By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 30, 2013
In 2000, writer-director David Twohy helmed a modestly budget science fiction actioner named Pitch Black. The film, made for $23 million, starred Vin Diesel as a violent criminal named Richard B. Riddick who is stranded along with a handful of other people when their commercial transport crash-lands on a backwater desert world.
The tautly paced 109-minute movie begins with the thoroughly harrowing crash. Every subsequent bit of the story chronicles the castaways’ battle for survival — a struggle that sometimes pits them against each other even as the group must face down swarms of malevolent predators that soon emerge from their new surroundings.
Riddick, a violent and menacing presence whom a lawman named Johns struggles to contain, is the dark heart of Pitch Black. But to its credit, the film — co-written by Twohy along with Jim and Ken Wheat — is populated with several other fascinating characters. Viewers are not only entertained by the action sequences but intrigued by the task of working through just what is happening on the planet and by puzzling out just who among the survivors might be trustworthy.
Pitch Black was followed by a 2004 sequel, Chronicles of Riddick, another collaboration among Diesel, Twohy and the brothers Wheat. I’ve only seen this film in parts (much in the same way as I initially became familiar with Pitch Black), but I know it works a much broader canvas. The film dispatches its antihero to at least two different worlds and pits him against a villainous horde intent upon conquering the universe.
Chronicles of Riddick, which was made for about quintuple the budget of Pitch Black, opened to a lukewarm critical reception and reportedly made back only about half of its budget.
For the recently opened Riddick, Diesel has reunited with Twohy, who this time goes solo on screenwriting duties. The new movie has a scaled-down story and budget (just $38 million) in comparison with its predecessor. It looks stunning, efficiently cranks up the tension and delivers reliable thrills, but unfortunately, it lacks some of the zip of the original.