This modest sci-fi thriller pretty much came out of nowhere with hardly any big names and an unknown director (to me). The small fry cast (apart from Keith David maybe) contained a certain Vin Diesel in his first major lead role, a role that has pretty much encompassed his whole career to date, along with 'Fast n Furious'.
Its a simple tale really, hardly original, just a basic survivor thriller set in space. A group of people on a spaceship are forced to crash land on a remote desolate planet. The planet is a vast arid desert with no signs of life or water or so they think. Into the fold comes 'Riddick', a prisoner who was being transported by a merc. At first he seems a threat to the stranded crew but they all soon realise they are not alone on the planet and must trust Riddick to help them.
So yeah its nothing special in terms of plot, the planet they crash on is yet another desert planet (popular in sci-fi) and the hunter/prey aspect is as old as the hills. The cast playing the crew are pretty bland also, none of them really interest you, the strong female lead played by Mitchell is actually annoying and an obvious wannabe 'Ripley' type character (difficult to avoid that comparison I'm afraid). The fact she wanted to kill the crew to try and save the ship as it went down just annoyed me even more, some leader. But I guess that sets up the finale doesn't it, she was still annoying though.
The rest are dull, Keith David playing some religious Muslim preacher type and Hauser as usual being the shifty guy, the rest are merely alien fodder. Its no surprise at all that the film is saved and interest levels are heightened by Riddick the criminal. Its not specifically because he has big muscles, but mainly because he's a bad ass, a typical Clint Eastwood type anti hero who doesn't say that much, growls a lot, mutters the odd cool tagline, has a rebellious anti society/law view on life and an all round kick your ass attitude. Of course his glow in the dark night vision eyes just look uber cool and add to the intrigue. A real 'Snake Plissken' type character in all essence but he doesn't show much evidence of being a cold killer as tagged throughout.
Admittedly it is a disappointment that you find out he paid a surgeon for his special eye job because he needed it for a spell in a dark dank prison. This kinda takes away the mystery behind that idea as you tend to think he's some kind of special mutant-like human or something. Although as we all know we do find out he isn't human after all...in the sequel.
I think the other thing that impresses with the film is the visuals and especially the way the film has been lit. You can see the film has been purposely overly lit (almost over exposed) for most outside planet sequences to try and show a more alien terrain and atmosphere. Its a simple trick really that shows initiative and does work at times although at others it can look cheap. There is also a nice variety of color intensities going on throughout too, all to show various perspectives (often forced) such as alien vision, Riddick's vision, heat, reflective, shadow, glowing, cool etc...its all quite inventive.
But there are some nice CGI effects in here too, some nice skylines, space panorama's and a cool eerie eclipse. There were obviously limitations for the film and you can see this, but all in all everybody did really well to make the film look glossy and realistic. A classic example of having to think and work hard to make the film work, where as if you have too much money you can become too complacent and lazy letting too much CGI do it all for you.
The alien creatures are so so and not overly stunning. Nothing wrong with them, the bat concept works well for the story but they do look a bit too CGI, bit plastic and shiny. Really this could be called attack of the giant vampire bats in space, but hey its a sci-fi horror that's not suppose to be serious.
After watching I still gotta ask why the aliens don't often attack Riddick though. These creatures are suppose to be darkness feeders and attack anything they come across in the dark, even more so if its bleeding. Yet so many times Riddick is wandering around alone in the dark and never gets so much as a bite, weird. Also I'm guessing the aliens started to attack each other for lack of food? and the presence of aliens in this universe must be common knowledge? because no one is bothered when they come across the mass of alien skeletons on the planet (the big ones) or the live aliens.
Must just mention Riddick's goggles, he needs them for protecting his eyes in light, yet he does tend to wear them almost all the time, even in the dark. Many times in dark sequences he has the goggles on or removes them to see in the dark. If you're in the dark why not just take them off completely? you wouldn't need them at all. I'm guessing this is for the image, also to make the odd luminous eyes reveals more dramatic I think.
Yeah its silly in places but its not suppose to be ultra realistic. I mean would you be able to pop out of cryo-stasis without batting an eyelid, feeling right as rain within minutes ready to pilot an out of control spaceship? doubt it. The film has that happy balance of your typical action hero flick crossed with some semi serious sci-fi so its not completely ridiculous. The basic premise is a trashy B-movie-like sci-fi action flick and it could so easily of bombed, but it works perfectly mainly down to ingenious use of light effects and a superb anti hero character.