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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
In early 2000, USA Films (a production company which would later become Focus Features, an offshoot of NBC/Universal) released the low-budget action/horror title Pitch Black quietly into theaters, where it grossed a respectable 39 million dollars over the course of its run and found a much larger audience on home video. Featuring a long-time genre writer/director in David Twohy (Below, A Perfect Getaway) and a rising, charismatic star in Vin Diesel (who would catch fire with 2001’s The Fast and the Furious), Pitch Black wasn’t expected to spawn a franchise or maybe even be all that well remembered, but that’s exactly what happened. The idea of a trilogy of films for lead character Riddick wasn’t out of the question, but the second film, 2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick, killed the thought of that for nearly a decade. On September 6th of this year, however, we will finally get Riddick, the much anticipated third film in the series and first in nine years.
Pitch Black was an effective action/horror title despite its low budget (23 million) and unknown lead actor, Diesel. Ostensibly an Aliens-derived space catastrophe film, Pitch Black sets up deep-space pilot Fry (Radha Mitchell) and seemingly straight-laced bounty hunter Johns (Cole Hauser) as its leads, but quietly subverts this once the enigmatic Riddick is introduced. Riddick spends the film taunting the increasingly addled Johns, and serving as a kind of cruel counter-balance to Fry’s more by-the-books nature (and testing her psychologically at points in the film as well). Though the computer effects are dated and the film is derivative of several science fiction classics, Pitch Black did serve as an interesting gem in the genre. It is clear that, somewhere along the line of production, someone saw potential in a film series centered around Riddick, one of the coolest protagonists to come along in some time. Whether that was a film exec, writer/director Twohy, or Diesel himself isn’t quite clear. Though the film met with mixed reviews from critics and was not an outstanding hit, Riddick himself proved quite popular with audiences, and DVD sales proved strong. A sequel was green-lit, and Riddick seemed destined to become the next big thing.
I have never seen The Chronicles of Riddick, aka Pitch Black 2, in its theatrically released entirety. I have caught a good majority of it on cable television (several times, actually), where it aired for a bit on either USA Network or TNT (I can’t recall which). But I have never seen it in its unedited theatrical and/or home video release. This despite absolutely enjoying the heck out of the first film! The Chronicles of Riddick is a mess of a movie. Pretty much whatever the first one did right, the sequel failed to replicate. The film places Riddick in a long line of generic “chosen one” movie characters, giving it a very Matrix-feeling (not that The Matrix was the first to do this…not by a long shot) in a time when The Matrix franchise suffered its highest level of backlash. The film was also largely panned by critics, garnering an awful 29% on Rotten Tomatoes. Its theatrical release, in a very busy June 2004 against megahits like Shrek 2 and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, was not successful, grossing about 57 million dollars against a 115 million dollar budget. The Chronicles of Riddick, however, became a success on DVD, back in the days when people actually bought movies. The overall poor reception of the film coupled with Diesel’s waning star (he wouldn’t appear in a hit movie until 2009’s Fast and Furious series reboot/relaunch) led to no more Riddick films for quite some time.
After the global success of the last three Fast and Furious movies (including this year’s Fast 6, one of the highest grossing movies of the summer), it makes sense that Twohy and Diesel would try again with such a cool character. Thus, 2013’s upcoming Riddick, an apt title for a reboot/relaunch of the franchise. Produced by Universal for a light 38 million, Riddick continues to the story of escaped-convict/would-be chosen one Richard B. Riddick, and appropriately enough looks a heck of a lot more like Pitch Black than Chronicles of Riddick, if trailers and tv spots are accurate. While the nonsense about Furya and the Necromongers still looks to be some part of the franchise, the film is once again a rated-R action/horror science fiction piece, which pleases me greatly. After years of trying to get Riddick off the ground (rumors of a third film began in 2006 and an early version of the script made its rounds on the internet back in 2010), the film finally releases across theaters on September 6th, including IMAX theaters. I’m hoping for unilateral success, though part of me feels like this will end up like last year’s Dredd, a highly-touted and violent action extravaganza that flopped in theaters. Whatever the case, I’m glad Riddick is back, and I’ll gladly pay to see his latest adventure in theaters as well.