Flashback. It’s 2000, the internet is still shiny enough for AOL to be a ISP option and not an allergic reaction, MP3 is what you get when you throw phone keys and scrabble tiles together into the same bag, and a movie called Pitch Black has just hit theaters. And it’s, you know, a pretty okay movie. I didn’t see it in the theaters and I don’t know anybody who did, but I did eventually see…half of it.
So “okay” I mean not actively broken. When I can’t sit through or read through all of whatever it is, that’s usually a bad sign. By combining what I remember of it with what I read on IMDB and Wikipedia, I know I probably would have been disappointed because I got attached to the kick ass girl captain, and…well…she didn’t make it.
But one thing I remember was Vin Diesel. Not because he did a good job in Pitch Black—though he did—but because after that movie he was everywhere. The Fast and the Furious came out the next year and you could not walk into anything resembling a theater without seeing his face and hearing his deep, rich voice come over the speakers. Then he did xXx, and while that’s the laziest title I’ve seen in a while apparently it was a rousing box office success.
Anyway, Hollywood never being one to miss a chance to ruin a pretty good thing, they eventually decided to make The Chronicles of Riddick. Which I had to watch recently.
We’re doing the director’s cut, not the theatrical version. First, because this is the version I have, and second, because of something very special during the opening sequence. Specifically? When the director comes onscreen to apologize for what you’re about to see.
Okay, actually he’s apologizing for the shit editing job they had to do to get the director’s cut onto the DVD. Something I never noticed, to be honest. But think about it. He noticed something. It was big enough to make a special recording to apologize for it. And he didn’t take time to go back and fix it. This is a bad sign. Because he’s also the writer. There is a process writers go through called “editing”, which is basically where you read through a text until your ears start to bleed, then change the problems that jump out at you, and then start reading through it again. Eventually you stop because you run out of time and have to put the damn thing in print, but you never really stop. This guy not only wrote and directed the movie, but he was allowed to go back and undo what the editors did to it. And he did a job so shitty he felt the need to apologize for it. Now, I don’t know anything about making movies, so maybe I’m wrong, but isn’t making sure the film lines up right kind of like making sure you don’t have extra commas lying around? And THIS is the guy who wrote the script? Somebody who just couldn’t be arsed to go back and fix a mistake, but who COULD make a condescending “We’re sorry for the shit job…but oooh, look, shiny new stuff!!!” director’s note at the beginning?
Kids, the only way this dude went back through the script to fix it is if the actors and producers held him at gunpoint. Oh, wait…Vin Desel is one of the producers.
…guys, we are totally boned.
So our opening sequence is an explanation of the plot that he couldn’t fit into, you know, the actual movie.
That’s better. The Necromongers are destroying the universe. Necromongers. It sounds like something you’d find written on H.P. Lovecraft’s toilet paper. Anyway, they’re destroying the universe, and while you’d normally have good fight evil, when evil is just so evil as this evil you have to get another kind of evil to fight…wait a sec, is that voice over Judi Dench?
Judy, why are you doing shitty sci-fi voice overs? You’re an actress. A real, respectable one, you know? You do Shakespere. You’re M in the Bond Movies. You were Catherine De Bough in Pride and Prejudice, and you were completely terrifying. You were the Queen of England twice. Did you just not read the script before you signed on? I mean, thank god you don’t have an actual on screen appearance in thi—
You’re the Air Elemental. Oh for fuck’s sake. I give up.
So the Necromongers are destroying the universe and evil must be fought with evil. Makes no sense, but there you go. Moving on to dred-locked man running through ice. People try to catch him. He kills them, has bad-ass dialogue with their leader, pitches leader onto his ass in the ice and rides off in the ship. Meet Riddick, Vin Diesel’s alter ego, and I hope to god he never came within six feet of the script until it was time for actual filming, but I won’t hold my breath. In the process of ship ‘jacking, Riddick learns there’s a million
dollar credit bounty on his head. There’s only one person who’d know
where he is…the surviving characters from the previous movie! Mostly the Imam,
a black dude played by Keith Davids, but also Jack, the girl who survived.
Jack was interesting in Pitch Black. You spend half the movie thinking she’s a he, until Vin Diesel smells her menstrual cycle. (…It happens.) and realizes she’s a she instead. And you kind of like her. Also? She’s twelve.
Having the murderous sociopath psycho wonder about whether or not he’ll get to see the twelve-year-old girl he rescued? NOT A GOOD PLAN.
That said, after Hot Captain Chick died in Pitch Black, Jack was the only character I gave a fuck about (Or would have if I’d finished it) so having a likable character I can relate to would probably be a good thing. Moving on.
So Riddick lands on the Planet of the Arabs—No offence intended to people of Arabic descent, but the city is named “new Mecca” and everybody is wearing bathrobes and towels in imitation of traditional Middle Eastern dress…because planets only come in one flavor at a time, I guess—and meets with Imam, and Imam’s family. Riddick asks where Jack went. Imam says she went looking for you (and presumably adds “Jackass” when no one is listening) Riddick asks why he’s being hunted, Imam introduces the people looking for him and it’s three hooded men no one will ever know ANYTHING ABOUT EVER, and Judi Dench, who is playing an Elemental…and we can stop right there.
This is introducing fantasy elements into something that has, up till now, been 100% sci fi. It’s called interstice. I like interstice. I like it a lot. Firefly? Rocks my socks. There Will Be Dragons? Awesome, as well as a little Oh John Ringo NO! but that’s mostly in the latter books. Sci-fi is about science fiction. About what we can see and hear and taste and touch and all that jazz, and about where we might realistically take it. Fantasy, on the other hand, is about…well, whatever we want it to be about. Even Star Wars is more fantasy than sci-fi (Original trilogy only.) I’d also say that Fantasy is about wonder. It’s about things we don’t really understand, that make us feel rather small. Riding dragons, calling storms, that kind of thing. And if you want to combine the two and do a good job? You have to be able to juggle both the realism that sci-fi requires and the “Fuck if we know” wonder Fantasy needs. And if you want to blend the two? Do it from the beginning.
Pitch Black was pure sci-fi all the way. A little over done, a little boring, nothing we hadn’t seen before but pretty good if nothing else was on TV. Chronicles of Riddick introduces, in this order, the concept of the Underverse (A thing the Necromongers want) the concept of Elementals, and the concept of Souls. Magic, basically, with no explanation why, how, or why the FUCK none of this was in the first movie.
So congratulations, movie. Your universe is broken. You can stop now. Seriously. Don’t make me keep going. Please. Please…oh, fuck, you’re going to aren’t you?
Judi Dench tells Riddick that he’s a Furyian. Something that means nothing to us. She says his entire people were wiped out—again, I don’t care—and delivers a little more exposition in this rapid-fire delivery that tells me the writers knew they needed to shove more action into the sequence, so here’s a bunch of soldiers here to do…something. Arrest Riddick as a…spy?
Whatever. Explosions, dead guys, crying children, Riddick being bad-ass, and then stuff comes out of the sky two seconds later and we have more explosions, bullets, dead guys and crying children. Imam dies saving his family. Riddick kills the guy who killed Imam, and we never see the family again until near the end when the movie needs sympathetic characters again. Nice. Then the Necromongers land and things go completely off the rail.
This is how I imagine the brainstorming sessions for this movie script: Scary words pinned to a dart board, and a great many tequila shots.
Seriously. EVERYTHING ABOUT THESE GUYS IS DEATH. Their name? DEATH MONGERS. Their city? Necropolis. DEATH CITY. Their faith? It’s about death. And LIFE! And Death. DEATH! Everyone wears black, has enough black eye shadow to give the Mom from A Christmas Story something to worry about (you’ll put your eye out) and then…
We meet the Lord Marshal, who is “half dead” in his soul and who wears armor that…no. No. I’m sorry. Janus called. He wants his god-look back.
And then come the true…antagonist…somethings. Their names are Lord and Lady Vaako. The girl, I don’t know, but the guy is…huh. Strangely familiar to me. Oh, well. I’ll look it up later. So the Vaacko connection is established by expositional barfing(“You forget your place, Lady Vaako.” “My place is at your side, dearest husband, from now until Underverse Come”) and we cut to a big amphitheater where the survivors of the city have been herded and it’s not a lot of people. The spokesperson for Lord Marshal tries to explain the Necromonger Religion.
This is how I picture the brainstorming session for the Necromonger Relgion: Scrying into tequila, vomited onto a mirror of what the fuck.
The only things I can make out clearly is…they want to go to Underverse and they don’t like other religions. Also, they rip out people’s souls. So you have a great big conglomerate religion that likes to go on crusades and convert Muslems(Strike) folk by the sword on their quest to bring glory to the afterlife.
Uh…Yeah. …you know, as a Christian, I’d say “thanks for the “Fuck you” gentlemen” but I’m not going to give these guys the credit of any subtlety.
Riddick refuses to bow to the Lord Marshal. At which point Vaako removes his helmet, shouts at Riddick, and inadvertently introduces us to the real star of this movie.
HIS HEROIC MULLET. IN ALL IT’S RAGING GLORY.
Riddick challenges Imam’s murderer to a duel. This duel is short, one sided and ugly. Mostly because Murderer Dude has a random knife stuck in his back and never bothers to pull it out. Seriously. This is never explained. He walks into the duel with a knife in his back, Riddick kind of sees it, shrugs, pulls it out and uses it to disembowel the guy. He turns to leave and Lord Marshal hands him the knife, and says “In OUR religion, you keep what you kill.”
Dude. At the opening of this movie you blew up an entire planet. Are you carting it around in your pockets? No? HYPOCRITE IN THE DEATH RELIGION.
So he asks Riddick where he’s from. Riddick gives a fuck if I know shrug, and Lord Marshal decides to make him go before the Quasi-Deads.
The. Quasi. Deads.
(‘E’s not dead. He’s pining.)
So the guards try to drag Riddick into the city, he begins to resist, and probably realizing that Riddick resisting will end with a lot of dead things (and not in the good way) Lady Vaako decides to seduce Riddick into the city, and Riddick kind of just shrugs and goes with her. Like…nothing better to do, I guess. Also, she insults him by calling him a “breeder” as a derogatory term, which brings up another question.
What are these guys?
Seriously? Are they alive? You’d think so, but Wife!Vaako implies that they don’t breed, and at one point she burns her eye to get that nice black look going for her, so I’m inclined to think…not. And yet they can be killed, as evidenced by Riddick walking into the room. So I’m going…zombie.
OH! OMG! Do you know what this means? ZOMBIE MULLET!
So Wife!Vaako leaves Riddick with the Parrot Sketch (strike) Quasi Deads. They look into Riddick’s head, discern that he is a “Furyan” (I. STILL. DON’T. CARE) and decide they should “Kill The Furyan” and “Kill the Riddick!” and begin chanting it over and over and over again. And then, because we’ve gotten all we’re going to get out of this scene, Riddick escapes the room, escapes Necropolis, and…gets caught by the leader of the mercenaries he ditched on the ice planet a couple of days ago.
Okay, I’m assuming it was only a couple of days ago, but let’s look at the time table here, shall we? I assume that the situation on Planet Arab was pretty dire for Imam to mention Riddick to Judi Dench, and for her to put the bounty out on him. So there was some sign that the Necromongers were on their way. I’d allow for a couple weeks of travel if it didn’t only take the merc crew a couple days to get to the prison planet. So it probably only took a couple days for Riddick to get from Ice Planet to Planet Arab. You want me to believe that somebody got dumped on Ice Planet with nothing, managed to get his sorry ass picked back up before he froze to death, got a crew and another ship AND managed to track down Riddick in the time it took Riddick to get to Planet Arab?
Also, apparently Riddick not only planned this, he knew where Jack had been imprisoned once she went looking for him, because he manipulates the merc captain into taking him to Crematoria, which is where Jack is being imprisoned! WOW!
Lord Marshal sends Lord Vaako after Riddick, presumably because Lord Vaako is trying to kill Lord Marshal, he knows it, he knows Riddick is a meat grinder who will eat whomever comes near him and Lord Marshal is not an idiot. Lord Vaako refuses until Lady Vaako plays Lady Macbeth, and talks him into going, into beating on her and into rough sex. He then goes off to catch Riddick.
Meanwhile back at the Hell based Prison Planet, Riddick has found Jack! Only she’s not Jack anymore! She’s Kyra! And she’s batshit insane. Ya know, part of the coolness of Jack was the slight dusting of gender-queer about her, and kicking that to the curb in favor of boobs and knives isn’t helping the movie at all. But it’s a good move, renaming the character like this; we don’t have to even pretend this is the same person.
So midway between the reunion, somebody—and I still have no idea who the bleeding blue fuck these people are. Are they prison guards? Trustees? Something else entirely?—releases giant dragon-cats into the prison, so they can eat the prisoners. Which makes no fucking sense because the prison gets paid money for every live prisoner they keep, but we kissed logic goodbye a long time ago. A dragon-cat looks to the camera. We see its eyes go all shiny. It finds Riddick, whose primary characteristic is shiny eyes. And it’s the same kind of shiny, and …oh no.
No. You’re not.
Seriously. You’re not going to go there. You’re better than this. You can develop this character without…
…ladies and gentlemen, it is my unfortunate duty to inform you that Richard B. Riddick is, sadly, a Mary Sue of the first order. We may now observe the necessary moment of silence.
Hey, how’s Zombie Mullet doing?
…good. Carry on. Meanwhile, Lady Vaako is talking to the chained up air elemental, ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? You CHAINED UP an AIR Elemental? Why do they hold? Why does this even work?
And oh, pop quiz time! You and your husband are conspiring to overthrow your supernaturally empowered evil overlord in a murderous coup. There is a prisoner who is powerful enough to scare the shit out of your leader (thus evoking respect from him) and yet valuable enough to keep alive. This prisoner has information you need to overthrow the evil overlord. Do you:
1. Sneak into the cell in the guise of a fellow prisoner/slave, gain the prisoner’s trust, tell her you will help her cause if only she will share important information with you, and avoid any hint of your true identity?
2. Manipulate the Evil Overlord into giving you guard duty of Valuable Prisoner, and then gain her trust and offer to aid her cause if only she will share important information with you?
3. Do ANY POSSIBLE THING, OTHER than drive big flashy air-car up to tower, have two guards drag important prisoner out to big flashy air-car, unchain her (AIR. FUCKING. ELEMENTAL) throw her into the car and then threaten to kill her if she doesn’t give you important information? Thus calling your Evil Overlord’s attention to the fact that you and your husband maybe, possibly want to kill him?
4. Do exactly the thing I said not to do in number 3?
If you chose one through three, congratulations, you are smarter than Lady Vaako. If you chose number four, I have a lovely
kit eyeshadow I’d like to sell you.
Then Lady Vaako repeats what she learns to Lord Vaako. It turns out that Riddick is an official Child of Prophesy, and that Lord Marshal slaughtered the Furyans to kill him, thus creating the very thing that would destroy him.
You know, I wonder…how many of these seers tell you the very thing you need to know to destroy yourself? I mean…let’s say this seer had told Lord Marshal that everything’d be fine, don’t worry, your life will be great. So he doesn’t go ape-shit on the Furyans, Riddick grows up in a happy family to become a well adjusted law abiding citizen, and Vin Diesel never does this:
But we don’t live in that universe, and I have to keep watching this movie.
So the mercenary team gets into another conversation with the prison guards over the amount of money they get for Riddick, and this ends with everybody getting shot, and merc leader falling down through the roof, and Riddick using the rope he slides down to haul himself into the control room, which has been shot to hell and locked down by the prison guards who are now hoofing it back to the nearest space ship. Because the planet is a death trap. 700digrees in the sun, -300 in the shade. Riddick tells them exactly what happened, and when the mercenary (still alive, god knows why) asks why, he says, “because it was my plan”.
Look. I like planner sues. I really do. But let’s hack this plan, shall we? Arrange—AHEAD OF TIME—to be picked out of the jaws of your enemy by a mercenary, be taken to the same prison your child-bride girlfriend is being held in, assume that the information you have on this place is good enough for you to break out of, grab the girl and book before the bad guys follow you? No. I don’t think so. I mean…yes, there’s a fine veneer of “Don’t throw me in that briar patch” here, but there are too many coincidences. What if Jack/Kyra had been thrown into a prison he couldn’t conviently haul ass to get out of?
Fuck it. So now they’re running across the planet to stay in the twilight “buffer zone”, where it’s neither too cold nor cook-you-alive-in-ten-seconds hot. And I have to say it, this is a damn good scene. In fact, it’s from here to the end of the movie that I see what could have been here, and I realize what a waste the first hour or so was. At one point Kyra gets trapped behind a few rocks and Riddick has to MacGuyver a solution to get her out of them. (Though MacGuiver wants his stuff back, FYI) And then they get to the space port and find that the Necromongers are there before hand, and Kyra pops off with one of the better lines in the movie. “I hate not being the bad guys.” I like it, and if it were attached to events and characters I gave a fuck about I’d be pretty thrilled. Riddick tells her to wait until the prison guards show up, they do, the two enemy parties to their best to kill each other, and Riddick goes in to take care of the survivors.
And then we go off the rails again.
See, Riddick isn’t just a person. He’s a Child of Prophesy. Which means that it is now time to pull RANDOM MAGIC POWERS out of his ass. Necromongers arrive to kill him and a floating magic woman touches his chest and sends mystical blue light into Riddick. He now has the FURY of the FURYANS (god. Really?) and it explodes out of him and wipes everyone else out, never to appear again in the movie. This display of Furyan pride causes the one surviving Furyan to cast aside his Necromonger ways, rescue Riddick, and commit suicide by walking out into the blazing sky.
Meanwhile the Zombie Mullet rescues Kyra, and its human, Vaako, reports that he killed Riddick, even though Riddick is alive and on his way to Death City. Lady Vaako, who is nothing at all like Lady Macbeth, exults that her husband is one step closer to killing the Lord Marshal, though Vaako, perhaps under the influence of the Zombie Mullet, is not wholly persuaded. Also…hey, there’s Imam’s family at the last minute! Alive! Somehow! Guess I was wrong and…oh, yeah, these guys destroy the planets when they leave. It’s time to make us care again. Okay. Hi, Family!
Imam!Daughter finds Riddick’s necklace thingy on their front door, which means Riddick is on planet. He brushes past lady Vaako on the way in to see Lord Marshal about a death in the family (this being his own), and Lady Vaako freaks and gets panic all over Zombie Mullet, before calming down and deciding to let Riddick wound the Lord Marshal, and then have Vaako call on the power of the Mullet to kill the leader. They agree. Everything is set for the confrontation, right? Wait, we’re missing a couple major characters. Oh, here’s Kyra. Lord Marshal reveals her, all safely converted to Necromongery ways. Riddick asks if she’s with him, and given the import this line has at the end it would have worked better if this had been repeated more than once before now. She ignores him and walks into the crowd.
And oh, there’s the Elemental. Who was being held captive in a box (how) but has now escaped (HOW). Okay. Everyone’s here now. Commence the fighting.
And…wow. All of a sudden Vin Diesel sucks at fighting. I know the implication is to make him look like he hasn’t got a chance against the Lord Marshal, but if all it takes to make your star look inept is to stop doing fancy-ass editing to the fight scenes…you might want to rethink this whole “action star” thing. So he gets battered into a corner and Kyra wounds the Lord Marshal. He backhands her onto a spike. Riddick stares on in wounded horror. Vaako jumps down to kill Lord Marshal. Lord Marshal does this soul…run…thing to get a discarded blade right in front of Riddick’s feet. Riddick picks up the blade, and it looks for all the world as if Lord Marshal is now forced to decide how he wants to die. And I think he picks Riddick, because if it’s a choice between Murder By Glowing Eyes and Murder by Mullet…I’ll take the eyes. Thanks.
Now for touching scene between Riddick and Kyra that we don’t care about because we really like neither of these characters. He asks, “Are you with me?” And she says “I was always with you.” And it is strong, and touching, and I can tell THIS was what they wanted to be working on the entire time. And you know what? If they’d just extended the prison sequence to cover the entire movie, this movie could have worked.
Anyway, entire Necromongery legion bows to Riddick as Lord Marshal, including the Vaako family (Man, woman, and Zombie Mullet), and Riddick slowly repeats, “You keep what you kill”.
END. OF. MOVIE.
The sad thing is, under all the suck there is a great movie here. It’s just in the last thirty minutes at the end. And I know exactly what the problem was. The people working on it? They didn’t want to take the time to do another two or four rewrites (probably four) to bring the script up to par. They were like, Hey, fuck it. This is good enough. How do I know this? The “Apology” at the beginning. Yeah, it was probably time consuming and expensive, but the director could have taken the time to make sure it looked good, rather than shoot himself being condescending to his audience. He didn’t want to. He wasn’t willing to spend either the time or the money to make sure the film itself was flawless, and he definitely didn’t want to take time to make sure the script was flawless.
How would I have run it? Kept Imam, Jack and Riddick together, had something Imam said get back home, and from there to the Elemental, and then to the Necromongers, have them ALL get sent to the prison, and instead of wasting time back on Imam’s homeworld, spend the rest of our time watching Riddick and Jack (Who would still be named Jack) do awesome things together. That’s the strongest material they had to work with, that’s what they SHOULD have worked with.
But…you know, something still bothers me. Who the hell is Vaako played by? I feel like I should know him…
…Karl Urban?! Okay, you and Judi, go over and sit in a corner. Keith David I forgave because he was in Armeggeddon before this and being in a Micheal Bay Movie means your taste was blown a long time ago, but dude! You’re EOMER. You moved on to be Doctor McCoy in Star Trek. You’re…huh. Judge Dredd in the remake. And you were in Pathfinder. And you signed to do this stupid-as-shit role again in the…oh….oh my. Oh my god. There’s a sequel to this? A low budget sequel? Buy someone who can’t be arsed to go back in and make sure his film runs smoothly?
I…I feel faint. Somebody hold me.