Shaggy Space-Dog, by Sarah Brinks
Initially I thought reviewing Riddick was going to be an exorcise in futility, then I saw the film and realized that maybe it wasn’t. As far as the film itself is concerned, if you have seen either Pitch Black or Chronicles of Riddick you know if Riddick is for you. I unapologetically like the first two installments in the ‘Riddick trilogy’ in an if-it’s-on-cable-I’m-not-
The film starts with Riddick alone and injured on a desert planet. Riddick must battle an array of computer generated monsters before finally making it to a more habitable part of the planet. We learn the Riddick was betrayed by Vaako and the Necromongers in his search for his home planet of Furya and left for dead on this planet. Riddick befriends a CG space dog and together they find their way to an abandoned bounty hunter station. A storm is coming and Riddick realizes that with the rain comes a horde of… you guessed it, CG monsters. So Riddick activates an emergency beacon and two groups of “mercs” come to hunt Riddick. Riddick of course starts picking them off one by one with the help of his space dog.
The film is most similar to Pitch Black so if you preferred that film to Chronicles of Riddick you will probably like Riddick. Riddick is its best when the mercs arrive and Riddick becomes like a bogeyman stalking them in the night. We want to see him out smart and out bad-guy the bad guys. Riddick has proved again and again that looks out for himself but he will not attack the young, old, or helpless. He won’t go out of his way to save anyone else but if you are of use to him or can keep up with him he will get you where you need to be. When the film focuses on those traits it is the most interesting. What the writers of the Riddick films seem to think is most interesting is Riddick fighting monsters.
One element of the film that I found fascinating is that with the exception of Vin Diesel and Katee Sackhoff everyone else in the film looks like a discount version of a famous celebrity. Jordi Mollà as Santana is like a sales rack version of Javier Bardem. Dave Bautista who plays Diaz is like a discount version of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Bokeem Woodbine, Moss, is like a more buff version of Forest Whitaker. The list goes on. It was like they had a dream cast list and they ended up with all they actors on that lists’ body doubles. Karl Urban shows up for one scene, when he clearly had a day off shooting for Star Trek Into Darkness and he just had them slap on the wig and eye makeup and he said his page and half of dialogue before going back to his real job. Diesel does what he always does. He looks super tough as he gravely voice’s his way through the film. I like Diesel as an action star, he moves very well and actually interacts with the CG elements of the film in a believable way. It can’t be easy pretending to fight with a tennis ball on a stick and make it look convincing. I’ve always been a Katee Sackhoff fan so anytime she shows up I am happy. She basically plays Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica in Riddick but that is what the role called for.
One of the biggest issues that I had with the film is all the CGI. The ‘Riddick trilogy’ has always been very dependent on CGI but the whole first act of Riddick is nothing but Riddick interacting with CG creatures. Seeing Riddick be tough and learn to survive in his new environment is interesting but could been cut down to fifteen minutes and gotten right into the action of Riddick outsmarting the mercs and trying to get off-world. Despite how good CG has gotten over the years they still can’t quite get the physics to work properly so everything looks too light. Another frustrating element was that Riddick befriends and trains a space dog from the time it was a puppy then **minor spoiler** the space dog is eventually killed. We are forced to watch the space dog slowly die in front of Riddick’s eyes. I was SO mad that they made me care about the CG animal then they made me watch it die. It felt really purposefully manipulative of the film-makers. I’m a big dog person, so that probably played into my emotional attachment to the creature but they really go out of there way to make you like the dog. The other side of the argument here is that the CG created environment is very well integrated with the practical sets. Unlike The Green Lantern, for example, it doesn’t feel like the actors are standing on a platform with CG elements placed around them. With the exception of some scale/distance problems the world looks real, dangerous, and “spacey”.
Like I said in the beginning if you have seen any of the Riddick films you already know if you will like Riddick. It is a fun action movie with a recognizable hero and some good action scenes. I would argue that it is the weakest of the trilogy just because the first act is so CG driven and thus uninteresting. However, when it hits its stride it is a lot of fun. So if bad-asses being bad-asses in space is a genre of film you enjoy you should check out Riddick. Keep in mind it is almost two and a half hours long so it is a time commitment.