I finally saw one of those sexist commercials everyone's always complaining about (by everyone I mean those feminist robot peoples) and I was a little offended. It's for the new Hoover quiet vacuum and it features a woman vacuuming the house while her husband (or boyfriend, she might be living in sin, I didn't notice a ring) and son sleep on the couch. Thanks to the miracle of the Hoover vacuum she is able to clean the already spotless house without disturbing their sleep. Then it shows the men playing on a beach and she walks through a wall out to them, after, of course, her vacuuming is done. First of all, why is she vacuuming the immaculate home? That doesn't need doing at all. Who cares if there's a little dust? Life's too short to spend it worrying about minor imperfections. Secondly, why is the guy leaving his wife in the house vacuuming while he goes to the beach? Shouldn't he be ashamed of his behavior? If he was a real man he would at LEAST do some sort of other work until she was done. Helping the kid with homework, doing some stuff in the yard, earning some money by working from home. His wife shouldn't be working while he plays. Hoser.
Spoilers for Pitch Black and Chronicles of Riddick follow. Don't like it? Don't read it. At least it's not a man's bare hairy ass, like I had inflicted on my friends page.
I saw Chronicles of Riddick today, because I had a free pass and it gave me an excuse to go for a long walk and get some exercise. It was predictably bad. The thing is that I watched Pitch Black earlier, as well as playing the video game, and both of those are reasonably entertaining. Yes, Pitch Black is definitely derivative of Alien, but it's good some good sets, some good monstes, and a great character in Richard Riddick (although it's important to note that he wasn't the main character of the film. He narrated the opening and definitely played a big part, but it was an ensemble effort, and if I had to pick a single main character it would have to be the female ship's officer, even though she gets eaten at the end.) It's a solid flick, and I have no problem with the idea of making a sequel to it focused on the Richard B. Riddick character. In other words, the problems with Chronicles weren't there from its inception in some studio board room. Some films are based on a concept that could never work. Not this one.
I believe that the problems came when they budgeted the flick at $105 million. I truly believe that overbudgeting film can be as disasterous as underbudgeting. That's not to say that no film deserves $105 million in budget, I didn't have a problem with Terminator 2 being budgeted at $102 million, and that was over a decade ago so after inflation it's considerably more. The key is, however, to match the budget to the flick. T2 was about killer robots that tore apart a city trying to destroy one another. That's a film that's going to cost a lot of money to make, and that's fine. T3 was about the same thing, only more so. They gave it a budget of $200 million, and it didn't really work. I think the budget was part of the problem.
Why? Because the more money you have the more you're going to spend. The more you spend, the more special effects you're going to have. The more special effects you're going to have the more the CHARACTERS and story are going to get buried. Why was Robert Patrick so much more effective as a Terminator than his female counterpart? Part of it was the acting, he's better than she is (As the T-X100 she looked at opponents as if she was ready to fight them. He looked at them with contempt, as if they were gnats, like a terminator should.) A lot of it, however, was the way that the story was allowed to develop. They spent time in the hospital with the two terminators coming to get the Connors. In T3 they rush to the big highway chase. Characters and story get pushed out by money and special effects. Yes I know that James Cameron wasn't involved in T3, and that's part of the problem, but he proved in Titanic that he can also suffer from bloated budgeting, and I think that T3 would still have stunk with him at the helm. I'm not saying the money was everything, but it was a thing.
Riddick definitely suffered from this as compared to Pitch Black. Richard B. Riddick is a psycho who lives on the edges of society, if not outside it altogether. Thanks to the magic of a huge budget and CG, Chronicles is all about him dealing WITH society, and it doesn't really work. He was imposing as hell running in the dunes of that backwater world, hiding in ruined buildings and sand trenches. In a city environment with light and buildings and art and crowds that effect is hampered. The scope of the film is epic, and he's just not an epic character.
Before I continue I should talk about another problem that the budget infliced on the film. It made it PG-13. This was a DISASTER for Chronicles of Riddick, because Riddick is an R rated character. He's a murderous psycho nihilist. In Pitch Black he spends most of the film just fucking with people, and he kills Johns in something approaching cold blood. Sure he helps the people, but it's really out of interest and bemusement more than any sort of kindness or humanity. The last battle with captain lady, before he decides to help her the word he says is "Fascinating." Riddick really only wants to be stimulated, and a planet full of monsters is stimulation enough that he doesn't need additional murder to amuse himself. Helping the others only adds more challenge for him. He is slightly redeemed at the end, when he says that he died back on that planet, but it's an uneasy marriage of heroism and psychosis and the film doesn't necessarily imply that it's permanent. In many ways he's like an edgier Rambo character.
In Chronicles of Riddick he's a pretty typical anti-hero, a washed out PG-13 character. Now I understand why they decided to make the film PG-13. It was expensive, they wanted to get as wide an audience as possible, and there are still plenty of backwater hicktowns in the U.S. where teenagers aren't allowed to go to R rated films, and teenagers DRIVE the blockbuster season. So they decided to make the movie PG-13 so that old Louanne, with her 3rd grade education and quaint belief in god, wouldn't bar the audience from coming to see it.
In doing so, however, they gutted the character. Judi Dench (I don't know her, but in this film she was slumming so badly she might as well have been Eddie Murphy with a transexual prostitute. You know she read the paycheck before she read the script.) tells us in the opening narration that you have to fight evil with a different kind of evil. Riddick is that different kind of evil. Only he's not. He doesn't do anything evil in this movie. He doesn't even kill the irritating bounty hunter when he has the chance. He cares about the girl, tries to save the world, and just generally acts like he's been pussified beyond recognition. In Pitch Black Riddick is a hunter. He sniffs out his prey and stalks it mercillesly. He goes mano a mano with a monster and guts it with his shiv. There's only vague traces of that in the sequel, and they're not nearly as interesting. For me the sequel lost all credibility when Riddick walked into the Necromonger conversion meeting to face off against his opponent. That was spectacularly stupid and not his style. He should have dropped from above and beheaded the guy when he was out on patrol, not strolled into a meeting with thousands of enemies. After that he follows the evil lady into a trap. Oh yeah, nice instincts Riddick. It's been a long time since you've smelled beautiful, eh? Does anyone fall for that line?
Oh, and why doesn't anyone finish him in this movie? It's like a James Bond film, the villains win but never finish the job. In the first film Johns wanted his bounty and Riddick was something of a Moby Dick for him. It made sense that he wouldn't 'ghost him' and then later on the group needed him to survive. That's fine, logical. In this one they want to convert him at first, but later on they clearly want him dead. Yet they leave him lying around on the floor to recouperate several times. Stupid villains.
Of course the character of Riddick isn't the only problem with the film. There's Jack, the girl from the first film who is clearly at least 7 years older in the second even though only 5 years have passed, and has become a 22 year old surley adolescent. Ummm...okay? Why not use the original actress? She did work on the cartoon, so clearly she wasn't against involvement with the franchise. She wasn't sexy enough? Bad reason. Bad. There's the STUPID names for everything. Necromongers? Crematoria? Are these 1950's names for obscure comic book characters? Come on. There's the transformation from gritty rimworld sci-fi with guns and dust and sweat and rust to 'high' sci fi with lasers and giant cities and the like. Why? Riddick is a dirty character, don't put him in a clean world. There's the Necromongers dumb iron costumes that look about 3000 years older than they should. There's the lame plotting, the super stupid Crematoria prison world which holds about 8 inmates on an entire planet, and has a surface which can burn you, unless you're, you know, in the shade (Protip, heat radiates out through air. Shade helps a little bit, but if it's 400 degrees in direct sunlight you're STILL going to bake if your behind a rock.) There's the addition of nonhuman races, for no apparent purpose except to explain why Riddick is such a badass. It needs no explanation. You didn't hire Vin Diesel for his Shakespearian acting did you? If so, umm...that was a mistake.
As for the Necromongers? Well they're not nearly as threatening as they OUGHT to be. First of all they're human, with recognizable goals and desires. Secondly, they are movie villans with STUPID goals and desires. There's no culture or anything of interest. They're just boring imperialists. Yawn. Heck the Necromonger conversion process is even imperfect. Their brain washing DOESN'T REALLY WORK. The Necromongers are actually LESS threatening than the Republican party. Both groups prey on the weak willed and the stupid, converting them into brainless fanatics who live only to serve their masters. At least the Necromongers don't lie about their goals. The lead Necromonger is less frightening than the U.S. president. Not a great move.
Anyway, the film squandered a golden opportunity. It could have been a great film about a complicated character looking for redemption. Instead it was watered down "let's appeal to everyone while pleasing nobody" crap. Not the worst film ever, I wouldn't necessarily skip it if it was on cable, but it is an object lesson of how a film maker can do a decent job with a lower budget and a mediocre one with a bigger budget. At least the video game maintains the Riddick we came to know and...enjoy...during the first movie. The second film, does not.