Sunday, June 13, 2004

Notes on The Chronicles of Riddick 

Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution announces: "We have our first serious contender for Worst Movie of 2004."

(From IMDB)

The movie is nowhere near that bad. To call it that bad just after The Day After Tomorrow, Garfield, Van Helsing, and Hellboy, is unbelievable. I really wouldn't be defending this movie so much if it weren't for how harsh its reception has otherwise been. It's not at all amazing, and it's not as good as the original. But at least it has some imagination; I watched the whole movie thinking, "Why can't George Lucas, and his mountains of money come up with something that feels this imaginative and fresh?" For all the movie's flaws, it's got some original ideas, and Riddick is still a satisfyingly clever and resourceful character.

Unfortunately, the flaws are numerous, and do weigh it down. I won't even compare it to the original, it's just too different. The first thing that would come to mind is my oft-cited complaint about fight scene cinematography: it's crap. You really can't tell what's going on in any action sequence, it's just a bunch of random shots of stuff happening. Cool stuff, maybe, but it's hard to tell because you often can't put it into spatial or temporal context. (One possible exception to this is the fight sequence at the end of the Crematoria chapter; it's so crazy that it seems like they were specifically trying to do the opposite, trying to capture how insanely fast-paced everything was. You even stop hearing what's going on. I'm not sure that it worked, but I thought it was an interesting take on a major, high-stakes fight involving many people that needed to happen in like a minute).

Here's one of the movie's major sins. Pitch Black had a character named Jack, a young blond-haired boy as I recall. Early on, Riddick figures out that Jack is actually a girl. Well, the character is back, only now she's grown up into a lithe, dark-haired woman. The character's past is so inconvenient that she even asks to be called by another name: Kyra. That's not the worst of it. In Pitch Black, Jack thinks Riddick's eyes are cool, and wants to know how you get them. Riddick tells her that you have to be a prisoner, and get someone in there to do it for you. Of course, as The Chronicles of Riddick picks up, Jack/Kyra has actually taken this advice seriously, become a murderer, and gone to prison. She's upset, seemingly because this hasn't actually resulted in her eyes getting shined. Latching onto these minor exchanges in pre-existing material and trying to flesh them out is a leading source of bad writing. Minor, forgettable details that are mentioned to add detail to a character usually become ridiculous when expanded into major subplots or character traits. (The textbook example of this is Abre Los Ojos/Vanilla Sky. I saw Vanilla Sky and had no idea where all those ridiculous subplots about the other members of his company trying to take him over, or his acute fear of heights came from. When I saw Abre Los Ojos again, I realized that they were small, isolated, forgettable utterances in that movie that are never returned to, yet in Vanilla Sky they probably add 15 minutes to the movie in total).

Also, Riddick doesn't always make sense. Several times I found myself wondering what the heck was going on, or who someone was. Were the Necromongers more like zombies, or did they retain free will? I went the whole movie thinking the former, but then it seems to be the latter in the end. What the hell did Judy Dench's character have to do with anything? She narrates the beginning and the end, but then in the middle of the movie, Riddick himself has a voiceover at one point, which is jarring to say the least. That's just sloppy film-making. During the prison sequence, a bunch of weird, dog-like monsters are released on the prisoners, with no context for understanding why this is done. And it's hard to understand exactly what transpires between the mercenaries in the prison guards.

Speaking of those dogs, for a movie that looks so great otherwise, whoever approved those prison dogs should be fired. The computer graphics are so terrible, they're practically cartoons.

Those are the really obvious, hard to forgive flaws. But I'd like to point out some things I thought this movie got right, or at least gave a good effort on. Although some critics savaged the art direction of the Necromongers, I liked it. It might have been over the top, but if the alternative was bland and forgettable ship design like Star Trek and Star Wars, I much prefer the towering statues and cruel-looking helmets in Riddick (and the Necromongers are basically Borg). The bizarre infrared-seeing creatures with the glowing purple helmets are just too cool to forget. When they're sniffing for the main characters, you feel their fear. The isolated locale for Pitch Black really left them with a lot of room to manuever in this department, and they rightly took advantage of it. There was also an interesting coup subplot involving Thandie Newton's character and her husband. It was horribly fumbled by the end, but it had me interested anyways.

Basically, the critics were too harsh here, and if this movie interests you, you should check it out for yourself. Usually when they say "ignore the critics," that's a bad sign. But hey, these are the same critics that largely gave Hellboy a pass (while I thought it was disappointing and forgettable), and held up Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as some really deep masterpiece or something. If it weren't for the fact that I hadn't read the reviews before I saw it, I probably wouldn't have, but I'm glad I did anyways even if it's not a movie for the ages. The Chronicles of Riddick isn't a masterpiece (not even close), but the things it gets right are hard to find elsewhere, and that makes its shortcomings all the more frustrating.
Dude, Crouching Tiger rocked. What's interesting is that there were two different edits in the American theaters. In Boston I saw the first one, which was darker and more profound. Then, I saw it again and parts were cut out and edited differently. It was like changing it from R to PG-13. One particular scene I really liked, when that young woman and pirate-like guy first kissed... all of the emotional impact was just drained from it. So, maybe you say the crappier cut, or maybe, just as the underhype makes you defend Riddick more, perhaps the overhype of Crouching made you like it less.

Either way, don't forget about the horrible Star Wars prequels. A passing comment made in the originals about "the clone wars" was obviously never intended to be the clone of Boba Fett (technically, Boba is a different branch of that gene pool, but come on... it's an army of Boba Fetts: a passing character in the originals that just got cult status for looking cool and being obscure). I'm seriously in the camp that, had Lucas intended a prequel trilogy at all, he sure as hell decided to drop the one that would have made sense.

It's interesting about Vanilla Sky... I saw it and was really disappointed. The stupid twist ending was neither surprising nor inevitable (I think Aristotle first said that good endings (to plays) are both surprising and inevitable-- the Sixth Sense is a good example).
I think our opinions on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are probably doomed to forever disagree. But I do think it was horrible in a way that couldn't be solved with more or less editing. Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.

In any case, I don't think of this writeup as having given extra credit to Riddick due to the press it was receiving. It has nothing to do with expectations, since as I said, I had no idea what the reviews said, and if anything, my expectations from Pitch Black would have applied downward pressure to Riddick.

Rather, I was just trying to give what I felt was a clearer picture of the movie. I mentioned that so that my detailed defense wouldn't be misconstrued as enthusiasm. Riddick is a perfectly competent sci-fi movie.

As for Vanilla Sky, I didn't enjoy it. Partially it was the fact that anything good or memorable from it was ripped off completely from Abre Los Ojos, right down to particular shots. What wasn't was the aforementioned garbage based on the minor utterances of characters in the original movie. But, uh, if you're saying that the ending was obvious to you...
The ending wasn't obvious, but it didn't make sense either. Sure, there was foreshadowing, but you didn't see the "twist" ending and think "of course!" Instead, it just felt like a pointless ending. Might as well have ended saying "and this was all in the imagination of a boy sick with cancer." It just wasn't the logical conclusion.
Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?