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.
Retrospect can bring clarity. You see, back in 2003, I had never been more excited for the release of a movie than Freddy vs. Jason. I could barely get to sleep the night before its opening. I saw it twice on opening day and a third time later that weekend. It was a massive experience for me, and I was even in contact with an executive at New Line Cinema while running Forever Horror at the time. Posters, soundtracks, magazines, and the novelization quickly came into my possession because I was so enthusiastic and in love with this movie. It was a monumental moment in time. That was a long time ago, and even a few years after the film’s release I realized what this film truly was – a major disappointment. The hype is dead and buried, the anticipation is a vague memory. What I see and know now is that Freddy vs. Jason was a monument of missed opportunities due to a poor script “clean up” by David Goyer and the over-the-top comic book stylings of director Ronny Yu. This film was barely what it should have been, and did not portray Jason to his fullest potential.
Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is in hell, and can’t get out. Everyone has forgotten about him, he has no power over anyone in the dream world. He’s searched throughout hell for someone that could help him reignite people’s fear of Freddy, and he has in Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger). Freddy, posing as Jason’s mother Pamela Voorhees (Paula Shaw), manipulates Jason into reawakening and doing Freddy’s dirty work for a time. Jason goes to Elm Street in Springwood, Ohio to lay the seeds of fear that will re-empower Freddy, but when Jason becomes uncontrollable and continues to take Freddy’s thunder and victims – the two immediately come at odds and the battle for 80s horror icon supremacy begins.
To be plainly straight forward, Ronny Yu does nothing with this film to make it remotely resemble anything horror-related. While we have monsters and gore and murder, he doesn’t even try to make anything scary. He just turns this entire concept into a comic book adventure with larger than life action like a Michael Bay film. It’s all ridiculously overblown action with absolutely no attempt at building tension or suspense. Ronny Yu didn’t care to take these characters back to their truly horror-driven roots. In fact, he demonstrates very little to zero knowledge of the characters at all. Ken Kirzinger’s performance is forced by Yu to be a slow lumbering Frankenstein’s Monster at times, and then, as an animalistic enraged killer. Kirzinger does the best he can, but Yu forced him into a very specific, narrow portrayal of Jason that does not display the character at his best. Ken was Kane Hodder’s stunt double in Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, and so, he knows how to do Jason justice (even if it is Kane Hodder’s version). Ronny Yu simply knew nothing about the best aspects of Jason’s character, about what worked best in previous interpretations – let alone display Jason’s creative diversity with different weapons. He may look like Jason Voorhees, but there is little here that resembles the character fans have come to enjoy. I also severely hate the comical context Jason is thrown into repeatedly throughout the film.
Robert Englund, on the other hand, is allowed to put in possibly the best performance as Freddy Krueger since the original A Nightmare On Elm Street. Freddy is sick, sadistic, and just totally vile here. Unfortunately, the wisecracks and one-liners still do pop up to form some very cringe inducing moments. It seems as if the lame humor aspects of the character will never die, but compared to the portrayal in Freddy’s Dead – this is evil incarnate. When Englund’s in the moment of the most terrible acts, he delivers something we’ve hungered for way too long – pure, serious villainy. Freddy may have been given only one kill in this film, but it truly is memorable. The entire sequence is vintage Elm Street. The slur in Krueger’s voice is new, but it also adds a touch of sickening evil. Overall, Freddy is given a far better treatment here than Jason. I believe that’s mainly because New Line was still the ‘House That Freddy Built,’ and he was their icon. There’s nobody on board this production that was just as devoted to Jason as others were to Freddy. I can surely hear the cries for “Kane Hodder,” but he had some ego issues with the role that did not serve him well in the aftermath of his departure. He certainly had great reason to be upset for being canned from the film, but at some point, you have to be a professional and let it go.
The weakness of this film lies with Ronny Yu and the script. Screenwriters Mark Shannon & Damian Swift reportedly had a lot more Jason-centric elements in the story, but David Goyer came in, eliminated many good things about it, cheesed up the dialogue, and ultimately made it a worse script overall. When I saw Blade: Trinity, I saw how bad Goyer’s screenwriting could be when there’s no one to fine-tune it. The guy isn’t as great of a scriptwriter as we’ve been led to believe. The level of cheesy, horribly poor dialogue is out-right obscene. It is cringe inducing to sit through it. Still, a really good actor can make bad dialogue workable, even tolerable, but the cast we have here was a long way off from winning any awards beyond a Razzie. Jason Ritter is stiff, boring, and shallow. Monica Keena has a very ample upper body that’s used to laughable ends, but she displays no decent acting skills whatsoever. Also, don’t get me start on Kelly Rowland – terrible, horrible, a pure crime against cinema. It’s acting like this that could make great and proud B-movie actors like Bruce Campbell or Jeffrey Combs ashamed to be associated with the genre. Although, there are some good efforts here, but unfortunately, they’re gone all too early. These performances come from Brendan Fletcher as Mark Davis and Zack Ward as Mark’s long-dead brother Bobby. Freddy uses Bobby to haunt and torture Mark to creepy effect, and Ward does a fine job mimicking Englund’s mannerisms. Fletcher does very well despite having the burden of tackling most of the exposition in the film. His character is smarter than all the other teenagers combined, as is Fletcher’s acting talent. Too bad he’s disposed of once all his exposition dialogue has been delivered. Lochlyn Munro clocks in as Officer Stubbs, and while his character seems to have some bit of potential, at least in story development, it’s dashed halfway through the film when he’s made into another statistic on the body count list. That’s the failing of the characters in this film – if you have exposition dialogue in this film, you’re going to die right after you’ve served that purpose. If you have nothing at all to contribute to the film in character, story, or acting talent, you’ll survive to the final act.
The effects in this movie are decent, but there’s way too much CGI employed. Visual effects have always been a major element in the Nightmare films, but this is more than enough and too cheesy. The volume of blood here makes everything very silly and hardly scary. Also, the fact that Freddy has always had green blood in all previous film entries, and he now has regular red blood shows how little anyone cared for continuity. Plus, Jason is undead – he has no blood pumping through his veins, yet it all spurts out like geysers. Ever since undead Jason debuted in Jason Lives, his blood has been a black, gooey substance that oozes out of his wounds, when he did bleed. The design of Jason is different, and while I like the hockey mask, it becomes too battered by the end ruining the visualization of Jason’s moral blankness that it’s meant to symbolize. The raggedy clothing he’s draped in makes him look like a homeless derelict. Why they couldn’t stick with the coveralls or the classic green shirt and tan khakis is beyond me. He really does look like Frankenstein’s Monster in this film, minus the neck bolts.
Also, the level of comedy here is just wrong. Even when Freddy is beating down on Jason in the dream world boiler room, it’s all done comically. Jason’s just hurled around like in a pinball machine complete with sound effects and wisecracks. I just hate that they couldn’t keep Freddy as a sick, detestable bastard, but instead were so tempted to make a wisecracking “fun” villain. Freddy Krueger is setup from the very first moment of this movie as a child killer and possibly something even more sickening, but not long after, he’s being played up as a jokey villain. This doesn’t jibe with me. Certainly, nothing should be taken too seriously with a film that pits a wisecracking dream demon against an undead killer wearing a hockey mask, but there are certain character traits that should be weighed in when dealing with the character overall. As a human being, Freddy Krueger kidnapped, violated, and killed children – not a laughing matter at all. Of course, if anyone had made any attempt to make the majority of the teenage characters in this film any bit real, let alone sympathetic, Freddy would seem more villainous by attempting to kill them all. Beyond just the portrayal of Freddy, the quality of the comedy is horribly cheap and childish. It’s just badly written puns that add to the pile of garbage dialogue that this film dumps upon us. The fact that they blatantly ripped-off the character of Jay from Jay & Silent Bob in the form of Freeberg just shows the laziness of the writing and casting. While stoners have been a slasher mainstay, I cannot condone them carbon copying a character from a comedy franchise for a few weak, cheap laughs. It’s a blatant sign of being creatively bankrupt or simply lazy.
The score created by Graeme Revell is grossly disappointing. It sounds like he composed the thing during a ten minute coffee break in between films. The same weak musical cues are used a dozen times over, and no real thought out themes exist here. There was only one Jason “vocal effect” produced for the film, and any bit of Charles Bernstein’s Elm Street theme that appears in the soundtrack was injected in the aftermath of Revell’s scoring. Knowing that Revell did the brilliant, beautiful, and very gothic score for The Crow made me hopeful that he’d deliver something equally as epic, but sadly, he phones this work in. I would’ve preferred someone along the lines of Christopher Young scoring this as he did amazing work on the first two Hellraiser films and subsequent motion picture scores. Regardless, whatever I had hoped for, this score is the most disappointing of either series. Revell wasn’t even trying here.
The only good part of the film is the end when Freddy and Jason finally battle in the real world, but I’m only speaking of when they get hands-on. Only when the two are chopping and tearing away at each other – ripping chunks of flesh from their bodies – does it get really damn good. Everything previous to that is either a ridiculous WWE style brawl with flying elbows and such, or Freddy hurling heavy objects at Jason. The real meat of the entire encounter is Freddy and Jason dropping the bullshit creativity, and just ripping each other apart! This doesn’t last long enough, though, and it takes a third party to really allow for a winner of any kind to prevail, despite no one actually winning at all.
Again, another failing of this film is abandoning any sense of horror or suspense. It’s just a monster movie meant to splatter blood across the screen, and that just doesn’t hold my interest. There are a few frightening moments and a slew of excellent kills, but a little less time spent over indulging in comical farce and more time spent building up atmosphere and tension could’ve gone an exceptionally long way. There are also numerous missed opportunities. There could’ve been a great story with characters from both franchises coming together to deal with Freddy and Jason. Shannon and Swift had mentions of Tommy Jarvis in the script, but he did not appear. I think bringing together Tommy and maybe Alice from Dream Master and The Dream Child could’ve made a blockbuster combination. In the least, we would’ve had a lead cast that could actually act.
On my horror movie website Forever Horror, I had an ever-growing article on the history of Freddy vs. Jason from the beginning of both franchises past the point of this film’s theatrical release. It’s an insanely long article due to how long the film was in development. It had been trying to get made since 1987, and for all the stacks of scripts, screenwriters, and directors that were attached to this film over those many long years, I cannot believe this is the best script New Line Cinema could come up with. I cannot believe that Ronny Yu was the best director they could find to helm this. There must’ve been a half dozen or more horror filmmakers out there craving to do this project that would’ve done an extremely better job with it. Again, Yu essentially knew next to nothing about either character or franchise, and it just shocks me that New Line Cinema would hand this film over to someone like that. I can understand wanting to avoid hiring someone with a bias towards Freddy or Jason, but the film still turned out more like A Nightmare on Elm Street sequel guest starring Jason.
I will admit that Friday The 13th is my favorite slasher film series, but even from an objective point of view, it’s easy to see the lack of Jason-centric elements here. Crystal Lake doesn’t show up until the third act, and there’s a gross lack of creativity in Jason’s weapons and most of his kills. Practically having that machete glued to his hand the whole film again displays the shallow knowledge the filmmakers had for Jason. Also, claiming that Jason has some subconscious fear of water is preposterous. We’ve seen Jason submerged in water numerous times in multiple films without so much as hesitating to do so. He walked underwater halfway from Crystal Lake to Manhattan without a problem. Also, regardless of the tone of the Friday The 13th movie, Jason was always portrayed as entirely serious and lethal, but this film pokes too much fun at him. It puts him into comical moments that could’ve been reworked to be suspenseful. It’s horrible direction and campy screenwriting like this which also turned Alien vs. Predator into such an abomination. Both of these films could’ve had so much potential to be absolutely grisly, frightening, and intense films, but bad directors and screenwriters with no sense of respect for the material destroyed those hopes. While AVP is undeniably the worst of the two, Freddy vs. Jason demonstrated you could get away with showing only little to no respect for the source material, and still be greatly successful at the box office.
What more can I even say about this in a summation? The movie hit like a wild fire, but all that excitement and praise was just hype. Today, I don’t buy into hype. Either the film looks good or it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t deliver on my more matured tastes, no amount of hype is going to overshadow that. There are films I can admit are bad, but still gain some degree of enjoyment from it. While Freddy vs. Jason is a more tolerable film than Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare or Jason X, I have not had the genuine urge to watch it in many years. This is not a film to vehemently avoid, but it is one where your expectations need to be drastically lowered to avoid severe disappointment. If for nothing else, the horrible, vacuous acting is something you need to brace yourself for because it will make you cringe. Overall, this movie was a gimmick, plain and simple. It wasn’t about being faithful to the characters, fans, continuity, or franchises. It wasn’t about good acting, directing, scoring, or scriptwriting either. It’s strange that a film built out of the idea of fan service really has little to offer the fans that know the franchises the best. It’s even worse that after this film was such a huge success, New Line Cinema decided to inflict the curse of the remake upon both Freddy and Jason. So sad.