1999's Pitch Black was an inventive sci-fi actioner that introduced us to Vin Diesel, who mostly failed to capitalise on that promising start as a Hollywood action hero. I know he's part of the Fast & The Furious movies, which have somehow become box-office dynamite, but he only rejoined that franchise after solo projects xXx and Babylon A.D flopped at the box-office. And that's a pity, because I really like Diesel as an action star. He has a gravelly voice that could give Satan the willies, and is muscular without being too much of a Schwarzenegger-style cartoon.
More than that, I love the anti-hero character of Riddick he's played in the aforementioned Pitch Black and its poorly-received 2004 sequel The Chronicles of Riddick: a bald convict who can see in the dark, constantly hunted by bad-ass bounty hunters, whom we learned in Chronicles is the galaxy's last Furyan.
What sets me apart from the majority of people is my geek-love for Chronicles of Riddick, which wasn't considered a hit at the cinema (costing $120m and raking in around $115). I just don't get why more people don't like this space opera, which is essentially a dirty hybrid of Star Wars and Flash Gordon. The whole section with Riddick escaping a subterranean prison was worth the price of admission alone, and I love the climax where—spoiler alert!—Riddick defeats Colm Feore's fast-moving villain, slumps victoriously onto his empty throne, and in so doing becomes the next Lord Marshal in the eyes of his enemies.
While it wasn't a resounding box-office hit, I'm sure Chronicles has broken even by now. It may even have turned a profit after almost 10 years of DVD sales and TV deals. But the popularity of Pitch Black was definitely overestimated and writer-director David Twohy's plan for a Chronicles trilogy fizzled out.
I'm not sure exactly why, but Universal was distributing a third movie in Twohy's invincible saga, imaginatively entitled Riddick. Maybe Vin Diesel has clawed back some brownie points after helping make the Fast & Furious into an unlikely money-spinner (a fifth sequel out now, a sixth is planned), but it's more likely it just makes financial sense. Riddick has a relatively low budget of $38m, although that's more than the $23m Pitch Black was originally produced for. But maybe they're fairly equal when you factor in a decade of inflation?
The trade-off is that Riddick won't delve into any of the story Twohy had planned for his epic Chronicles sequels. Instead, it's blending the two aspects of both previous movies most people agree were its strengths: so you get another gang of mercenaries trying to capture Riddick for bounty (like Chronicles), and it all takes place on a planet plunged into a darkness that comes alive with nocturnal nasties (like Pitch Black). The best of both worlds, you might say.
The first full-length trailer was released yesterday, which I've embedded above. I'm glad it doesn't look cheap (which was an early concern because of its independent funding), it's great to see Vin back in his best ever role, and there are some very cool-looking monsters scurrying around looking for lunch here. My only fear is that it's not going to give us anything new, because it almost feels like a glossier remake of Pitch Black. Oh, and the trailer commits the cardinal sin of (seemingly) explaining the whole damn movie. There also aren't many funny moments, and part of the reason I liked the previous movies was because of its dry sense of macho humour. I hope the actual film contains as many laughs as it does aliens.
Riddick premieres 6 September in the US and UK. Be sure to book your ticket. In the meantime, go rent Pitch Black and watch Chronicles of Riddick with a more open mind. It perhaps overreached at times and was sometimes a bit silly (usually whenever Dame Judi Dench was floating around), but it had more going on its cerebellum than the Star Wars prequels that were in full swing at the time.