by Mike Shea on 10 August 2005
Pitch Black fell into a category of movies I like to call "Good Bad Science Fiction". They're not great SF but they're fun and they touch on some of the elements we see in the best SF like Blade Runner or Alien. Soldier fell into this category as well - it may be hollywood schlock, but Kurt Russel's born soldier in a peaceful town is wonderful to watch.
Pitch Black opens with a strong action sequence that introduces us to Riddick exactly as we should be introduced. Riddick is bound, gagged, and blind foldeded in a cryo tube with warnings plastered all over it. "For the love of Christ, do not open this cryo tube". Our other hero, a young woman who finds herself in command of a huge cargo freighter, has to make a split-second decision that may kill off half the people on the ship and then has to steer what remains of the ship onto a planet with three suns. That's all in the first ten minutes.
A lot of Pitch Black was typical space monster movie crap. I didn't care much for the action sequences, but I loved the story and I loved the characters. There's some good elements of hard SF but any true science nerd will poke holes all throughout it. Most of all, Riddick, the central and most interesting character, never lies to us. He isn't a hero secretly marked as a murderer - he's a murderer who might accidently do heroic deeds.
Chronicles of Riddick begins just as strong but with a much wider scope. We're not stuck on a planet with seven other people and caves full of giant killer bats. We're watching a huge empire destroy planets and leave multi-faced monuments to some dark sect. We watch them destroy a world. Then we go to Riddick five years after Pitch Black in a transformation that reminded me of James Bond in Die Another Day. He's still Riddick, but we're aware of the change.
Chronicles of Riddick is a space opera. The ships and costumes of the unfortunately named Necro-Mongers are right out of H.R Giger paintings. They use horrific emaciated telepaths to communicate between ships and hunched over skeletal mutants as sensors. Huge warships with grim faces seem to bow down as the grand marshall walks past.
I love how the director and writer treat technology in Riddick. We don't need to have a big long discussion about the bracer that Riddick straps to his arm, the one that takes blood out and replaces it with radiator fluid. We get the idea when he takes a nap and wakes up 28 days later. Some of the best science works best when technology isn't explained or hardly referred to. The characters aren't going to explain it to eachother - they have lived with it all their lives. It's up to us to understand it, a far cry from the way most movies treat us like idiots. I heard in "Stealth" that they explain prime numbers.
The Riddick movies remind me of Robert Howard's Conan stories of the 1930s. Riddick and Conan are similar anti-heroes in dark times. They both crawl their way up from prisoner or slave and into greatness. The end of Riddick in particular follows the paths of the Conan stories.
A lot of the action in Riddick is unmemorable but action isn't what interests me in this movie. The story itself isn't very cliche and the ending is wonderful. I was convinced about half way through that, although I loved it up to that point, I was going to be disappointed by the end. I wasn't.
Chronicles of Riddick, along with Pitch Black, are excellent and interesting science fiction movies. Make it a double feature and stay the hell away from Dukes of Hazzard.