Reviews for this sequel have been pretty lukewarm, and while I don’t blame anyone for feeling as such, there are some high and not-so-high points. This is not a blanket mediocre film, but the averaging out of the varied content can leave one feeling that way. As documented recently here, I feel Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick are really strong films in their respective, specific genres, with my preference being for the latter movie. Riddick does fall between the scale and premises of those films, but doesn’t live up to either one quite as well as it could have.
Betrayed by the Necromongers and left for dead on a desolate planet, Riddick (Vin Diesel) fights for survival against alien predators and becomes more powerful and dangerous than ever before. Soon, bounty hunters from throughout the galaxy descend on Riddick only to find themselves pawns in his greater scheme for revenge. With his enemies right where he wants them, Riddick unleashes a vicious attack of vengeance before returning to his home planet of Furya to save it from destruction.
There are three sections of this movie for me to critique which all have their distinct qualities. The first act of the film feels very sparse as it is just Riddick fending for himself on this desolate planet. There’s a few bits of narration from him and a flashback with the Necromongers that fill in some plot gaps from the aftermath of The Chronicles of Riddick. It also contains the only and very brief appearance of Karl Urban as Vaako. I had hoped for more from him here, but I figured it would be no more than a cameo. Anyway, this first act didn’t do much for me. It was kind of cool seeing Riddick wounded, vulnerable, and out in the wild getting back in touch with his animal side. However, it is quite sparse not giving you much beyond the survival action set pieces to get involved with. The film was starting to feel like an adventure that would play out in some prequel comic book – a very small scale transition piece story that is a stepping stone to something larger.
Thankfully, as I anticipated, once we get some bounty hunter characters injected into the mix, the film really started to entertain and engage me. Sure, the premise is quite stripped down and basic feeling more in line with Pitch Black, but if you’ve got a couple of vibrant, enjoyable characters to fill out that premise, you’ve got enough to make it worthwhile. It does take a few minutes to get them warmed up, but it’s the clashing dynamics between everyone that sparks it all off. Essentially, there are two teams of bounty hunters, or mercs as they are called. The first is lead by Santana, who is an enjoyably sleazy, down and dirty type with a very gritty, testosterone jacked team. The other is a more clean cut operation lead by actor Matt Nable’s character who has personal ties to Riddick and the events of Pitch Black. These two teams clash immediately causing a lot of conflict, and striking some very humorous, entertaining interactions.
Santana is portrayed very well by Jordi Mollà. I found him the most lively and charismatic character of the film. Mollà paints Santana as a very salacious individual with little respect for anyone else outside his team, and especially doesn’t like being ordered around by any of them when they’re forced to team up. Santana has definite smarts, but his attitude surely digs his own grave with many characters, especially Riddick. Also, former wrestler Dave Bautista is part of Santana’s team, and he does his part well, especially since Diaz doesn’t require much beyond being tough, formidible, and a little charismatic.
And color me majorly impressed by Katee Sackhoff. She portrays the exceedingly tough Dahl, part of the opposing team of mercs. She more than imposes her physicality upon Santana and others who try testing her, and has the attitude to go with that. This isn’t some stereotypical tough chick routine. Sackhoff kick ass as a bonafide hard edged, sharply skilled mercenary who has an extra distinctive flourish to her character. I’m sold on the actress and the character completely.
Now, Matt Nable’s character, of Boss who does have a bit of a reveal that I’ll not spoil for you here, is fairly okay. As I said, he adds a tether back to Pitch Black, but he’s really little more than that. The character is confident, authoratative, and intelligent, but compared to the colorful Santana, the tough as nails Dahl, or the nicely fun muscle bound hired guns of Santana’s gang, this is a rather mild character. He also sits on the fence never becoming an outright, reviled villain, and the ending reflects the reason why. There’s some intended depth with this character, but because he is so much on the fence, you don’t know if you’re supposed to sympathize with him or view him as a vengeful enemy. The film never galvanizes him into what kind of adversary he should be, and thus, comes off as quite forgettable and mild.
It is clear that Vin Diesel has a love for Riddick, and so do I. I think he is very fascinating type of anti-hero that has so many avenues of expansion, but this film really takes no ambition with Richard B. Riddick. The character is still written well by David Twohy, but that signature aura of mystique isn’t quite there. That ambiguity of what kind of hero he might choose to be, or the cunning way he manipulates events and perceives deeper into others isn’t really utilized here. Because the is a straight forward survival story with only bad guys and no potential good guys, you generally know how Riddick is going to deal with everyone. There’s no one of morality or sympathy like Imam, Carolyn Fry, or Jack / Kyra here to sway or alter Riddick’s actions. He’s out for himself, and will bargain however he can to escape this planet alive without being held captive. So, there’s no place for a lot of those more complex elements of Riddick to exist in this story, and that’s unfortunate. Diesel still does a really good job in the role, making him a fun, smart, highly capable, and entertaining protagonist. It just doesn’t feel like we’re getting every element of the character that I love. I kept perceiving something being missing from the performance or portrayal all throughout the movie, but couldn’t really put my finger on it. There is more to this character that we have seen in both previous movies, but this movie is just a little too stripped down to allow him to develop or be fleshed out. It also seemed like Vin Diesel didn’t wear contact lenses this time out, and instead, had Riddick’s “shine job” eyes digitally done.
I loved Graeme Revell’s score for both previous movies, but I wasn’t impressed with his work in this film. The familiar main theme does make some subtle appearances, but we never get a full fledged crescendo of it. Many of the action beats are scored appropriately well. Yet, the rest of the score feels very different in many places from Pitch Black or The Chronicles of Riddick. There were a number of cues which just didn’t strike the right chord with me, same as some of the humorous bits of Riddick and the silly tricks with his dog-like pet. Those were certainly there to forge an emotional bond with this animal, which seems to have a massive unexplaned growth spurt during the first act, but because it was such a poorly done CGI creation I just couldn’t care that much about it.
The digital visual effects are about on-par with those in The Chronicles of Riddick, but like with Pitch Black, it’s good that a large chunk of these effects appear during dark environments. The creatures that strike at nightfall are considerably better rendered than Riddick’s pet, which is the only CGI that I cringed at. Of course, there’s only so much you can do on a $38 million budget where entire landscapes are enhanced with digital effects, and thus, you’re stretching your dollars to their limit. Thankfully, the CGI is pretty good in large part, and added to the film a whole lot more than it detracted.
I do like that David Twohy put forth the effort to build in connections to both of the previous movies. Again, you’ve got some flashbacks with the Necromongers showing what happened after Riddick killed the Lord Marshal, and how it led to him being left for dead on this nearly barren planet. Yet, I know this was not the film Twohy nor Diesel intended to make when they laid out their plans for The Chronicles of Riddick, and so, this is a smaller scale story intended to be a springboard towards a larger scale adventure. As much as I absolutely want to see this franchise take off and allow these fimmakers to tell the Riddick stories that they want, I’m not sure this is the movie to get them there. Like I said, this story is probably stripped down too much in terms of character and conceptual development, and focuses more on the entertainment value of action sequences. While all of the action is very well executed making for a bloody, violent, and fairly exciting movie, it has one more major failing.
As I said, there are three sections of this film to critique, and the last one, clearly, is the ending. Riddick is an action / horror survival story putting this character into increasingly treacherous and deadly scenarios where he must fend for himself. People are going to betray him and attempt to kill him, possibly even stranding him on this planet to ensure their own survival. I won’t detail the ending of this movie, but frankly, it is a terribly weak ending that is a copout to the entire premise. There’s no dramatic punch to this ending, no rationale for the actions of the other characters involved with it, and leaves you hanging with an empty feeling. The film builds to a tense, riveting crescendo, and then, fizzles out. This film absoultely should have ended with a strong, impactful, emphatic statement for the character and franchise. I even sat there through the end credits hoping for an extra scene to appear, but once those credits roll, that’s all there is. Up until this point, I was enjoying myself, and was engaged in the excitement of the action. I was interested to see how the machinations of these deceitful characters would manipulate the fate of Riddick. It was a fun adventure with plenty of graphic violence pulling no punches, and just having a good, gritty time with itself. It’s just those last few minutes of the movie where you just don’t know how Riddick is going to get out of this at all, and the entire movie cheats you out of even a decent pay-off. I just felt letdown, and it’s worse yet because I know David Twohy can write something better than this. He wrote Warlock, co-wrote The Fugitive, and co-wrote both previous Riddick movies. It’s a whimper of a conclusion when it should have been amazingly awesome to re-energize audiences about the character of Riddick, and leave them wanting to see more bad assery from him.
I had been waiting for this movie for a long time, and I really wanted this franchise to be very successful. So, it really, honestly pains me to give any amount of negativity to jeopardize that success, but this really feels more like a movie many would rent instead of rushing out to the theatre to see. Even removing the ending from the equation, it is a fairly average sci-fi / action movie without the same stylized visuals or scope of Pitch Black or The Chronicles of Riddick. However, it has some extra punch in the graphic violence and some pleasing female nudity, and has some entertaining and well portrayed characters to liven up the uninspired story. You can potentially have a good time with this movie, but I don’t feel it’s a strong enough outing to give Riddick the new injection of box office life that he needs for David Twohy and Vin Diesel to do what they desire with him, unfortunately.
You don’t know how excited I was to watch this movie again, and then, wonder to myself why in the HELL haven’t I watched this frequently over the years. Of course, I speak of the director’s cut which I feel is a vastly superior and richer story. From every fan I’ve heard from, they are hardcore about Pitch Black, but not so much about this one. I am really more the reverse. The more expansive science fiction epic traveling to various unique worlds, and facing multiple dangers with colorful characters is right in my cinematic sweet spot.
After years of outrunning ruthless bounty hunters, escaped convict Riddick (Vin Diesel) suddenly finds himself caught between opposing forces in a fight for the future of all races. An army of fearsome world ravagers known as Necromongers are “cleansing” and forcibly converting other species in their goal of universal conquest, but Imam (Keith David) and the Elemental Ambassador Aereon (Judi Dench) believe Riddick holds the key to a prophecy that could bring down Necromonger Lord Marshal (Colm Feore). Now, waging incredible battles on fantastic and deadly worlds, this lone, reluctant hero will emerge as a champion, and the last hope for a universe on the edge of annihilation.
Vin Diesel and David Twohy really develop the character of Riddick further and in more depth. There’s more emotional texture on the surface now, especially when conversing with Imam. I absolutely love how this film expands this character without ever betraying what made him fascinating to begin with. He’s placed into a larger story and a larger world which delves further into who he is, where he came from, and that’s exactly what a sequel should do. Every bad ass, intriguing quality of him is intact, but circumstances force him to make choices he never thought he’d be faced with. Diesel does an excellent job stretching Riddick out into this wider universe. He still carries the air of mystique with him, but there’s more emotional weight and tethers to the character. The connection with Imam is quite cool, if only for having two of the deepest, smoothest voices in Hollywood trading dialogue, but honestly, these are especially good scenes. Diesel also gets more dynamic action sequences to shine in, and galvanizes Riddick into a bigger, smarter, more clever bad ass than before. I also love the light touches of wit and humor that we are given. Riddick has some clever, fun dialogue making him just as funny as he is threatening and dangerous.
Building upon his character is the relationship with Jack, who now goes by Kyra and portrayed by Alexa Davalos. She’s grown into a jaded version of Riddick because she feels he abandoned her. She’s a convicted criminal willing to kill for pleasure or to survive. Davalos does a very good job in this role making a solid emotional connection with the audience, and shows her physicality is in prime shape. Some might know her from her three guest appearances on Angel as the electricity powered Gwen Raiden, where she also showed she could throw down. Davalos is a great successor to this role, and the film pulls no punches in tearing these characters away from Riddick, forcing him to stand more and more on his own. I like that Kyra and Imam become involved in the Necromonger storyline, albeit in different ways, and so, all threads tie tightly back into the main plot.
The director’s cut absolutely makes this an excellent film. The theatrical version cuts out the real meat of the Furyan subplot including the character of Shirah who comes to Riddick in visions and unlocks his power as a Furyan. All of that is rather critical to the entire driving factors of the movie. It gives motivation and purpose to Riddick and Lord Marshal, and propels them forward with more weight and depth. Without all of that, the story becomes thinner and more basic. I remember seeing moments in the trailer from this subplot, and being upset when they didn’t appear when I saw the film theatrically. This aspect of The Chronicles of Riddick gives depth, purpose, and poignancy to Riddick, and simply makes it a more substantive story that I really, strongly endorse.
There’s also amazing action everywhere in The Chronicles of Riddick. From the mercs chasing Riddick on the frigid ice world to the race against the scorching, lethal sunrise on the prison planet Crematoria, we get wickedly conceived and executed set pieces. There’s plenty of violence, especially in the unrated director’s cut, as Riddick really cuts deep into his adversaries, and we get plenty of bang for our buck. The stunt work is amazing, and the imagination on display is rich and refreshing. David Twohy creates some very dynamic acrobatic moments that do strain physics, but it fits just fine into the hyper stylized intensity. He absolutely goes for an expansive scope that stunningly sucked me into the film. The entire look of the movie is just awesome with excellent cinematography and a brilliant, epic vision from Twohy himself.
The Chronicles of Riddick has a very lavish production design that I could compare to a big Dino De Laurentiis 1980’s science fiction / fantasy epic like Flash Gordon or David Lynch’s Dune. This really goes all out in detailed costume designs, big sprawling landscapes, and simply elegant sets filled with depth and nuance. Twohy really went for broke making this an exquisitely high grade production, and I think it immensely pays off at every turn. Some of the visual effects are exceptional, but there are a number of moments that are quite noticeably less than excellent. Regardless, the vast, stunning vision of David Twohy is realized impressively, and with stronger resources than what he had on Pitch Black. The visual effects are a MAJOR upgrade from that movie allowing for Twohy’s vision to thrive on screen. There might be a green screen effect here or there that could be a notch or two better, and the animals set loose in the Crematoria prison are the most obvious undercooked CGI elements, but the visual effects spectacle is very strong creating a fully realized and enveloping universe. I thoroughly love every aspect of the look of this film. It’s what hooked me from the trailers, and it’s what continues to excite me. And yes, Graeme Revell does return to reprise his themes from the first movie, and does a remarkable job capturing the feel of this more action / adventure-centric sequel.
What I absolutely, deeply love in this film is Nick Chinlund as the bounty hunter Toombs. He is a massive upgrade in entertainment value over Johns in Pitch Black. Toombs is a rugged, sleazy, charismatic joy to be had all through his screentime. He’s an excellent, fun adversary for Riddick. Chinlund and Diesel have great adversarial chemistry to the point that I had always wanted Toombs to return for a sequel, but you can’t always get what you want. This role made me an enthusiastic Nick Chinlund fan.
And damn, does Karl Urban not do his best in everything he does? He’s a hardened, menacing threat as Vaako who schemes against the Lord Marshal to succeed him as leader of the Necromongers. This might seem like a subplot that is a bit extraneous, but it has strategic impact on the main plot. And Urban’s strong presence and dramatic weight really helps enhance Vaako and his role in this film. As I always say, Karl Urban is an actor with a rich depth of talent who never gives anything but his absolute best every time he takes on a role. He does rock solid, consistent, high quality work, and that has made him a wholehearted favorite of mine since The Lord of the Rings and The Bourne Supremacy.
And it’s odd to speak of the film’s main villain after all of these supporting characters, but Colm Feore is great as the Lord Marshal. He adds the right balance of militaristic conqueror and haunting specter. He is a man of supposed ultimate power seeking universal domination, and is fully consumed by his radical faith. His unwavering mindset makes him immensely dangerous like a barreling down freight train, and Feore has the right eerie quality to sell all of this. He fills the role just right making him a seemingly insurmountable enemy fueled by these fantastical powers of the Underverse. He doesn’t have the entertainment value of Toombs, or the fierce intensity of Vaako. However, he is the dominant presence that none can contend with, but you do get the subtle feeling that, whether it’s Riddick or Vaako, someone is going to take him down by the end. The climax entirely plays upon that expectation, and executes it in a very clever way.
Pitch Black was the one-off adventure that introduced us to Riddick, and just allowed us a small glimpse into the potential of this character. The Chronicles of Riddick was clearly the start of a larger, epic story that I have been excited to see continued for nine years. David Twohy establishes a great, exciting, and vast universe for endless possibilities with this movie. I love taking a character like Riddick and injecting him into a different kind of film. So many sequels aren’t a tenth as ambitious as this film strives and succeeds to be. Many would do the same old thing, playing it safe with audience expectations, but Twohy engages us with Riddick and develops him further in a story that forces that to happen. It puts Riddick into the bigger picture of the universe, and sets the stage for something even more fascinating and expansive to occur.
With the third film, Riddick, hitting theatres this weekend, it’s great to see another chance being taken here with a franchise of ripe potential. The Chronicles of Riddick was not profitable upon its theatrical release, and that was a terrible shame. Twohy and Diesel had well plotted plans for two more films, but would need that larger budget to realize them. So, I don’t expect Riddick to expand as wondrously and amazingly upon the concepts of this film, but more a fusion of the styles of Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick. Finding a middle ground between them seems like it could generate success and appeal to fans of both films. Again, my preference is towards the second film as it just breaks open the universe in a stunning realization of imagination, and is fueled by some great action sequences that have always stuck with me through the years. The Chronicles of Riddick is greatly exciting, immensely enjoyable, and simply fascinating to see unfold with its fantastical ideas and purposeful spectacle. If you haven’t been exposed to these films, I strongly encourage you to do so, and I hope that Riddick lives up to the years of anticipation. Even if it’s smaller scale, I’m greatly pleased to see a solid, imaginative franchise get another chance at success.
David Twohy is one of those talents who deserves better success than what he has achieved. He’s done some stellar screenwriting work with hits like The Fugitive and G.I. Jane, and many of his directorial efforts have received critical praise from genre fans. With Pitch Black, he struck a cult following chord that still, hopefully, resonates to this day. I’ve heard many say that Pitch Black is essentially a reworking of David Twohy’s rejected script for Alien 3, but my research does not confirm any correlation between the two projects especially since he co-wrote Pitch Black with two other writers in Jim & Ken Wheat. However, it is very easy to see how this could have been part of that franchise, but thankfully, this was its own thing that launched its own franchise that I am glad to say that I am a fan of. And yes, the director’s cut is the way to go for me.
When their ship crash-lands on a remote planet, the marooned passengers soon learn that escaped convict Riddick (Vin Diesel) isn’t the only thing they have to fear. Deadly creatures lurk in the shadows, waiting to attack in the dark, and the planet is rapidly plunging into the utter blackness of a total eclipse. With the body count rising, the doomed survivors are forced to turn to Riddick with his eerie eyes to guide them through the darkness to safety. With time running out there is only one rule: Stay in the light.
It’s interesting the structure that David Twohy goes for here. Once the crash occurs, most films would take on a gradual pace to establish many of these characters, and walk through the process of a slow burn build up to the lurking threats waiting for everyone. Instead, Twohy does a lot to jump forward beyond those gradual beats and goes for the tight, faster rhythm. He knows that the necessary focus is on Riddick, Fry, and Johns, primarily, and there are points that need to be hit with them before jumping headlong into the meat of the plot. We then learn more about these individuals as the conflicts and tensions escalate, which really works. Twohy keeps the pace very well balanced because of this approach. It starts out exciting, and continues to hold to that rhythm throughout. Danger is encroaching upon these characters, and that faster tempo is very essential to the effectiveness of the scenario.
The film has some very well crafted sequences that surely deliver on the suspense using silence, subtlety, and the darkness in very effective ways. While it doesn’t send chills up my spine to tingle me with terror, it is thrilling nonetheless. For me, I would veer this more towards an action vibe. The intention is survival horror, but there is enough intense action here to cater to anyone who isn’t so easily scared. Several characters are put into peril early on, some die, and that serves the tension later on knowing that anyone is expendable in this story. Anyone can fall prey to these quickly striking nocturnal creatures, and when they are charging through hordes of them with only minimal light to clear their way, it puts an audience on edge. Yet, little of this would mean anything if there weren’t well portrayed and written characters to involve yourself with.
I really like everything that David Twohy and Radha Mitchell do with Carolyn Fry, the now defacto commanding officer after the captain died during a hull breech. We know throughout the movie that she is not an altruistic hero as she tries to jettison the passengers to save her own life during the impending crash landing. So, there’s that condemnable quality that she works to redeem herself for through the film. She struggles to lead these people to safety as she constantly pushes that responsibility away, but she has to ultimately accept that leadership role in order to survive. Mitchell really stands strong in this role delivering a dimensional character that an audience can latch onto, emotionally, and invest themselves in as she grows and solidifies through this terrifying ordeal. Fry is vulnerable, but shows her strength by the end.
Cole Hauser makes the bounty hunter Johns a very good, subtly unstable foil here. He’s supposed to be a good guy considering he caught Riddick, but he’s a tough mercenary challenging everyone’s authority while feeding his drug habit. He’s a hostile wild card that could motivate people to safety, or more likely, jeopardize lives, including his own. He and Riddick are definitely set at odds, but the scenes between them are very interesting in the psychological aspect. Riddick is a guy who likes to play on peoples’ perceptions of him, and give them a certain amount of unpredictability to what he’ll do next. Johns knows plenty of Riddick’s tricks, and it’s interesting to see them subtly square off psychologically and physically.
Of course, the real star of the movie is Vin Diesel. The character of Richard B. Riddick is very much an anti-hero. He’s a convicted criminal who makes no excuses for himself, but knows how to use everyone’s fears and perceptions about him to his benefit. Diesel is very subtle in these moments speaking softly with a smirk showing that Riddick has people wrapped around his finger. Riddick knows just how far to push, and when to twist things back around. First and foremost, he is a survivor, and he knows that you can’t always do it alone. Vin Diesel injects confidence, intelligence, and cunning into the character, but also a very compelling mystique. Just like a Snake Plissken type, the less he says, the more interesting he becomes. His actions make him intriguing while what words he does speak weave a complex tapestry that simply sucks you in. You can gradually see this character becoming an iconic role as the film progresses, and even his opening narration sets the focus intriguingly upon Riddick right from the start.
There are a couple of notable supporting roles here including Keith David as the Muslim passenger Imam. He offers up a very solid character with strong beliefs and morality that add to the diverse personalities and attitudes of these characters. David is always a charismatic actor who can do tough everyman like in They Live or The Thing, but turn around and give you a substantive, cultured character such as Imam. Add to that is Jack, portrayed by Rhianna Griffith who comes to idolize Riddick, and forms some kind of attachment to him. There’s an odd twist to the character that seems fairly unnecessary, but it’s another trait to make Jack a slight bit more memorable. These are both well established, well portrayed characters which aid the film in very grounded, human ways.
Now, Pitch Black has a certain stylized look at times that never entirely sat right with me. I do like some of the over exposed daylight shots driving home the triple sun environment, but the rather monochromatic color washes don’t quite appeal to me. I just feel there must have been a better, more subtle way to color time these scenes to allow a slightly more varied color palette to shine through. Also, the inverted colors used in one false scare moment and a few cinematography and editing choices feel more akin to a flashy, stylized music video. These artistic choices just seemed more akin to stuff I had seen in the direct-to-video market than a theatrically released motion picture. That is sad for me to admit because beyond these off-beat moments, there is a lot of excellent cinematography to be had here. There’s a definite effort put towards production value with the cinematic camera moves and angles chosen. When the film gets into the darker and darker environments, it really takes on a very moody, atmospheric, and dangerous visual intensity. The whole planet eventually feels like a black, empty void perfectly reflecting the tense situation at hand. I also like that, in contrast to the overly exposed daytime scenes, the full-on night time scenes seem straining a little for exposure. You feel how dim the light is that these people have to work with and ward off these creatures, and that extra grain on the film stock just adds more gritty edge to the movie. Those issues I had are present only in the early part of the film. The remainder of it is shot, edited, and executed especially well.
Considering this was made on a $23 million budget in the early 2000s, I will say that the visual effects are fairly good based on those factors. In the grand scheme of CGI, Pitch Black has a LOT of room for improvement. These filmmakers were very ambitious with what they wanted to achieve on such a limited budget, and I can’t fault them for that. There are some better looking moments than others, and it is likely best, by design, that so many of these effects are played out in dark environments. In a brightly lit one, these creatures and digital effects would look really bad. While Riddick’s “shine job” vision allowing him to see in the dark is pretty damn cool, the creature vision is quite primitive like some cheap Photoshop radial blur effect. I hate to talk poorly about all of this because I see the ambition and visionary talent at work, but the budget could only be stretched so far to accommodate that, which is very unfortunate. If you doubled this film’s budget, the visual effects would be approaching excellent, I’m sure. As it is, if the characters and scenario pull you in, I think any shortcomings in the CGI will be forgivable in an audience’s eyes.
Another really exceptional quality here is Graeme Revell’s rich score. The main theme is excellent, thrilling, and rather triumphant. In an age of films that rarely attempt to forge a recognizable main theme of any kind, it’s refreshing to see especially a genre film crafting one that strikes a strong chord. Even though it had been several, several years since I had seen either this or The Chronicles of Riddick, I still recalled the theme fondly. Revell has done some stunning work when he really applies himself, such as on The Crow, Strange Days, and The Craft, and his effort really shows through here.
Surely, the basic concept of Pitch Black is not very original as I’m sure you can draw comparisons to the Alien franchise and various other science fiction / horror classics. However, like I said, even if this film does tingle you with terror, it has action and excitement to engage you. I definitely like the Riddick character. He’s very intriguing, and a solid anti-hero in cinema is always a fun concept. Vin Diesel was the right man for this role, and I love that he has had such a devotion to it alongside David Twohy. Pitch Black is definitely a cult classic which has plenty of merit and entertainment value. It’s a straight up type of film with certain plot conveniences to allow for this story to happen, but if it hooks you and you have fun watching it, none of it is gonna matter.
Warlock is a film I have always enjoyed, but have also always felt a little let down by. It’s a fantasy horror feature that had a great deal of potential with some fantastic performances and a good story behind it, but a low budget really hindered its potential. Directed by Steve Miner (Friday The 13th, Parts 2 & 3), Warlock was produced by the struggling New World Pictures in the late 1980s. It didn’t gain a release in the US until 1991 due to New World’s filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy soon after the movie was completed. Trimark Pictures gained the rights to the series which have since been absorbed by Lionsgate. Sequels were produced (one with Julian Sands, one with Bruce Payne), and while they had more impressive production values, they both were generally inferior on a screenplay level to the original. Unfortunately, a proper widescreen DVD release has still not been made available by anyone who’s held the rights. However, I have discovered an excellent quality widescreen presentation via FearNet OnDemand. Seeing it only on VHS all these years, I am astounded by its quality, and that is going to factor into my revised review here. Still, I have to hope that this transfer will become available in a new home video release in the high-definition digital era.
The film starts out in Boston, 1691 where Giles Redferne (Richard E. Grant) – a witch hunter – has captured the Warlock (Julian Sands), and is soon to be executed in a most ‘Salem witch trial’ sort of way. Although, the Warlock escapes in a time warp via the forces of Hell. He is transported to the year 1988 (the present) to locate the three parts of the Devil’s Bible which will give him the true name of God, and the power to destroy all of creation. However, Redferne (Richard E. Grant) is able to follow him to the future, only one day too late. The Warlock has a head start on him, and has already placed an extreme aging spell on Kassandra (Lori Singer), the young woman whose home the Warlock crash landed into. So, now it’s up to Redferne to track down his archenemy before he destroys all of creation.
This is an impressively effective supernatural thriller. That is due to several talented individuals putting a lot of skill and time into this. It is a steadily paced picture filled with a good balance of suspense, action, light humor, dramatic moments, and horror elements. Gore only minimally factors into the film. It is the atmosphere and the deliciously evil, sinister performance of Julian Sands that helps land it near the realm of horror. He truly turns the film into gold above its budgetary shortcomings. He is the perfect evil disguised as a man – as the trailer states – “with the face of an angel, and the charm of the Devil.” He is frightening with an amazingly chilling screen presence that pulls you in fully. He can set a foreboding tone without saying a word.
Meanwhile Richard E. Grant delivers a fine performance bringing the pure-hearted, moral charm of the out-of-time and out-of-place Redferne to the surface. Grant makes Redferne a very likeable character as he has a warm heart of gold without becoming sappy. He maybe a bit naive because of him being a stranger in an even stranger land, but he remains dedicated to his purpose and oath to bring an end to the Warlock for all time. Redferne could’ve come off as a rather campy hero, but beyond all the old word speech, the value of Grant’s performance shines through to present an honest, grounded protagonist. Redferne is given a depth and history to give him his avenging motivations for hunting the Warlock to the ends of the world and time. Grant inhabits those qualities with weight and conviction. Redferne is also a worthy adversary as he is knowledgeable and experienced in hunting the Warlock, and is more than capable of not only combating him, but ridding the world of him. Most importantly, Redferne has heart – which is something you don’t usually see in this sort of genre picture. It’s a perfect contrast of good and evil where the performances of Grant and Sands are concerned. One is a passionate man of virtue, and the other is an icy cold villain. When the two occasionally share a scene, it is juicy, meaty content that fuels the momentum of the film. Their final confrontation in the climax is very strong, and allows the characters to feed off of one another, fleshing out their sordid history. It is a powerful and nicely crafted climax indeed.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing special or greatly important about Lori Singer’s character, but in the least, Kassandra is a decently enjoyable guide through the late 20th century for our kind-hearted hero from the 17th century. She does build a nice chemistry with Grant which gives way to some charming humor at appropriate moments.
The few visual and makeup effects present in the film were decent for the time it was made and the budget it was allotted. Still, some of the optical visual effects are severely dated by today’s standards. They may even seem obsolete by the groundbreaking standards of the day (i.e. The Abyss, Predator, A Nightmare On Elm Street 4). This really only applies to the optical composites of the Warlock flying. Although, I doubt the low budget effects will hinder your enjoyment of the film greatly. I have witnessed films, released before and after this one, with tremendously lower quality effects. I did find a nostalgic appreciation for the animated magical fire the Warlock wields. On the practical side, the old age make-up used on Lori Singer while she is hexed by the Warlock was far from being a crowning achievement, but it’s never been a serious detractor for me over all these years.
Steve Miner does as good of a job as ever here despite the film not being high on scares or blood – unlike his work on the first two Friday The 13th sequels. However, Warlock is a worthwhile supernatural thriller, and Miner should be proud of what he was able to create here. He handles the story with respect and care. He provides suspense and tension where need be, and is able to ramp the intensity up at the right moments. The screenwriter for this film was David Twohy (The Fugitive, Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick), and he definitely wrote a fine script that shows a rough, early version of his now well-known style. If Twohy wanted to direct a remake, or a worthy sequel – I’d definitely be privy to seeing it. With a more generous budget and little studio interference, he can churn out a really good film.
Looking at the credits of this film, there are a some notable names that would become horror veterans themselves. Two I noticed were David R. Ellis (director of Final Destination 2 & 4) as stunt coordinator and second unit director, and special make-up effects artist Tom Woodruff, Jr. of Stan Winston Studios and later Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. (who have become responsible for the creature effects on all the Alien sequels). It’s always interesting to see that such amazing talents worked on a film such as this early on. It gives good context on where they’ve been, and how they’ve advanced their craft over the years.
The cinematography is fairly good. There’s a nice choice of angles and movement, and in select scenes, very moody lighting that enhances the Warlock’s dramatic presence. These elements come together quite well with the visual effects to create a darkly fantastical atmosphere. I don’t know how well it all would work for a modern audience, but since I grew up through this era, I can appreciate it with a nostalgic context.
The one last thing to praise is the late Jerry Goldsmith’s score. I have loved his work for years from his scores for the Star Trek franchise to an endless MASSIVE list of feature films. His score for Warlock had haunting, mysterious elements, and an epic feeling at the film’s climax. This musical master always delivered something memorable and wonderfully cinematic, no matter what the film or genre. It’s a sad thing he is no longer with us. I just hope that his legacy will be carried on by new generations of musical masters.
In the end, it really is the budget that holds down the greatness of this film. It had some solid talent in front of and behind the camera along with a well written screenplay. Not to mention, the title role was perfectly cast with an actor that envelopes the screen, and inhabits every scene with vile charm. Warlock simply did not have the money to boost its production values to a level comparable to the talent involved. It generally does not look cheap, but the dated and low quality visual and make-up effects damage it. But where there are films that falter despite great visual effects and production values, this one soars to respectable heights despite lower grade effects and budgetary limitations. This is due to the quality of talent injected into it, and the solid foundation laid down with David Twohy’s script. It’s full of charm, suspense, mystery, intrigue, and subtle terror. I thank the now defunct Trimark Pictures for picking up this film from the then defunct New World Pictures. I just wish Lionsgate would do something special for this old gem because it honestly deserves it.