I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Chronicles of Riddick

I don’t know if you ever saw PITCH BLACK. It was a low budget ALIENS type movie about a bunch of space-people who get stranded on a planet where nasty monsters come out and eat everybody at night. And then if I remember right there is an eclipse, so it’s gonna be a long fuckin night. So they’re pretty much fucked except luckily they have this dude Riddick on board. He is a prisoner actually, a scary mass killer type, but he has surgically altered glowing eyes so he can see in the dark. So with him being good at killing and seeing in the dark, he is a good guy to let loose in this situation. So the murderer becomes some sort of a part time hero when faced with alien monsters, he saves some lives and possibly leaves his old self behind.

Personally I thought the movie wasn’t so hot. It starts out good but the aliens just aren’t all that convincing or scary and I lost interest after a while. But this Riddick character, played by the then unknown Vin Diesel, was a cool idea and memorably played by Mr. Diesel. The great Keith David is in there too playing a preacher named Imam, but I guess not as memorably, since I forgot he was in it until I saw him in this sequel.

The Chronicles of RiddickI don’t know what the deal is with the title. It seems to refer to the whole series, like STAR WARS. They even re-released PITCH BLACK as THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK: PITCH BLACK so I guess this one should be considered THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK: THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK. Anyway, what they did here is pretty admirable. Instead of making a traditional sequel where the same characters face the same monsters again, or different characters face the same monsters, or the same characters face the same monsters plus a thrilling new variation on the same monsters where they are much bigger or smaller or can take over human bodies or fly spaceships or something… instead, they took the main characters and put them into a completely different type of story, an epic fantasy type deal with multiple planets and races and armies and prophesies and all that sort of crap. And at the center of it all is Riddick, the notorious killer who Judi Dench (long story) wants to save the galaxy or whatever.

In the opening scene, Riddick is rocking a John Walker Lind and a head full of dreads, running from bounty hunters. He traces the bounty back to Keith David on the Keith David planet, shaves his head and ends up trying to stop an invasion by the evil Necromongers, a race of uptight death obsessed religious fanatics who fly to different planets in giant religious statues and try to force their beliefs and fashion on everybody. This brings him on a big adventures fighting against armies, busting his old friend Jack (who passed for a boy in PITCH BLACK but now is some Denise Richards type babe) out of an underground prison and facing down the king of the Necromongers.

This is not a great sci-fi movie for the history books like ALIEN or something. A guy told me, “I’m sick of half-assed sci-fi movies,” but I was quick to tell him that actually this one is more like 2/3 assed. It didn’t knock my socks off but you know, I could feel my socks getting loose at some points. I gotta admit I enjoyed it. I liked the basic story of it, the idea behind the bad guy’s culture, and the idea of the mass murderer chosen one. I liked the way the necromongers space ships look like gothic statues, and their armor has knives built into the back like they’ve all been stabbed. I liked the ALIEN RESURRECTION type bounty hunter that keeps failing to outsmart Riddick. But most of all, I cannot lie, I liked Riddick. This growly voiced muscle bound dude with an iconic look (shaved head, dark goggles, glowing eyes), who can apparently get out of any tight situation with a couple of knives and/or a rope. He gets alot more to do than he did in PITCH BLACK, and only once does he face monsters. (When this happens he doesn’t react the same way as in the first picture. His response is more like what DMX would do if a bunch of dogs ran after him.)

I do have some complaints though. Riddick is a cool character, but he could be cooler. He needs some better lines. The dialogue in this movie is just plain dumb. They try to make him super cool and on top of things like Blade, but they don’t give him a “motherfuckers always tryin to ice skate uphill” type line. They don’t even give him a “Just out for a Sunday stroll. I guess it’s not Sunday” (Steven Seagal, FIRE DOWN BELOW.) The guy needs to talk more clever. And while we’re on the subject of talking, he should do less of it. He has such a great voice, I think we would appreciate it more if he would shut up more. Be like Clint Eastwood. Omit needless words. Make it count.

I think also it might’ve been a good idea to earn this one an R-rating, not a PG-13. For all the talk about Riddick being a bad guy, he doesn’t do a whole lot of bad stuff. I guess Hollywood are the experts on what makes money, but I’m pretty sure kids were able to see the TERMINATOR movies, the ALIEN movies, the PREDATOR movies, and, uh, PITCH BLACK, all of which were R-rated. I don’t know what they’re worried about they have to keep it PG-13. Whoever is the executive responsible for keeping this thing kiddie safe, I want them to face the music. I wanna see heads roll for there not being any heads rolling in this movie. I like heads in movies, they are good when they roll.

I guess it is a motif in Mr. Diesel’s work, though, that he’s always a fake bad guy. In XXX he is a menace to society turned secret agent who reluctantly saves the world. In THE FAST AND THE FUCKING FURIOUS he is a criminal who ends up convincing the good guy cop to let him go, because he’s so cool. And in PITCH BLACK he’s a killer turned monster killer. But he never really does anything too bad in any of these movies. He’s not Parker. He’s not a total bastard. He’s never all that threatening but the movies tell you he’s a bad guy, and then proceed to make him a good guy. In this one luckily he doesn’t repeat the mistake of XXX and sell out at the end. I won’t give away what happens but I think even some people who don’t like this movie would watch a sequel just to find out what happens next.

And the bottom line is I had fun watching this guy. I like how ridiculously cocky he is. There is a part where out of the blue he starts narrating in his growly Vin Diesel voice and explains his plan, and it makes it hard not to root for this goofball with the glowing eyes. If he will narrate to you like that, then you almost owe him something. Give him a chance.

Now as most of you know, I have a theory that alot of the best popular movies reflect the politics of their era, whether intentionally or not. Everything from PLANET OF THE APES to MINORITY REPORT, to X-MEN 2 and even the STAR WARS prequels have themes that strongly parallel what was going on in the world at the time of their release. Unfortunately I think CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK has the exact wrong politics for our time. The premise is that in dire times, you don’t send good to fight evil, you send “a different type of evil.” Yeah, tell that to Rambo III, helping out the mujahadeen. If you think about our old buddy Osama bin Laden, our old buddy Saddam Hussein, the tremendous success of the butt pyramids in Abu Ghraib, etc., it is pretty clear that our country has worn out the tired notion of “it takes evil to fight evil.”

It’s still cool in movies though so have at it Riddick. Next time let’s see you earn that evil label though. Let’s have a little more HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER and a little less XXX.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 17th, 2004 at 4:56 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “The Chronicles of Riddick”

  1. Pitch Black sucked balls really. I hired it and watched it for 5 minutes and thought B-grade too dark and turned it off when it got real stupid as they flew into the atmosphere and the window broke with the superheat and they were alive and unphased by it.

    Then I hired it again and just plain fell asleep during the first monster attack at how boring it all was.

    Then I watched Riddick and you are right – shoulda been R, shoulda had better writing, but fuck me, is this guy beautifully cocky and heroic. Man, the scene where he walks in on all the Necromongers early on reminded me of Dune finale, and real serious badass motherfucker. Enough solid scenes to make this a fucking surprise slammer. Man I hired it four or five times before I decided I really oughta take the time to burn it.

    Then I hired Pitch Black again and watched the whole thing. I liked the charismatic forgettable mullah too. Movie actually wasn’t that bad in the end. Just gotta watch the whole thing to appreciate it’s basically a watchable film when you got no energy to get up and put something good on.

    Fuck the fans of Pitch Black marketing some jizz-stream sci-fi gem. For me very useful indication of a tool though. Especially combined with detractors of Riddick. Bonus bucks there cos you know you got a real arthouse lily on your hands. I’ve done some sampling and see straight line correlation between this beliefs and true dorkism. If you compare a cross between Depp and a goddam sexual tyrannosaurus like myself vs the exact opposite then you got someone who plays with themselves during Pitch Black but bags out Riddick as uncouth.

  2. It’s funny that you mention the rolling head thing, because one of the shots added for the extended “unrated” cut is very specifically that of a decapitated rolling head.

    Your complaints have been heard.

  3. Okay, so I’m definitely one of those folks that really enjoyed the hell out of this movie, so much so that I intend to go to the midnight IMAX screening of the new Riddick film, RIDDICK. I want it to be cool, but I want it to be more CHRONICLES OF CHRONICLES than CHRONICLES OF PITCH.

    Gotta feelin’ it’s gonna be PITCH, though.

  4. When I watched the trailer I really liked the first couple of minutes… small-scale sci-fi action movie, Riddick vs bounty hunters. Seems cool. Then a bunch of cg space monsters appear. Oh, okay, I guess it’s PITCH BLACK 2 :-(

  5. I saw it yesterday and enjoyed it a lot. I think the trailers are slightly misleading as it’s a film of three different acts. Act One is 30-40 minutes of Riddick dragging himself back from the brink of death(symbolism?) and learning to survive and thrive a bit of this hostile world. It’s got some narration and Riddick talking to the dog-thing he adopts, but it’s largely silent and kinda like Sci Fi CASTAWAY. Act Two is when the Bounty Hunter Mercs show up, and it becomes about Riddick messing with them, being the boogeyman and not actually being seen by the audience all that much. Lots of nice spooky moments and tense scenes of the mercs being all paranoid and squabbling about what to do(there’s two different teams). Act Three is when the PITCH BLACK style shenanigans with the monsters happens with only the bare minimum of set up, so it’s got a slightly unusual structure and a deliberate pace that divides it’s time almost equally between these three different stages. They definitely re-establish his edge though with how he treats the mercs at first, and he even says something to Katee Sackhoff’s character that’s half threat of rape/half cocky pickup line(it’s hard to explain). Vern might have a point about the lines though. The film’s final line is a bit of a weird one to go out on.
    It would have also been nice to have more Karl Urban in it than we got.

  6. I agree with Stu, I liked this too. Kinda petered out at the end, but otherwise a good movie that reminds me of that old argument I made where Twohy was quite possibly a contemporary John Carpenter to a degree. Nicely paced, bravado storytelling, a pseudo-western, nicely paced, anti-hero, etc.

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