Riddick-ulous space epic
Diesel space series falls short of its LOTR promise
Posted: September 4, 2013
Vin Diesel is back after almost a decade in 'Riddick,' the second of a planned trilogy of space operas.
"Back in the day," as actor Vin Diesel likes to say in his revenge and car-chasing films, Diesel spoke to The Prague Post. He was in town to promote to film the 2002 spy action flick xXx, which was mainly filmed here, and waxed philosophically about his Riddick character in the 2000 film Pitch Black. He compared the hell-planet prison escape film to the novel The Hobbit, and said that a subsequent trilogy of films based around the escaped convict named Riddick would be like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, only in outer space, with him as a sort of anti-Frodo. A very anti-Frodo.
The follow up to Pitch Black, and the first of this supposed trilogy, was Chronicles of Riddick, which came out in 2004. It's a bombastic over-the-top space opera with all kinds references to some sort of Underverse where people were neither dead nor alive. If you somehow missed the film, Wikipedia can get you to speed. It involves Necromongers, some planet called Furya and some other planet called Crematoria. There's lots of black leather and goth makeup, and sexually ambiguous people doing sexually ambiguous things. Riddick, played of course by Diesel, winds up being worshipped like a god. He - Diesel, not God - was also the co-producer of the film.
Critics hated it, but over the years it has gotten a cult following. Diesel has spent much of the intervening time trying to get the second section of the trilogy made. His efforts paid off, if you will, in Riddick. Theoretically, this should be comparable to The Two Towers, but let's not even go there.
The worst sin of Riddick- and there are many - is that the CGI is not convincing. For most of the film the audience is painfully aware that the set is a few plastic rocks against a computer generated background and sky. This keeps the viewer at a bit of a distance. It is hard to get invested in characters that you know are standing in a blank green set, no matter how hard you try to convince yourself that the desert planet filled with evil dogs and giant lizard-scorpions is real. The jerky movements of these creatures also remind one that they are not actually there. One zebra-dog-puppy, however, does manage to evoke a bit of emotion in a Warner Bros cartoonish way.
Directed by David Twohy
Starring Vin Diesel, Jordi Mollà, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista
This brings us to the second sin. The previous film left the fans with a set of expectations - that the baroque opera with its complex mythology would continue on Furya. The excess of Chronicles is for some reason exchanged for the minimalist charms of a generic post-apocalyptic desert adventure where people make illogical plans only to be constantly hoisted by their own petards. A few flashbacks, including one with completely gratuitous full-frontal nudity, remind the viewers of the grand style and Machiavellian plotting that had been established.
Riddick finds himself alone on a nameless planet and tries to save himself by sending an interplanetary signal to bounty hunters who will make money by capturing him. He is still an escaped convict. What do these bounty hunters do once they arrive? Disable their own ships so they too cannot escape the inhospitable planet. Who in the audience cannot predict that Riddick will wind up with the crucial circuit boards, and the bounty hunters will have to bargain for his help? If you could not predict this, I congratulate you on finally having seen your first B-film. May it not be your last.
There are some things to praise in the film, and they are mostly the cast who is not Vin Diesel. Spanish actor Jordi Mollà, who was in Blow and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, scores as a bounty hunter who is clearly out of his depth. On the side of the rival bounty hunters (of course, it's a small universe) Katee Sackhoff, who basically reprises her tough space pilot Starbuck from the TV series Battlestar Galactica, creates a solid character of a tough female brawler. Here she is more clearly defined as a lesbian - she points it out several times - but when she punches someone in the face that person clearly deserves it. Oddly, she serves as the films moral compass - since nobody else seems to have any morals at all. The filmmakers can't resist the obligatory topless bathing scene while she is being stalked, one of many clichés to riddle the script. Her character's name is Dahl, but it sound like everyone is calling her "doll" throughout the film.
Diesel narrates the film with lines about having a very bad day right after vultures try eat his all-but-lifeless body. These lines go for a dry film noir flavor but miss more than they hit. What grows increasingly annoying is his actual spoken dialogue where he tells people that in five minutes X, Y and Z will happen, then after a few little scenes, X, Y and Z does happen. Not just once, but constantly. It's like he peeked ahead in a script that the other actors didn't bother to read.
Being the middle of a trilogy, it is no surprise that the film does set up another sequel. Whether that film puts the series back on track is an open question. It would be hard to make a film that is worse, though.
Riddick functions only as an exercise in video-game style gore -there are some truly gruesome scenes -and mindless revenge killing. The only warm spots are a few scenes with a CGI-generated monster dog puppy. After that, the film has no heart and no soul. It is as barren a wasteland as the nameless CGI planet it takes place on.
Raymond Johnston can be reached at
Tags: Riddick, Vin Diesel, space, Lord of the Rings, LOTR.