Pitch Black was a breath of fresh air in the stale horror-sci-fi genre when it was released back in 2000. It was a modest success given its relatively small budget and found its main audience on DVD. More importantly it was one of the films that launched Vin Diesel’s career. It was no surprise that a sequel followed in 2004, The Chronicles of Riddick; what was a surprise was just how different that film was to the first.
Whereas Pitch Black was a relatively small-scale story of spacecraft crash survivors marooned on a planet with some nasty beasties who lurk in the dark (both aliens and Diesel’s convict Riddick); Chronicles was Star Wars meets The Lord of The Rings. The budget was bloated and so was the mythology. The horror element was removed, a lot more CGI and Judi Dench were added and the finished product seemed almost unrelated. If the two films were siblings, it was less Chris and Liam and more Gary Oldman and Mo from EastEnders (genuinely, Google it!). Chronicles was panned by critics and fans alike and so the franchise was marooned too.
However, with Diesel’s famous Fast & Furious franchise revival, it wasn’t long before work on a new Riddick feature began. Diesel reunites with Pitch Black and Chronicles director David Twohy for another round of Furyan fun and brings the trilogy back to its low-budget, horror roots.
This time around, Richard B. Riddick finds himself betrayed and left for dead on a desolate planet where the local fauna are less than welcoming. He survives jacked-up vultures, hyenas on steroids and some particularly nasty scorpion-crocodiles. When it looks like the situation is about to go tits-up, Riddick uses himself as bait and lays a trap for a band of bounty hunters (or mercs); his sights set on their ship.
In his defence, writer and director Twohy has listened to the detractors of Chronicles: the story and setting is smaller, and the horror element is back. Riddick has also reverted back to much more of an anti-hero who kills bounty hunters with less hesitation than choosing between tea or coffee. However, by learning from his mistakes and trying to recreate the magic of the original, Twohy has done just that: recreated the original. Unfortunately, nothing new is brought to the table and everything from the nasty beasties to Riddick’s predatory stalking all seem to have been taken from Pitch Black. An extremely clunky script helps not one iota.
It is sometimes forgotten, but Pitch Black was never a solo Diesel outing; its centre piece was a group of survivors played by an ensemble cast. The truth is, Riddick as the only protagonist is not that compelling as it is hard to empathise with a convicted murder and brutal killer. And, let’s face it, Vin isn’t known for his great depth when it comes to acting (as wooden as ever). The introduction of the group of mercenaries is a welcome relief and certainly is more entertaining; but can you root for savages and rapists? The only mercs rating anywhere on the personality-scale are played by Matt Nable, Jordi Mollá and Battlestar Galactica‘s Katee Sackhoff. But, it’s impossible to care if any of them are offed.
Whereas Pitch Black embraced its low budget and allowed for some creative film making, Riddick tries to do too much with it. The result is some questionable CGI creatures and set pieces, and some action scenes that actually aren’t that exciting.
Overall it’s a disappointing state of affairs. Given its gestation period and the potential of Pitch Black, Riddick should have been so much more. Unfortunately, its differentiation from Chronicles has come at a price: its now a sub-par version of the first film, but without the characters, originality and mystery of the Riddick character. Poor Vin, it’s less Fast & Furious, more like Slow & Subdued.