Movie Premiere: Riddick
Riddick made his first appearance in Pitch Black (2000), a low-budget film that became a cult classic. His next appearance was in The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), a big-budget bomb. Now, Riddick returns to the winning formula, as a low-budget sci-fi thriller. This time, Riddick finds himself left for dead on an extremely inhospitable planet. Monsters abound, as well as mercenaries who will win the PowerBall if they bring back Riddick’s head in a box. Let the games begin.
Ken: I really liked Pitch Black and this new installment has a plot eerily reminiscent of that film. It’s mainly a dissertation on how Vin Diesel can kick anyone’s ass on any planet. The tough mercs who come for him are essentially just Riddick-Chow.
Leslie: That’s the first time the words “dissertation” and “Vin Diesel” have been used in the same sentence. Nice going!
Ken: Instead of saying “dissertation” should I have said “pulp sci-fi?”
Leslie: That’s better. But remember that I really like pulp sci-fi. Pulp OJ not so much.
Ken: Riddick is 100% fresh-squeezed, rot-gut sci-fi. The movie equivalent of a Whiskey Sour, actually.
Leslie: I’d prefer a Bloody Mary. Speaking of which, there was some gory stuff....
Ken: It was beyond gory. It was over-the-top gory.
Leslie: But at least the filmmakers telegraph that it’s coming, and give you time to cover your eyes. At our screening, the audience groaned at the most egregious example. I think that showed they were OK with it.
Ken: Any comments on the purely gratuitous nudity?
Leslie: Well, it was certainly gratuitous. But you know what? I didn’t mind it at all. Katee Sackhoff, after her shower, gives a terrific beat down to one particularly deserving creep.
Ken: I wonder if the R rating came from the nudity or the gore?
Leslie: Probably a little bit of both, and the language wasn’t exactly tame either, but I thought everything was appropriate. I might cuss a bit too if a horribly venomous bone-crunching alien was chasing me.
Ken: When I was a kid, one of those lived under my bed. That explains a lot about my adult life.
Leslie: I’m not going there. What did you think of the film’s look?
Ken: The matte paintings were beautiful, and reminiscent of classic science-fiction movies.
Leslie: I agree. The otherworldly landscapes were to die for, and the big moon hanging in the sky was perfect.
Ken: And the shot of Riddick walking out of the desert with the thunderstorms swirling behind him was epic.
Leslie: On the other hand, some of the CGI was abysmal.
Ken: I absolutely agree. I’m guessing they just lacked the budget.
Leslie: Excellent CGI costs big bucks, but excellent sound costs almost nothing, aside from hiring a savvy sound designer. Knowing that their budget didn’t allow for awesome CGI, I bet the filmmakers wisely compensated by insisting on kick-ass sound.
Ken: A smart move. A sound effects budget is comparatively tiny, and they didn’t miss a trick. This entire movie is an audio textbook on sound design.
Leslie: Yes, but I could argue that some of the sound effects were a little too much. For example, when a character is shot unexpectedly, the sound effect was extraordinarily massive, and in another example, when Riddick’s head hits a rock, the sound is so big that I was surprised he survived, let alone escaped without a broken skull.
Ken: I guess you could say the sound design wasn’t just generous, it was crazy generous.
Leslie: During the gory parts, when I was definitely covering my eyes, the sound effects told me everything about what was going on - I didn’t miss a thing. And thanks for nudging me when it was okay to open my eyes again.
Ken: No problem. The surround effects were some of the best I have ever heard. From the very opening scene, you knew the mix was going to play a major role in the film, and it delivered.
Leslie: The first half-hour is without dialogue, and has only sparse voice overs. The sound effects carry the action, and they key you into the importance of all the sounds to follow.
Ken: An action scene inside the metal-roofed outpost has aliens crawling all over, and we hear them on the ceiling, the sides and behind. It’s an engineer’s dream to mix something like this. I also liked the reverberation in the grotto, the zinging sound of their blasters, and the ultra massive LFE content when a rocky cliff collapses. Just terrific.
Leslie: Rain plays a big role in the plot, and the enveloping sound of rain pelting on the metal roof was appropriately ominous. And, I do have to say that the “sonar” pings of the Cyclops computer is my new favorite sound effect.
Ken: Let’s give a shout-out to the flying motorcycles. Those sound effects were outstanding - the perfect sonic blend of old-school combustion engines and futuristic turbines.
Leslie: I sincerely hope they mixed some Harley V-Twin engines in there somewhere.
Ken: Well, they called the cycles “hogs” and they had ape-hangers.
Leslie: Unfortunately, while the motorcycles sounded awesome, this is where the CGI really fell apart for me. It was so badly executed, which is a shame because while the cycles themselves were great, their composited movement against the matte backgrounds just sucked.
Ken: Agreed. Without its superb sound design, this film would have been in serious trouble. I loved the tense scene where the mixing engineer does a classic move (I won’t give it away), proving once again that sound, or the lack of it, can be more powerful than any image.
Leslie: A Plus. And the music?
Ken: I thought the score was terrific. Primitive, tribal, space-age, agitated, suspenseful, energetic - perfectly matching sound to picture.
Leslie: And mixed in full surround too. I like how when Riddick is fighting against nature and alien beasts, the instrumentation is natural and organic, but when there’s modern technology - spaceships, etc., the score has an electronic techno vibe.
Ken: Yep. The score was also appropriately inspirational. When Riddick is desperately climbing the rocks to save his life, of course the chorus makes an appearance.
Leslie: You always hear a chorus at the climactic scene. Why is that so darned effective?
Ken: Maybe the sound of human voices connects us to the scene.
Leslie: Where’s a psychologist when you need one?
Ken: Probably busy trying to wrap her mind around Riddick.
Leslie: Good luck with that. To sum up, I gotta say I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It doesn’t try to be anything more than an entertaining sci-fi flick that doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s lots of action with a bit of humor and gore, and a charismatic lead actor - what’s not to like?
Ken: With any other lead actor, this would be a dull film. It lacks any real sci-fi revelation or wonder. But whether or not Hollywood knows it, Vin Diesel is a bonafide Hollywood star. No one plays the antihero better than him. He’s the new Clint Eastwood, and that says it all.
Leslie: So, are you jonesing for Riddick 4, or is the question indiscreet?
Ken: The question isn’t indiscreet, but the answer could be. Who am I kidding? Bring it on!