really was into Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials. Wayne Barlowe had an excellent grasp on anatomy and really thought out his creature designs. I get that same kind of vibe from this film.
As Riddick struggles to survive, he finds a way station and sends out an announcement that he’s at this location knowing rightly, that it will be picked up by bounty hunters. The bounty hunters arrive and the fun begins.
At this point it takes on most of the elements from Pitch Black but is missing a couple of key things here. Riddick is still very much the main character though we switch our focus in great part to the bounty hunters. This is a good thing, because we need other characters that we can relate to and root for here. What’s really missing however, is the heart. there’s something about the kid in Pitch Black that really a sense of peril and of warmth and humanity to the film and it’s been missing ever since. It’s still missing here. Vin Diesel is attempting to create a sort of carbon copy of pitch black but misses the mark by neglecting to infuse the soul of the film with heart. I like creepy monsters and I’m very happy that the violence and gore has been ratcheted up here (We finally have our R rating!). It’s just not enough, you need something new. You need a better story.
I’d like to see more in this universe I’d like to see more of these characters but with the failure to really zone in on a formula, I fear this franchise is dead for good.
That doesn’t mean I’m finished though. More next time.
Remember what I said about weird tonal shifts and the dramatic difference in style that we get from Chronicles of Riddick? Well that’s here in force. Dark Fury is an anime version of Riddick presumably taking place immediately after Pitch Black on their way to New Mecca.
It’s so clean! Anime tends to have that kind of a very slick and polished look but that’s totally out of place within Riddicks dirty, rusty universe. Even Riddick himself seems to slick – all the character that we get in Vin Diesel’s dirty face is missing.
We get some really good imagery here, giant ships, elegantly hand-painted along with dynamic and interesting-looking mercs. Riddick’s ship – the escape capsule last scene in Pitch Black is picked up by a bunch of mercenaries trying to capitalize on the bounty on his head. Hijinks ensue. We’ve got monster fighting again, but the monsters are… weird. Tentacles and glowing bodies, very much anime creatures. They lack the sophisticated attention to biology that the films show, but nevertheless it shows some thought going in here. There’s an attempt to keep some of those themes throughout these movies.
In the end it feels more like a random anime and it does a Riddick entry. That’s the problem with not having a series Bible… anything goes. The technique of anime sidequel works very well with the Matrix films, they already had heavy Japanese influence to them, and translating that kung fu action style into anime was simply a next logical step. Not so much here. Still, at least the animation is of a reasonable quality – that wasn’t the case with the Hellboy animated episodes. It’s a curiosity that would have been better suited as an extra on a DVD rather than a standalone entity in its own right. Unless you’re a completist, it’s not really worth owning.
Time to move on to the third film.
Did they actually intended for this series to be a franchise? Seriously, because this film makes me kind of think that wasn’t the plan. One of the biggest problems with Chronicles of Riddick is that it’s such a drastic departure from Pitch Black. Pitch black is a very small story. The premise is there the danger is all around, but the only people that are going to die are the ones who were shipwrecked. With Chronicles of Riddick the stakes are up to planet destroying, universe killing levels. The necromongers, our villains for this story, are a universal threat. Also, we’re rooting for the bad guy from the last movie.
Already I’m seeing some problems in the formula.
The formula is a big part of the problem here as well, because there isn’t one. Let me rephrase that, if there is a formula… we’ve gone off book and are trying to find a new one. Pitch Black work because it was a smaller story. A narrower focus and a genuinely good idea. This reads more of a by-the-numbers studio film trying to recapture the magic of the previous movie and the result is just a mess.
It’s a shame too because the film is lush. I mean it is beautiful, gaudy, the design is brilliant! I love the Necromonger masks with multiple faces and their shoulder pads with the ornate portraits. The ships are awe inspiring as they land on the worlds they are going to destroy (unless Riddick stops them). And yet the entire film feels vapid – like we’ve put the least possible amount of effort into telling a good story. You see, that’s what Pitch Black really was, just a good story. It’s really why I come back to this question of whether or not they intended to turn this into a franchise because that’s exactly what Chronicles is… and attempt to launch a franchise. They even went as far as to release the animated feature Dark Fury… Sort of a guaranteed trilogy, just in case things fell through.
Things fell through.
I want to like this, it’s just too long and too much of a slog to get through on a regular basis… There’s no rewatchability here, whereas I can view Pitch Black endlessly.
That should have been the end of things, but Vin Diesel had other plans and fought tirelessly to keep this series alive. More on that next later.
Into Pitch Black is a tie-in to the original film, an hour long special that was originally broadcast on the Syfy channel. They’ve done this kind of thing before, most notably with the Blair Witch Project, though this seems to have aged a little better. It helps a great deal that the world Riddick exists in is so vaguely defined, it allows them greater leeway in creating a sidequel.
Using a smattering of scenes from Pitch Black, we are given an overview of the film through the eyes of a contractor hiring a mercenary to find Riddick. Interspersed through the narrative are interviews with Riddick’s psychologist in prison as well as the prisoner who altered Riddick’s eyes. There’s a lot of digital overlay, computer screens and graphics to give it more of a documentary look when we’re not in the thick of the narrative. All of that actually gives it a great deal more atmosphere, and it needs it!
The narrative component of this film looks cheap. I’m sure that’s because it was cheap, filmed on standing sets that were decorated with whatever clutter and junk was laying around. Leather coats, sunglasses and tank tops make up for the costumes, and the performances have all the skill and charm of a crime recreation on America’s Most Wanted. It’s slow and it drags, and at times it seems like it doesn’t know if it wants to be an adventure or a documentary. A straight documentary may have worked better, with screen static and quick cuts to hide the obviously low production values.
I recall this being either a special feature on a DVD or sold as a cheap oh VHS at Best Buy back in the day. These days you can find the entire thing up on YouTube and it’s really only worth watching as a curiosity.
I had considered trying to do all the Riddick movies in one post. There could really be an exploration of where things went wrong, but as I got further into these I discovered more and more material… Enough to justify a full round of franchise Focus.
Riddick begins with Pitch Black… A story that fails to even bear his name. Pitch black is a straightforward tale, shipwreck in space, marooned on a world with a bunch of nasty predators. Straightforward, but they manage to pull this off brilliantly with a cast of characters that you can’t help but cheer for, and a villain that you almost want to root for. Riddick is not the central character here, although he does steal every scene he’s in. This is a straightforward horror film, with some sci-fi elements much in the vein of alien. The creature designs are brilliant, with a frightening sense of realism and just a touch of gore. It manages to push all the right buttons, one in particular is in making the ships ugly! I miss ugly ships, it was one of the big selling points for me with the aliens films. The outsides might be a little shinier, but the insides are full of rust and dirt and grit and chains and leather and it’s just beautiful.
I feel like somebody really cared about this movie. They were trying to tell a story they had a specific tale that they wanted to spin and they created great characters to weave it around. For my money this should have been the next great sci-fi horror, and I’ve always been a little disappointed that it wasn’t. But then again by the time we return to this material we find that the series has changed into something completely different.
More on that next time.
For the most part, when it comes to franchise focus I really have tried to stick with films that are a little outside the mainstream. You know, weird movies that have inexplicable franchises. Not so with Riddick. Despite being a failed franchise, most people instantly recognize Vin Diesel as Riddick and have seen at least one of the films on cable. So why go this direction? Something about these films enchants me – perhaps it’s the set design, perhaps it’s the character itself. In a lot of ways these movies remind me of old, ugly and gritty sci-fi, and that’s something that we don’t get enough of that in the 21st-century.
Nevertheless, the reason this ended up being a series instead of one article either in the “Defense of “category or the “case against” category is because once I started digging little deeper into the series I discovered there was more to it than I had realized – maybe even a little bit more to it then you realize.
Next time, will get started with the excellent first entry, and The movie that made me a fan of then diesel… and let you in on a little secret, it’s not the fast and the furious!