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Exclusive: Script review of The Chronicles of Riddick - Dead Man Stalking
Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Monday, April 12, 2010
The Fast and the Furious may have made him a star but it was his role as convict Richard P. Riddick in Pitch Black that first brought him to our attention. While that film was a modest success in theaters and home video, when Fast and Furious brought Diesel up to A-list action star status it was then that the actor and his Pitch Black director went to Universal with a tempting offer: give them the opportunity to make a big budget sequel to Pitch Black and they'll set the foundation for a trilogy of sci-fi action movies starring the Riddick character. The story goes that when director David Twohy went in on that day to pitch a Chronicles of Riddick trilogy, he took with him three binders, all with closed locks. The first one contained the script for what became 2004's The Chronicles of Riddick; the other two were either outlines for the two follow-up sequels or the screenplays themselves. Twohy left behind the key for the first binder.
I don't care if the story is bullshit or not. What matters is that it's a great story and it illustrates a part of show business that often gets overlooked: it's all about how you market yourself.
Of course Universal said yes to The Chronicles of Riddick. Whereas Pitch Black was budgeted at around a lower cost of $20 million and its filming took place almost entirely in the outback of the Australian desert, Chronicles had a bigger galactic canvas with which to create. Officially the budget for Chronicles is usually mentioned at around $110 million, but when it shot in my back yard of Vancouver in '03 I heard the off-the-record gossip that said the real number was $150 mil. It was a gigantic movie for Universal to take on, but with the first Fast and the Furious grossing $144 million and Sony's XxX making back half of its $85 million dollar budget in its opening weekend, it was a gamble Universal felt comfortable taking.
When The Chronicles of Riddick opened in the summer of 2004 it quickly took it on the chin and failed to emerge as a winner in that summer's box office racing derby. All told, Chronicles only took in $57 million domestic and another $58 mil from the rest of the world. It looked like our final shot of Richard P. Riddick would be sitting on the Lord Marshal's throne with his newly gained Necromonger army swearing their loyalty to him.
But hey, who knew? We're getting a sequel. Maybe the home video numbers proved that this franchise isn't ghosted out yet. But as the development of Riddick 3, as we've only known it to be called until this report, happened we've learned that its budget won't be anywhere near the cost of the '04 film. It looks like Twohy (who's back as director and screenwriter) is getting a bump up from the days of Pitch Black; the budget for Riddick 3 is likely to come in around $60 million. And with a lean and mean-ass 100-page script to raise interest from investors, one year out (give or take a quarter) from its likely start of filming The Chronicles of Riddick: Dead Man Stalking has the ingredients to get this franchise's engine retooled. The Riddick seen in Dead Man Stalking has trimmed off the fat of Chronicles and bulked himself up better than even his Pitch Black days. Shortly after Riddick finds his world fucked once again Twohy has the character say a line which encapsulates what went wrong with Riddick these past two movies and to put him in his current situation: he got civilized. He began to care too much about the people whose lives crossed his path. Well, what's caring too much to Riddick is different than you and me, but the point is made clear to the anti-hero: he's got to return back to being a predator, the baddest asshole in the universe, if he's to survive the trials in Dead Man Stalking -- and Hollywood. Back to basics. Back to killing.
Let's rewind for a moment and get back to the start of this story: when we see Riddick at the beginning of Dead Man Stalking he's a bloody battered mess, crawling for his life on the baked floor of an alien world. The predators native to this planet are circling in and waiting for death to come so they can feed at Riddick's corpse -- but he won't let them. Riddick realizes here that he's got to let what happened to him in Pitch Black and Chronicles go if he's to survive the next ten seconds, let alone get off this forsaken pit of hell.
But Twohy isn't forgetting what happened in The Chronicles of Riddick. In a flashback we get to find out how Riddick got to where he is and why he's messed up. I already like David Twohy because he's shown to be a smart guy with sci-fi, with Pitch Black's sightless alien flyers that only emerge during the dark of that planet's trinary eclipse, or the technology of Chronicles' Necromongers which uses dead people for faster-than-light communications. I was excited to see where Riddick was going in the sequel, if he was going to take the Necromonger army to the Underverse. And while the Underverse isn't mentioned once in Dead Man Stalking, I know that's because he doesn't have a nine-figure budget to burn this time around. But he could have just ignored what happened in Chronicles in Dead Man Stalking; he could have just explained Riddick losing his Necro army in a line and allude to events that took place off-camera.
He doesn't. We get a taste of what life was like for Riddick after killing the Lord Marshal. Vaako, Karl Urban's Necromonger, is Riddick's right-hand man and loyal to him -- to a point -- but every day more of the Necros aren't. Y'see, Riddick hasn't accepted the vow of being the Lord Marshal to the Necromonger army and that's fostering resentment amongst their number. Assassins are coming from out of the shadows and Riddick knows that he can't kill every one of them, so he pitches a deal to Vaako: take him to his long lost home planet of Furya and he'll bail and give the Necros to Vaako. Even though Vaako can't understand why anyone would want to volunteer to give up the universe's biggest army of bad guys, Number Two Necro dude still follows the orders of his commander and orders course to Furya. Then things go south, brutal and hard for Riddick and Vaako, and Riddick winds up left for dead on another mean-ass planet populated with a fair selection of nasty creatures. Which brings up back to the opening scene of Dead Man Stalking.
All this happens in the first fifteen minutes of the script. Like I said, Twohy wrote a lean script. It moves like that 1970 Dodge Charger Vin drove in the original Fast and Furious. And this is a hard R script -- it's full of death action and peppered with nasty, filthy language befitting the characters you'll see in it, Riddick included. This is The Road Warrior to Pitch Black's Mad Max; a stripped-down, hard-edge actioner that just happens to take place on a world where there's three moons and mud demons and trisons and two shipfuls of mercs hunting down the galaxy's most wanted man, Richard P. Riddick. Free from the constraints of delivering a PG-13 movie, the dialogue in Dead Man Stalking is more suited to a film like Training Day; the mercs we meet are hard living people, not those washout fakeout space mercs from a film like Alien Resurrection. I'd share with you a couple of these gems but copyright is copyright and I ain't about to get my own cojones squashed in a Universal Pictures vice.
I've talked about how Dead Man Stalking brings us back the killer Riddick, and how his adversaries are no slouches for the way they're depicted. There's one more thing that I'm going to say about this third appearance of Riddick, and it's that we truly get to see how scary smart he is when hunting human prey. There's bits of it in Pitch Black, like when he cuts the hair from the back of the head of the pilot and in Chronicles when he escapes from the UV planet and Crematoria but in Dead Man Stalking it's pretty much full-on hunter Riddick for about two acts of the movie. Twohy sets up several scenes which shows us how crafty and deadly Riddick is at the top of his game, and to the mercs. When fitted to the unrestrained language and action rating level, this is why Dead Man Stalking has potential to be the setting stone for any follow-up sequels. And Twohy does set it up for a fourth Chronicles; there are mysteries that lay beyond the planet that Riddick is stranded on and with his past, his homeland of Furya, and why he keeps seeing visions of a woman asking him to come back home for the end fight. I'd really like to see where Twohy and Diesel want to take this franchise next, and the next after that if they've got a plan.
Two other nice elements from a writer's point-of-view about Twohy's story: there's an interesting reveal to a character that has a connection to a major character from one of the earlier movies and a mirroring of the premise to Pitch Black that dominates the action in act three. I think if Luke Skywalker had to deal with the shit that rains down on Riddick in the Chronicles universe the Tatooine farmboy wouldn't last five minutes without his lightsaber and less than an hour with it. Stay in the galaxy with the midichlorians, kid.
Nice job Mr. Twohy, and congratulations for finding a way to continue making the anti-Star Wars.