Film Face-off: 'Riddick' vs. 'Pitch Black'

Film Face-off: 'Riddick' vs. 'Pitch Black'

Sep 10, 2013

This week we have two movies that seem to have come out of nowhere. Pitch Black hit theaters in February 2000, with a pretty unknown cast. Vin Diesel had Saving Private Ryan under this belt, and the voice of the Iron Giant in Iron Giant. Since Pitch made a little money, and Diesel's star power grew there was 2004's The Chronicles of Riddick. That movie didn't make half its budget back and oddly starred Judi Dench. So, we all assumed Riddick would stay dead and buried. We were wrong. (If you say those last two sentences using your best Diesel impression it sounds much more important, yet also dumber.)

Riddick has gone back to the roots. Forget the Necromongers (which you probably already did), Riddick gets back to things that go bump in the night... on a distant planet... with bounty hunters... and people depending on the criminal Riddick to save the day. This week's Film Face-off is a Dieselpalooza with Pitch Black vs. Riddick.


Vin Diesel as Riddick 

Pitch Black

Riddick is a prisoner on a ship that crash-lands. After he gives a voiceover to start, other characters seem to be the lead in the film. Eventually we learn that while he is definitely a criminal out for his own good, he does have a moral compass. He also has dazzling silver eyes, and while his hair is very short, Diesel does have a noticeable hair line.


Riddick is stranded on a super sunny planet. He repairs a broken leg with a couple of screws, and then silently lives his life with his only companion being a wild alien dog. Once rain comes, he realizes that he needs to get off this planet and finds a beacon. Unfortunately, that alerts bounty hunters that Riddick is on the planet, and now he must deal with them as well.

Winner: Pitch Black. Did you know Riddick's full name is Richard B. Riddick. That's right, he's Dick Riddick. I like to think the "B" stands for Beverly, and that's why he was always fighting. In Pitch he dislocates both shoulders to escape his shackles. In Riddick there is some weird fight sequence where a man lifts him up by the wrists and they strain and grunt in moves that make no sense. So strictly speaking of shoulders, Pitch wins. In Pitch he's stronger than the others, like when he pulls two canisters while everyone else can just pull one. In Riddick there's near superhuman qualities about the man. Plus, there's something about not really knowing if Riddick is capable of doing the right thing. We're surprised by some decisions, but with Riddick, we know he's not going to kill everyone in sight.


The Supporting Cast

Pitch Black

We have Radha Mitchell as Carolyn Fry, Cole Hauser as Johns, Keith David as Abu 'Imam' al-Walid as other side characters like a girl disguised as a boy (Rhiana Griffith), and a rich guy (Lewis Fitz-Gerald).


For a while it's just Riddick and his CGI dog, but then there's Jordi Molla as Santana, Matt Nable as Boss Johns, Katee Sackhoff as Dahl, Dave Bautista as Diaz, Bokeem Woodbine as Moss, and more bounty hunters.

Winner: Pitch Black. No, I didn't love the accent David was trying out in Pitch, but at least he wasn't desperately annoying. Yes, I'm looking at you Santana. Sure, the character is created to annoy, but it's ridiculously over the top, and he sticks around for way too long. Someone who didn't get mentioned above is Karl Urban who has a very quick cameo in Riddick. I love Sackhoff because of Battlestar Galactica but when her side-boob shot came up, I just kind of felt bad for her. I know she's getting paid, but man was she the subject of a big old pile of rapey vibe in this film. At one point Santana knows Dahl's team is due back to the base in six minutes, and he still tries to rape her. Rewatching Pitch does showcase something similar with Carolyn and Riddick, but there he's mainly trying to intimidate with force. In Riddick it felt like anytime Sackhoff is involved in a scene, it's to make a crude comment. Hauser's Johns beats Nable's Boss Johns because at least they spent time figuring out why his character should really be in the film.


The Special Effects

Pitch Black

The budget of Pitch Black was $23 million. There is a spaceship crash, aliens, aliens attacking each other, aliens attacking humans, and that's about it. The guns are just guns.


The budget of Riddick is reportedly $40 million. It has the CGI alien dog I mentioned, big and little aliens, eels, laser guns, lightening guns, horse tranquilizers, hover bikes and kicking a machete.

Winner: Riddick. Even with inflation, Riddick proves to be the better looking film for the money spent. The CGI dog would have doomed this film if it didn't look clean. It does, and they milk it for the most emotional connection we have to the film. With Pitch they seem to use a lot of tricks to spread the money as far as possible. The blue tint of the planet, extensive darkness and oddly placed stretched video scenes don't do much. Based strictly on looks, the aliens in Riddick look much more polished than in Pitch Black. That's just technological evolution, but it helps. Also, I mentioned kicking a machete, right? The only thing that doesn't look good in Riddick are the hover bikes. Diesel even reportedly leveraged his own home to help pay for Riddick. That shows commitment, so Riddick wins the category for that reason too.


The Evil

Pitch Black

In the darkness of caves, live attacking ravenous flying aliens. When there is an eclipse every 22 years, they come out to play/hunt/eat in the darkness.


In tiny pools of water, live snapping, ravenous poisonous aliens. They look like scorpions, and when a giant rainstorm comes, they can leave their pools and go exploring for more prey.

Winner: Pitch Black. When the lights go out, and the aliens finally show up there doesn't seem to be any time to do anything but react. There aren't many breaks, plans keep falling apart, it's chaos. Sure, it feels like a little too much bad luck to survive a crash only to be there for the eclipse, but that's part of the fun. With Riddick, we see and learn about the beast in the beginning of the film. We know what Riddick can do against them. So, when they show up again, albeit in droves, it still seems winnable. Plus, they come and go whenever it's convenient for the plot. Sometimes there are hundreds, sometimes just a little one, and there is no rhyme nor reason.


The Dialogue

Pitch Black

They say most of your brain shuts down in cryo-sleep. All but the primitive side, the animal side. No wonder I'm still awake ... Looks clear ... You dig up a doctor, and you pay him 20 menthol Kools to do a surgical shine job on your eyeballs.


Don't know how many times I've been crossed off the list and left for dead, so this ain't nothing new ... There are bad days. And there are legendary bad days ... Jamoke.

Winner: Pitch Black. Above, those are all quotes from the films. Pitch wins this easily because Riddick is either attempting to make a reference to the first film or you can't tell how serious to take it. There are films like Drive Angry that I give the benefit of the doubt. They say crazy, over-the-top, sometimes too-obvious things and you know they are giggling. With Riddick I think they're doing that about 50 percent of the time. The other half is meant to be taken seriously or at least with some sort of emotional weight behind it. It doesn't work. Plus, knowing that menthols have made it into the distant future is both amusing and terribly sad. That's right, it works on two levels.


OVERALL WINNER: Pitch Black beats Riddick, 4-1.

Pitch Black is a good movie that gets a little overhyped. Riddick is a bad movie with some pretty fun moments. Diesel is clearly at his best when he's speaking with the less-is-more concept. If nothing else comes from the Fast and Furious films it's that lesson. There are three mini-films that make up Riddick. There's the Castaway-like beginning with the dog playing the role of Wilson. Then the bounty hunter blather, and finally the aliens attacking. For a two-hour action film, the middle destroyed my interest, whereas the middle of Pitch Black only piqued it. We now know better than to think we've seen the last of Riddick. I assume the next installment has him duking it out with Urban on his home planet. Otherwise the fact that Urban has a cameo here, and Riddick won't shut up about his home planet are more messes in an already surprising franchise.



Categories: Features, Sci-Fi, In Theaters
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