Third time lucky?
It has been an occasionally lonely life, being an un-ironic fan of Vin Diesel.
I freely admit that there is no rhyme or reason to my enjoyment of work – I will essentially see nearly anything that he appears in, which means that I do own a copy of “The Pacifier”, which is a fairly twee family comedy that I’ve watched once and then sent to live on one of our DVD shelves, never to return again to regular circulation.
For the most part, my fandom revolves around the Riddick movies. “Pitch Black” (2000) was the first DVD which I saw played through a home cinema system, and it’s one of my favourite SF movies of the last twenty years. Dark, brooding, boasting a killer twist and a anti-hero for the ages in the form of Diesel’s character, Richard Riddick, “Pitch Black” is one of those films which I like to watch every so often, to help me keep the faith that movie studios will stop making ruinously expensive, wannabe-event flicks and go back to the idea of making relatively inexpensive, character-driven genre pictures.
Not pictured - a horde of slavering alien beasties awaiting your blood
That wish, of course, was somewhat contradicted by “Pitch Black” follow-up, “The Chronicles of Riddick” (2004), which eschewed small-scale, idea-driven genre concerns and went all-out to craft Diesel an SF franchise which would be his “Lord of the Rings” – a trilogy of pictures told on a bigger scale than the original film, a dark “Star Wars” with realistic characters contrasted against a grand galactic canvas.
Diesel's stand against studio interference went south quickly...
There are elements of “The Chronicles of Riddick” which work beautifully – the dark tone suggests that all concerned were going for a story which is heavily indebted to the best literary science fiction, the film’s future-gothic hybrid look is still quite distinctive seven years later and the cast (Judi Dench!) is seriously impressive – but the whole piece weirdly fails to cohere satisfactorily.
Genre ace David Twohy returned to write and direct but despite his involvement the film feels flabbier and unfocussed, presumably as a result of the film (and Vin’s) epic aspirations – you get the sense watching “Chronicles” that everybody involved wanted a piece of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” action but somehow forgot that an F-bomb-fuelled, glumly-lit SF epic, full of bone-crunching violence and morally compromised characters probably wasn’t going to appeal to the widest audience possible.
Riddick, after all, is an unrepentant murderer and anti-hero – the mantle of galactic saviour was always going to seem like a bad fit. The film’s insistence on ret-conning an elaborate mythology (Furyons! Necromongers! The Lord Marshall!) into Riddick’s small, noir world never quite comes together – we never had a hint of this stuff in the first movie, so to cut-and-paste this small-time bad man into ornate throne rooms and despotic societies, presided over by aristocratic undead nether-gods, to position him as a Christ-like figure with supernatural abilities and make his character central to the fate of an entire galaxy is at odds with the smaller concerns of “Pitch Black”.
A boy and his (alien) dog...
It’s perhaps heartening, then, that Vin Diesel’s hard-won return to box-office success in the last couple of “Fast and Furious” movies has meant that Universal are ready to roll the dice on a third “Riddick” installment, with Diesel and Twohy doing away with the grand scale of part two and returning to a survival story akin to the first movie.
The art atop this post was posted by Diesel at the weekend, on his Facebook page, where he continues to post updates on his “Riddick” adventures, the next “Fast and Furious” picture (Memorial Day 2013, fact fans) and perhaps even the rumoured “XXX” threequel. Where he was once eager to avoid sequels, he’s now happy to return to characters that his audience loves.
If it stops another family comedy nightmare for yours truly, I’m all for his return to the well…