It was 2002 when Pitch Black (2000) and I first met. A greasy haired Blockbuster clerk suggested it to me as I was renting Predator for like the gazillionth time. Even though that was THIRTEEN FREAKING YEARS AGO, I still vividly remember a sweaty tank topped Vin Diesel mean-mugging and smartassing his way into my heart like it was yesterday.
It wasn’t a perfect movie. But then again what scifi/action/horror movie is? Aliens and Terminator 2 is probably the closest I’ll ever be to being in love with movies, but hot damn Pitch Black was a delicious fling. The haunting, disorienting camera work, and Riddick’s cool and one-step-ahead anti-hero persona made love to me on many a lonely evening, despite its B movie level CGI graphics and C movie score. It was like dating a super model who dressed just a little too tacky to introduce her to your momma.
When Chronicles of Riddick (2004) came out there was hope that I might encounter the rare sequel that outdoes its predecessor. Most of Pitch Black’s shortcomings came from lack of money (it was shot on only a 23 million dollar budget), and I thought, ‘maybe with enough money this doll can dress herself up fancy enough to be presentable to momma. Momma hates the peasant women. Momma sure does take good care of me. No one will ever be as good to me as momma. This movie better not ever think I will love it as much as Momm—ahem. Excuse me. Maybe that’s enough about momma for now, James.
But yeah, apparently money can’t buy everything, because Chronicles was even less presentable. And sadly, despite my highest hopes, Riddick, Directed by David Dwohy, is so trashy that I gave it a fake number when it invited me over for ‘coffee’ later.
So how does the same director (Dwohy was the director of Pitch Black, Chronicles, and Riddick) get more money to take the same premise with the same actor, and make progressively bigger loads of crap without any notable changes in dietary habits? Well, my dear screenwriters, the answer is simple: Writing.
Ken and Jim Wheat were both largely responsible for the screenplay in Pitch, and their non-involvement seems to be the demise of the latter two installments.
In Pitch Black, there was a rhyme and a logical reason for all the cool things Riddick said and did, the bad guy was able to make the good guys look like selfish, stupid pricks, and the good guys struggled to stay perched atop their moral high ground as much as they struggled with the monsters they were surrounded by. These were the things that made Pitch Black a cult classic. The actual action itself was minimal. Much more attention was paid to Riddick outsmarting and manipulating the characters around him than his ability to beat them up. There was also a subject matter that the Wheat’s were clearly trying to touch on that extended beyond Riddick being a hulky Wizenheimer, they wanted to test their characters and viewers to see just how far they’d stick their neck out to save others. It dedicated just as much time to playing with its characters minds as it did with cool sci-fi gadgets.
In Riddick the subject matter is simply "let’s see how many different ways Riddick can kill stuff," devoting almost no screen time to character development and way too much time to character’s 'pew-pewing' at each other with their toy guns.
Starring in Riddick is obviously Vin Diesel, along with some guy who looks like Jeremy Renner’s uncle (Matt Nable), Holy crap its Starbuck! (Katee Sackhoff), and holy crap it’s the bad guy in Blow (Jordy Mollia). I would rip this group to shreds, but frankly I don’t think they were given much to work with and the fact that Mollia (obviously, Blow) and Sackhoff (maybe less obvious to non-nerds, Battlestar Galactica) absolutely killed it in the only other roles I’ve ever seen them play, only solidifies that assumption.
But the screenplay isn’t Riddick’s only shortcoming. Almost as notably missing as an intelligently crafted plot are the intelligently designed sets and cinematography.
With CGI, all the emphasis is taken away from all the cool things you can do with a camera to create a mood or atmosphere that enhances the film. The challenge of CGI is not getting the best shot for the scene, It’s to show off all the real looking sci-fi stuff you’ve created.
In Pitch there were a ton of shots using intense colors, close up angles, and fuzzy focus to mystify and haunt its audience.
In Riddick, the director only seems concerned with getting as much real looking desolate landscapes and sci-fi gadgets as he can on the screen at one time. The characters just look like they’re walking around and fighting on a painting; sort of cool to look at, but ultimately boring because you sacrifice the camera’s ability to create style and suspense.
There are a lot of people who will enjoy this movie. Heck, there are a lot of people who enjoy WWE wrestling, and I’d imagine that those fans will enjoy this flick for a lot of the same reasons. A story line that only exists to allow the good to say and do "cool stuff," and invent over-the-top ways to kill the over-the-top stupid bad guys. But, if you’re reading movie reviews on this website, chances are you are not among this crowd. So if for some reason you are unable to keep away from this little filly, I strongly suggest you don’t allow it become anything serious, because momma definitely wouldn’t approve. And momma must always approve.