Fourteen years ago today one of the best little sleeper sci-fi hits of recent memory crept into theaters under cover of darkness, introducing the world to badass antihero Richard B. Riddick. It was your basic Alien riff — a group of unlucky chumps being stalked by vicious alien critters — but it was a very well done variation on the concept, and the Riddick character in particular clicked thanks to Diesel’s darkly humorous portrayal of the brutal murderer with a tiny little sliver of gold located somewhere in the vicinity of his heart. The notion of setting the action in, well, pitch blackness, and giving Riddick the advantage of being able to see just fine in it, made for a tight little sci-fi B movie, so there was no wonder that Pitch Black soon became a cult hit. It nearly doubled its modest $23 million budget, but I don’t think anybody really expected it to spawn a franchise.
Except for Vin Diesel and director David Twohy, that is. The two managed to conjure up a sequel in the form of 2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick, but with nearly four times the budget of Pitch Black, it wasn’t nearly the hit Universal and the fans were hoping. Part of that is because it seemed to lose touch somewhat with made the character of Riddick work so well, stranding him in the middle of a Dune-style epic storyline that, while it had its moments, mostly just seemed like an exercise in Diesel and Twohy’s love of worldbuilding, at the expense of a more compelling story. Riddick also made appearances in an animated movie and a pair of top-notch video games — the first of the games, Escape from Butcher Bay, is arguably the best Riddick story yet — but it looked like the growling antihero’s time on the big screen was done.
But it doesn’t pay to underestimate Diesel and Twohy’s love for their fictional universe and the character at its core. Through damn near sheer will alone — and some ballsy business moves on Diesel’s part — Riddick returned to theaters last year in the simply titled Riddick, a back-to-basics sequel that mostly recycled the concept of the first film, but which still managed to be a pretty good time at the movies. And this go-round brought in $98 million in worldwide box office, up against a streamlined budget of only $38 million. That makes it a more clear-cut success than Chronicles, even though that film’s box office tally is technically higher. A good marker for a film to be considered a “success” is making back twice its production budget, and Riddick did that and then some.
Diesel and Twohy clearly have more Riddick stories to tell, so it’ll be interesting to see where the little-franchise-that-could goes in the future. It’s also worth taking the time to read this unused Alien 3 script by Twohy, where you can see some of the early shadows that will eventually evolve into Pitch Black. And hell, while we’re at it, what better excuse to go back and rewatch the excellent flick that started it all?
Today on Television
Face Off (Syfy, 9/8c) — “Cryptic Creatures”
The artists take inspiration from a swamp when making cryptids.
Today in Home Video
In the deepest reaches of space, the fight to save all human life from extinction has begun in this science-fiction adventure that launched the Battlestar Galactica phenomenon, now presented digitally remastered, complete, and uncut! Hopeful for lasting peace following centuries of intense warfare, the Twelve Colonies gather to sign a treaty with their dreaded enemies, the Cylons. But after an act of treachery on the eve of the ceremony, the Cylons launch a devastating surprise attack, destroying the Colonies’ home planets and most of their military strength. A lone flagship battlestar, the Galactica, remains to aid the surviving colonists on their epic journey for a new home to a far-off legendary planet — Earth. They must survive the pursuing Cylons in a series of epic battles that will determine the fate of the human race in this action-packed classic.
Grievously injured in the crash of an experimental aircraft, Colonel Steve Austin’s shattered body is covertly rebuilt via the miracle of modern science known as bionics. Equipped with atomic-powered limbs that make him “better, stronger, faster” than the average mortal, Austin (Lee Majors) can now run at speeds exceeding 60 miles per hour, overturn cars with ease, and spot an encroaching enemy from over a mile away. Under the watchful eye of OSI director Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson), Steve repays his debt to the taxpayers by taking on perilous missions of a highly classified nature. The dangers are never greater and the assignments never more impossible than in SEASON 5 as Steve Austin tackles threats to national security on land, beneath the sea, and beyond the stars. Summoning every last atom of his bionic strength, Austin leaps into action against man-eating sharks, a reawakened Bigfoot, a murderous computer, hostile extraterrestrials, treasonous space explorers, and a nastily revitalized scientific probe. Revisit the astounding astronaut’s final journeys in this digitally remastered 6-DVD set featuring all 21 uncut episodes of the final season of this science fiction cult classic!