Actionscifi's Blog

A third Pitch Black film? Lord help us.

As the young people would say, ZOMG.

Universal is actually ponying up cash to make a third instalment of the Pitch Black/Chronicles of Riddick series, which requires me to ask (and answer) a few questions, dear reader:

  • Who liked Pitch Black? You and me.
  • Who paid to see Chronicles of Riddick and thought it was trash? You and me (check my review here).
  • Why on earth would they be making a third instalment of this series after the train wreck that was Chronicles of Riddick? To make bootloads of cash.
  • Who does Universal think is going to hand over this cash? You and me.

Which naturally leads to one more question: will we actually be stupid enough?

OK, I’ll bite.  The screenplay for the third instalment has been written by David Twohy, who directed both of the earlier films and will also be in the chair for this one.   Twohy was the third credit as a co-writer of Pitch Black, behind the movie’s creators, Jim and Ken Wheat.  Twohy then cut the Wheat boys loose and went it alone as writer of Chronicles of Riddick, and we all know how that ended up.

So, I’d probably have greater faith that the third instalment might successfully “hew closer in tone to the cult hit Pitch Black” – as insiders are saying – if Twohy had got the Wheat boys back on board.

Still, Twohy got some good kudos for writing (and directing) the 2009 horror flick A Perfect Getaway so maybe he’s on the improve.  And, like a battered wife, it’s just possible that I’ll end up rolling up to the cineplex having fallen for Twohy’s promise that Chronicles of Riddick will never happen again.  That this movie will be just like Pitch Black. Only different. And better.

That’s as long as I don’t think too hard about the fact that this is a Vin Diesel sequel.  Our favourite bald action hero will be making this film, his second  xXx movie and his third Fast and Furious* film back-to-back-to-back.  With that kind of track record, he’s in danger of becoming the new Steve Guttenberg.

* It will be the fifth film in the Fast and Furious series, but Diesel sat out the second and third instalments.

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Classic Movie Review – The Chronicles of Riddick

You could be forgiven for not knowing that this film is the sequel to the 2000 cult (honestly, I think I’m just euphemising for “little watched”) sci-fi flick Pitch Black. The two things that Pitch Black had going for it were a fun Aliens-inspired plot and Vin Diesel at the height of his powers: when Diesel flexes his muscles and mostly refrains from speaking, he’s fantastic. When he tries to adopt a personality (see, for example, xXx) he’s woeful.

So, the thinking obviously went: revive Riddick, throw a lot more money at this one, get a decent backup cast (Judy Dench, Thandie Newton, Colm Feore) and we’ll have a sure fire hit. The main problem with this theory is that the joy of Pitch Black was watching the slow development of Riddick: at the beginning he was the dangerous and mysterious convict before a crash landing forced him and the crew to rely upon each other to defeat the aliens. We were never really sure if he was good or bad (OK, so we had our suspicions, but work with me here) and it was only at the end that the warm and fuzzy Riddick came out to play.

This time around we know from the beginning that Riddick has a heart of gold, and where’s the fun in that? Compare the identical scenes in the two films where Riddick is chained up inside a space ship. In Pitch Black it is near the beginning and his brooding face, his muscular body, the dark goggles, the mystery as to who he is, all combine to have us believing that any minute now he’s going to break out and do something really nasty to some poor, cowering crew member. Maybe the death will even be slow and painful. This time around we know our man won’t harm a fly unless he absolutely, positively has to (having already let some bounty hunters off lightly at the beginning of the film) and so, after a while, Riddick actually tells us that he doesn’t think he’ll bust out of his chains right now because it’s not part of his plan: not exactly edge-of-your-seat stuff.

For the most part, the best characters in this film are the women. Alexa Davalos, upon entering proceedings halfway through as the grown-up version of the little girl who survived Pitch Black, almost steals the limelight away from Vin, with some fairly impressive spinning back-kicking and quality trash-talking: not bad for a former model with a resume briefer than the outfits she dons. Seeing Judi Dench in this film, on the other hand, is a little like seeing your mother in a nightclub. Mum! What the hell are you doing here? She is very wise, however. We know this because she sounds like the Queen of England, and she brought Thandie Newton with her which is a very wise move. Thandie would not look out of place in any nightclub and neither does she look out of place playing Dame Vaako, the resident Sexy Evil Chick, with a healthy streak of Lady Macbeth.

I must say that I enjoyed Twohy’s decision to get a little Shakespearean on our resident bad guys, the Necromancers, and develop at least a smidgeon of depth. Yes, the word “Shakespearean” may be a little OTT but at least Twohy – who also wrote the script – does his best to inject some personality into the dark side. Films like Independence Day would certainly have benefited from the same approach. These Necromancers are at first glance a homogenous mass of Gladiator-looking types, obliterating life one planet after another and giving those who surrender the option to have their brains re-worked so that they’ll follow the Necro faith, or to have their souls ripped out of their bodies. Very Ghost. Before long the Necros are succumbing to the plotting of Dame Vaako, who is constantly telling her man, Vaako (Carl Urban), that the boss is overlooking him for promotion. Meanwhile the mental makeovers they give their underlings don’t seem to be ensuring that everyone toes the company line and at least one of the leaders does some “thinking outside the box” as they say.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of this film is the lack of hand-to-hand combat action. Diesel has been around long enough not to have to resort to cut-and-move tactics from the cameras, and yet this is what we get: very few properly choreographed fighting scenes. Instead we have the tell-tale close ups of fists connecting with faces and lots of rapidly-moving cameras obscuring what’s actually happening. For a $100 million action flick starring the genre’s then pre-eminent man (I know, slim pickings back then) this is simply unacceptable.

All-in-all, this is a middling action sci-fi work-out but it certainly didn’t bore me. Rather the cinema seat engulfed me lovingly and we were given what we demand as an absolute minimum: enough colour and oomph to keep us contented, if not quite ecstatic.

Highlight: Riddick’s narrow escape from a crash-landing space craft. That’s where all the money went.

Lowlight: Twohy’s attempt to flip the premise of Pitch Black on its head in a scene where it’s deadly to be out during the day, instead of the night. The sun is so hot that you’ll spontaneously combust if it touches you, but you’re safe in the shade of a rock? Please. This is not Buffy.

Stereotype Watch: The guards running the prison we visit at one point in the film are all Russian, so you can pretty much guess the rest: they are bad, they are corrupt, they are very dirty and they drink a lot of wodka. By contrast, the female characters are strong, but they mostly know to stay back and watch when the boys have to settle the score.

Verdict: 52/100

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