Wed
Sep 4 2013 12:00pm

The Chronicles of Riddick: What Happens When You Let Vin Diesel Be Your Dungeon Master

2000’s Pitch Black was a tightly-focused horror movie set in a science fictional universe. Much like the Alien franchise before it, Pitch Black’s sequel sought to take the seed of the original idea—namely Vin Diesel being a murderous badass—and expand upon it. Only things went horribly, terribly, and hilariously awry. Suffering from the worst kind of sequel-itis, The Chronicles of Riddick broadens the scope of the original movie so hugely the only thing it has in common with its predecessor is Vin Diesel’s goggles.

And yet... there’s still something pretty over-the-top great about an SF/fantasy universe as conceived by unabashed nerd Vin Diesel and director David Twohy. Vin Diesel (you really have to type out his full name every time) is just so earnest when talking about Riddick and his journey, it’s hard not to fall in love with what the movie was trying for. Maybe after putting on goggles—possibly the beer kind—of your own.

The Chronicles of Riddick is no Buckaroo Banzai or Fifth Element. It’s too modern and studio-driven and not quite unique enough in its awfulness to be beloved of cult film fans. But there’s an enduring charm to it. Someone must find it compelling enough to syndicate on Spike TV every few months. So let’s examine the whole of Riddick and put it in a little context before instinctively turning up our noses at it.

3 Things About Vin Diesel You May or May Not Know:

  1. In a 2005 celebrity Star Wars sound-bite piece in SCIFI Channel magazine, Vin Diesel was asked if he’d be a Jedi or a Sith. He replied “I’d be Chaotic Neutral.” Now say that out loud in your best Vin Diesel voice. Are you smiling yet?
  2. By now everyone knows Vin Diesel loves D&D, but did you know his character in XXX had Diesel’s old D&D character’s name, Melkor, tattooed across his stomach? Melkor is a half-Drow witch hunter with double specialization. The name itself is from Tolkien’s Silmarillion. Melkor is also the title of a possibly forthcoming videogame that Diesel describes as “Zelda 64 on steroids.”
  3. Vin Diesel owns the video game studio dedicated to making video games starring Vin Diesel.

Bonus Vin Diesel fact that starts off like a Chuck Norris meme: Well firstly, that meme was originally about Vin Diesel. Vin Diesel wanted Dame Judi Dench to play galactic ambassador Aereon in this movie so bad he... had flowers delivered to her dressing room every night while she was doing a show in London’s West End. He wasn’t allowed backstage.

See? Earnest. Vin Diesel’s dogged determination to make the best possible Riddick movie for his fans is what got an Academy Award winning cast. It also got a third movie made, despite the fact that Chronicles bombed at the box office. Vin Diesel only agreed to once again lend his star power to the flailing Fast & Furious franchise if he could also make Riddick. Vin Diesel has a huuuuge fan base that studios take note of because they’re so loyal and vocal on social media. Vin Diesel himself posts on his infamous Facebook page, sharing the first on-set pictures from Riddick and hinting at Marvel news amid all of the inspirational fanart. He’s hyper-aware of what his fans want because he talks to them, even if it’s only a few sentences per day.

But maybe Vin Diesel is too close to his subject matter. Riddick as a character was perfectly fine the way he was in Pitch Black. Back when he was just Richard B. Riddick, who as a newborn was abandoned in the trashcan behind an interstellar liquor store and educated in the penal system. The sequel retconned the convict in the worst way possible by trying to turn an antihero into the last of a heretofore unmentioned race of badasses prophesized to destroy the Big Bad. It makes him pretty much like any other bland hero in a zillion tired fantasy movies.

The race Riddick belongs to is called Furyan. Oh, that’s why he’s so pleasant! It’s the classic terrible worldbuilding thing where a member of an alien race embodies all of the cultural stereotypes about his people, instead of being an individual. Like all Klingons love war, or all Luxans are bad at lovemaking. Lazy, lazy. The worst was rewriting Riddick’s most distinguishing feature, his shinejobbed eyes. No more are they the result of a black market surgery in a windowless prison and a tool of his escape artistry. They’re because he’s an Alpha-Furyan and he repressed his memories. And it goes on:

  • The prison planet Crematoria is really fucking hot.
  • Dench’s character is an Elemental. Oh boy. She’s named Aeron and she can “glide very well,” for she’s made mostly of air.
  • The Necromongers want everyone dead.

If only they came up with a similarly obvious name for the dimension the Necromongers want to convert everyone to, because the Underverse and the rules surrounding it are completely incomprehensible. It’s some sort of dark star-havin’ paradise beyond death where “life is welcome.” Eh?

Are the Necromongers dead? Not really? But some, like the Lord Marshall, are more dead than others. Maybe? The point is, the Necromongers were never mentioned in the first movie or the stylish Peter Chung anime short that bridges Pitch Black and Chronicles. Or the video game prequels. Again with the shitty worldbuilding—how did the Necromongers rise out of the ether as a movement to overtake the entire galaxy? It’s never explained either. 

And let’s look at Necromonger society. For a space armada that can wipe out a planet in a night, they sure have a lot of analog human slavery. Why use catatonic sexy lady prisoners in gossamer dresses as telephones when, you know, telephones already exist?

Why are there only three visible women in Necromonger’s ruling class? Why does marriage exist in a meritocracy (“You keep what you kill”) where the concept of love is seen as a supreme weakness and reproduction isn’t sexual? There is no point to Thandie Newton’s Dame Vaako because her only role in this movie is to whisper Lady Macbeth-isms while wearing hot dresses. We never learn her first name but we know she puts on eyeliner with a hot soldering gun because EVIL BITCH.

You could really, really hate her character if she didn’t deliver some of the most hilariously overwrought dialogue like, “Now! Kill the beast while he’s woooounded,” or, “Flawless.” And she inspires what may be the best worst line ever uttered in an action movie:

“It’s been a long time since I smelled beautiful,” says Riddick, sniffing Dame Vaako’s hair.

But almost all is forgiven with this storyline because Karl Urban has a beauteous space-mullet. Space. Mullet.

The Chronicles of Riddick is a hotter-than-Crematoria mess, yet it’s certainly an entertaining one for group viewings with lots of popcorn and drinks and ad-libbing. Helion Prime is rendered in vivid colors and the bombastic Graeme Revell score is one of his best. Some of the FX work more than others, as was true of the first movie, and there are genuine great moments. See: death by tea cup.

The only part of Chronicles of Riddick that felt true to the character was the subplot involving the resue of Jack, the little girl in Pitch Black all grown up and recast as hot actress (Alexa Davalos of Angel.) I’d point out how stupid it is that the big action sequence of the movie involves outrunning the heat, but I kinda shrugged it off because that same summer saw Jake Gyllenhaal outrunning the cold in The Day After Tomorrow. Meh. It was a fad.

Charismatic mercenary Toombs steals a good chunk of the show with his swagger and his band of merry men and women out for a big score. Riddick is most at home in a prison fighting other criminals and exchanging quips with other lowlifes just trying to scrape by. I think Twohy and Vin Diesel realize this, too, because the upcoming sequel has only a few minutes of Necromongers and substantially more bounty hunters. It also has an R-rating and a much smaller budget reigning it in.

There are some movies so offensive in their ability to insult the intelligence of an audience, so overt in their desire to do nothing more than cash in on a quick buck, they just become white noise. There’s Uwe Boll, fer Chrissakes. How many times have you sat through a crappy genre movie where venerable actors like Sam Neill, Harrison Ford, or Sir Ben Kingsley sleepwalk through their roles? Those are the movies that really deserve some ire, because they have no heart behind them. The Chronicles of Riddick is far from a good movie, but Vin Diesel’s love for his character, his protectiveness towards the franchise, rings authentic. So when I’m flipping though channels on a late night and come across The Chronicles of Riddick, I’ll continue to put the remote down and enjoy the sight of one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars proudly showing the world his true, geeky colors.

Bonus Vin Diesel fanart:

*Not an actual still of the movie

Riddick hits theaters everywhere September 6.


Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to Tor.com, covering True Blood, Game of Thrones, and gaming news. Follow her on Twitter @tdelucci

25 comments
Christopher Morgan
1. cmorgan
I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Chronicles of Riddick. I know it gets a lot of flak, but I honestly like it. I was also a fan of the idea of the Elementals, the Furyians, and the Necromongers, it was a very primal type of world building that was hinted at but never really fleshed out well. I mean if there is a race that embodies air (Judy Dench), darkness (From Pitch Black), and death (Necromongers), why not fury/anger/retribution?

That and Vin Diesl is incredibly hard to not like. He delivers lines like "quite thinking police station and start thinking play station" and "I'll kill you with my tea cup" with such earnest.
Andrew Gray
2. madogvelkor
I rather liked Chronicles of Riddick, despite the flaws. The biggest mistake with the movie was making it a sequel to Pitch Black. It had an interesting universe, and would have worked better on its own without trying to retcon everything.

I think that's the main reason it failed at the box office. The target fan bases for Pitch Black and Riddick were different, though with some overlap. People who liked Pitch Black expected more of that and were dissapointed, and people who don't like SF horror skipped it because they weren't interested in Pitch Black.
Stefan Jones
3. Stefan Jones
The Chronicles of Riddick reminds me, in a good way, of an amalgam B-grade 1950s SF novel. Something that would have been serialized in Amazing, appeared in paperback, and then utterly forgotten.

I'm not sure who would have written this hypothetical novel, mind you. There's a bit of Dickson and Anderson and Harrison in there.
Chris Nelly
4. Aeryl
More reasons to love Vin Diesel.

I've had such a soft spot for him, I have no idea why, and I've never SEEN a Fast and Furious movie.

And I LOVE this movie. I've fanwanked all this stuff in my head. You can tell from Pitch Black, that they were originally thinking low tech sci fi, and these people came from OUR Earth. Like the hibernation travel, cuz there's no faster than light travel.

But then in CoR everything's retconned to a more futuristic universe. I liked the fact that Riddick's eyes were his real eyes, and that in PB he just lied to everyone all the time, never knowing that Jack would take him seriously.

And while I get the angst over the recast of Kyra/Jack, I like Alexa Davalos, and I like what they did with her. Jack struck me, while savvy as hell, as a girl just looking to belong, and now a girl who walks into a prison a beats up the biggest person there, just to show how bad she is. So of course she's gonna go chasing after Riddick when he leaves her. And when she believes he's dead, she's gonna go join up with the BAMFs that took down the baddest man she knew.

Toombs was great comic relief, I love how Riddick was always able to manipulate him, like in tricking Toombs to take him to Creamatoria so he can find Jack.

And I LOVE that line, "It's been awhile since I smelled beautiful"

I thought the Necroes were really interesting. I guess sex is great when your undead, because otherwise what's the point? And it seemed like their culture was really geared towards that gratification, which helped to explain the wriggling communication systems. But it also seemed to be implied that they had to keep their technology usage to a minimum. Like they didn't use scanners, they used reanimated dead bodies to "see their sights". They didn't use many guns, were bigger on the blades.

Now this isn't 100% consistent, cuz they had a BIG BOMB and flight vessels. But that was the reasoning I had for why they used people to communicate instead of phones. I kinda saw them like the Vong from Star Wars EU.

They constructed a world but there were enough tantalizing clues laying around that you could build and expand on it, and make it your own story.

Just like any good RPG.
Stefan Jones
5. TeeVee
I don't remember seeing a telephone in Chronicles?

I do remember seeing that all the necromonger technology is based on use of humans. Humans as suicide bombers, as detection devices, as lie detectors and mentioned as breeders. It's not really efficient or practical, technology wise or socially but it is very evocative of what the bad guys stand for. I find it no more gimmicky or problematic than light sabers in star wars or immortality blood in the recent Star Trek (thats a lie I find immortality blood absolutely awful).

Is the no shine eye thing cannon? As far I was aware movie 1 and 2 left it as prison surgery.

I agree the names and races suffer from sci fi/fantasy stereotypying and chronicles suffered from too much too soon, loosing some of the practicallity and simplicity of pitch black and replacing it with bigger and more varied locations and fanciful "what if we did this?" ideas without taking the time to fully back them up with development of characters.

But as a big budget sci fi movie I enjoyed it a hell of alot more than most big bidget sci fi that has come after it.
Stefan Jones
6. Mugatu's mullet
“It’s been a long time since I smelled beautiful,” says Riddick, sniffing Dame Vaako’s hair.

He wasn't talking about Dame Vaako’s hare. He was simply being Captain Obvious.
Hahn
7. davhahn
If nothing else, the release of CoR gave me The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. Love that game.
S Cooper
8. SPC
This movie won me over with the final shot. They pan out on Riddick on the throne, and I realize "Conan IN SPACE!" and finally get it.
Theresa DeLucci
9. theresa_delucci
King Riddick would be the best movie ever. That final shot was so great.

@5 They showed old-timey tech in Pitch Black and on the merc ships in CoR, so I'm kind of assuming telephones in some form exist. They just use people because they're inefficient n' evil. I'm not saying anything in here bothers me overmuch, as I'm not one to nitpick Star Wars, but it does leave me chuckling at Hollywood's form over function mindset.

@6 Oh I know he wasn't talking about just her hair. It's just such a ridiculous, memorable line.

@7 - Hell yeah! Just finished my post on that series, too. At this point, I've written more words on the Diesel oeuvre than most, I think. Fear me!
Christopher Bennett
10. ChristopherLBennett
I agree CoR is earnest, but it's also very stupid. Its idea of worldbuilding is to toss in a huge amount of random stuff without any thought to coherence or justification. I suppose the imaginativeness of it is somewhat impressive, but you can find a similar level of imagination in the doodles on many a high school student's notebook. Having a bunch of crazy ideas isn't enough if they don't go together in a cohesive way.
Stefan Jones
11. sofrina
i'm also unclear about the eyes. in pitch black, riddick says it was bootleg prison surgery so he could see in the dark. in chronicles, kyra says she tried to get it done and learned there was no such thing. i don't remember any further discussion about it.

and there is another furyan in the movie: the purifier, who tells riddick his secret, delivers the lord marshall's truce and then walks into the 700 degree sun. his eyes handled daylight just fine. ...i'm still disappointed he doesn't opt to team up with riddick and take the lord marshall down. i mean, redemption, man!
Chris Nelly
12. Aeryl
@11, That is disappointing(plus I like that actor, and would've liked to see more of the character), but it's also MOAR wank fodder. That perhaps the thing done to him to MAKE him the Purifier makes him incapable of doing that in a direct manner.

The director's cut adds some stuff, but doesn't really establish anything concrete, but in that final scene with the Purifier, he opens his coat, and has this glowing handprint on his chest, and then Riddick does too. Have no idea why. And some woman who looks like a leftover from a Xena Amazon episode keeps coming into his dreams.

So that cut really tried to play up his Furyan side, but it was still hard to be invested in that part of the story.
Dave Thompson
13. DKT
Graeme Revell's score was pretty cool.

I liked the Death by Teacup scene, and pretty much everything with Riddick vs. the Mercs and the prison escape. But the rest was pretty sloppy.

I think one thing this was missing that made Pitch Black so memorable was the moral dilemna right off the bat, as well as the redemption. Not that Riddick needed to be redeemed again. But while I can buy that this movie was earnest, it seemed like it didn't have as much heart (or brain).
Adam S.
14. MDNY
Add me to the list of fans of Chronicles of Riddick. Highly enjoyable movie. It knows it's rehashing old cliches, so if you watch it aware of the wink-wink nudge-nudge homage to other films it ripped off, you can appreciate that it does a good job of showcasing a great talent (Vin Diesel) in a great role (Riddick). with great action sequences and cool technology.
I agree that the director's cut is just kind of confusing, though. It tries to add more story, but never quite reaches the level of coherence necessary. Still, both versions are entertaining and worth watching for Riddick alone, not to mention Dame Judy Dench's playful elemental. Two enthusiastic thumbs up!
Joe G
15. joeinformatico
While I liked Pitch Black, the friend who showed it to me (and was a huge fan) warned me away from Chronicles of Riddick. But I finally watched it a few weeks ago based on this analysis of it. It is Conan IN SPACE.

And it still tickles me that Vin Diesel takes the money and influence he earned from a dudebro franchise like Fast & the Furious so he can make more of his geeky obsessions. Not to slag on F&F either; I've only seen the first one, but I've heard a lot of good things about the last couple installments. I'll take a dumb, fun movie that's not ashamed of being a dumb, fun movie over a pretentious film that thinks it's lot smarter than it actually is anyday.
Stefan Jones
16. riptorn41
I don't care what anyone says. I love this movie. Who doesn't love a badass anti-hero, especially when its Vin Diesel? Yeah, it has holes in it, but movies always do. Its a fun romp that's unique in its own geekiness, and I'll continue to rewatch it every time I have a chance.
Theresa DeLucci
17. theresa_delucci
I don't want to meet the person who doesn't like Fast & Furious. It's Point Break with cars and it's great. Haven't seen 6 yet, but I really enjoyed 5 because Vin Diesel and The Rock? Excellent.
Stefan Jones
18. Seralphia
@joeinformatico

OMG! Another Foldable Human fan!

Anyway, that review made me love a movie I was already a fan of even more.

And I totally agree about his observations that Chronicles follows Pulp traditions, and that one aspect making it so great is that it doesn't look like either Star Trek or Star Wars, but is it's own beast entirely.

Plus, I love what he says about Chronicles' "noble flaw": that there is no audience surrogate, no hero's journey, just the expectation that you'll be capable of keeping up. That's refreshing.
George Brell
19. gbrell
@17.theresa_delucci:

Absolutely agree that the F&F franchise is the best kind of popcorn entertainment. 6 is decent, better than 2 and 4, but not as good as 1, 3, or 5.

On Chronicles:

I always assumed they used people as telephones to get around the light-speed barrier for communication. They have real-time conversations across space with no discernible lag. The weird making-out-with-the-telephone scene, though, I can't explain.
Stefan Jones
20. Vanye
@19. gbrell; Got to keep your phone happy somehow....
James Hogan
21. Sonofthunder
Thanks a lot Theresa! I was just at the store and due to this post...couldn't help but pick up the Chronicles of Riddick DVD. I don't think I've ever seen this movie in its entirety, but your article swayed me. Well done. I do remember back in college - me and my roommate were doing homework or studying while this was on TV - we were only half-watching it, but I do remember the teacup scene! We both looked at each other, "Whoa. Awesome." Good memory - and haven't seen that scene again until the clip above.

Anyways, look forward to watching this properly soon. (And er, guess I should watch Pitch Black as well)
Stefan Jones
22. Cybersnark
Y'know, Hollywood has been struggling with how to make a good D&D movie. Vin Diesel is a bankable star who obviously knows the material. . .
Chris Nelly
23. Aeryl
I've read articles where he's talked about wanting to do a D&D movie.

In Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Ben Affleck lectures Matt Damon, that first you do the money picture, then you do the art picture(and then you do the obligation movie, cuz your friend tells you that you owe him). I think that's what Diesel's doing. After he signs for F&F7, he'll announce he's doing his D&D movie.
Dave Thompson
24. DKT
It'd be so much fun if he did a D&D movie!

I still kind of can't believe there's a new Riddick movie. So ridiculously excited for it.
Stefan Jones
25. yep, that guy
Are you serious? Ijust wasted 10 minutes of my life reading this?! And listening in on "Horton hears a little ....." You dont critique a series if you dont really know about it, let alone be so un-open minded as many of them out there. No telephones? Really? I think your missing the point. This is Sci-Fi, imersion into a different mindset and world.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment