Friday, September 27, 2013

Movie Review - Riddick


         One of my favorite sci-fi action movies growing up was Pitch Black, a low-budget flick about a group of interstellar passengers who crash land on an alien planet populated by horrific nocturnal creatures, which is bad enough until they discover an abandoned mining outpost and learn that the planet is about to undergo a total eclipse that will last weeks, trapping them in the dark with the monsters. It's a simple plot, but well executed, and one of the most interesting characters is Riddick, played by Vin Diesel (an unknown at the time), an escaped convict who can see in the dark and is the stranded crew's only hope of survival. It's dark, scary, violent, and fast-paced, all the things I love in SF and horror. Unfortunately, David Twohy, the writer/director best known for The Fugitive starring Harrison Ford, made a slapdash mess of a sequel that had little connection to the first film and was tonally just off, the less-than-stellar Chronicles of Riddick. In that movie, the antihero from the first gets wrapped up in an interstellar crusade being fought by a group of space goths called (I shit you not) the Necromongers. Hmmm. Sounds like a bad metal band. Though there's plenty of special effects and over-the-top action sequences, Chronicles totally destroys everything that was enjoyable about the first movie. It definitely takes some risks, but fails miserably.
       When I saw that Twohy and crew had somehow managed to make a third Riddick film, my first thought was -- WHY??? Is this franchise even relevant anymore? However, I withheld my judgement, and upon hearing it was much more like Pitch Black than the awful sequel, I decided to give it a chance. At the very least, it would be a fun action movie with aliens, which gets it at least three stars in my book. I'm happy to say that Riddick does indeed make up for the travesty that was Chronicles. I really enjoyed this movie, and yes, there are lots of problems with it, yes, it is formulaic, yes, there are cheesy one-liners, BUT, that being said, it's fun. The movie takes its time to build setting and character, uses its special effects wisely, and sticks to a simple, straightforward plot that it pulls off quite successfully. The opening fifteen to twenty minutes show Riddick alone on a desert planet as he struggles to survive its deadly predators and hostile environment. That on its own won me over and was far more enjoyable than anything in the second film. The scenery is beautiful and alien and recalls elements of Pitch Black while remaining entirely its own setting. I also enjoyed the characters, particular Santana, who is a major prick throughout up until -- well, I won't give that part away, but suffice it to say, he gets his comeuppance. On the negative side, the writers really dropped the ball with the only female character (well I should say only living female character) of Dahl, played by Katie Sackhoff, who is an interesting, tough heroine at first but quickly degenerates into pointless eye-candy. I also thought their handling of her homosexuality was sloppy and underdeveloped. The potential for a great character was definitely there, but I guess it's too much to ask for a Riddick movie to be both exciting and intelligent.
       In conclusion, if you go into this movie expecting it to revolutionize the SF genre, you will be terribly disappointed. BUT, if you go into it with an open mind, embrace the cheesiness, and have a sense of humor, you'll have a good time. I certainly did.

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