Sunday, February 23, 2020

"The Shining" - Mood Over Matter


I didn’t get a chance to see Doctor Sleep when it was out in theaters, but I was very excited for it, especially when I found out it would be both an adaptation of King’s book and a sequel to Kubrick’s film. I wanted to see how writer/director Mike Flanagan handled that tightrope act since Kubrick deviated from King’s text in major ways (for instance, the hotel burns down in the book while it’s still standing at the end of the film. To prepare to watch Doctor Sleep I revisited The Shining, a movie I’ve probably watched two dozen times. It’s not my favorite Kubrick film (that would be Eyes Wide Shut, the Kubrick film I’m simply obsessed with and write about at least once a year), but I still love it and watch it at least once a year. Thanks to the internet and the documentary Room 237, The Shining is probably Kubrick’s most analyzed film. For whatever reason, I prefer to just watch The Shining at face value.

Mood Over Matter*

*Note: If all of this sounds contradictory it’s because I wanted to emulate the confusing nature of the film itself and not because I’m an unfocused writer. 

As someone who has written three articles about Eyes Wide Shut, I realize the irony of suggesting someone watch The Shining without trying to “figure it out.” When it comes to Kubrick, though, I guess I just have the capacity to truly obsess over one of his films, though I love them all. I’ve watched Eyes Wide Shut, The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, and Full Metal Jacket countless times (I’ve seen his entire filmography, but those films are the most rewatchable for me), but Eyes Wide Shut is the only one that inspires me to take a deep dive into every aspect of it each year. 

This is not a knock against any of Kubrick’s other films, especially since nearly all of them could be analyzed just as much as The Shining or Eyes Wide Shut. More importantly, all of Kubrick’s films are truly mesmerizing in their creation of mood and atmosphere. In other words, you can just enjoy his movies the old fashioned way.

Analyzing a film can be enjoyable, as well, but for me, at times it can feel more like an assignment than a hobby. With Eyes Wide Shut, it never feels like a job; I truly enjoy pausing the film to analyze individual frames, and I like looking up all the crazy theories out there about it. When I watch The Shining, I just don’t want to do any intellectual work when I watch it. When those credits start and that music kicks in, I just want to sit back and spend a couple of hours at the fucked up Overlook hotel. In fact, I would want to stay at the Overlook if it really existed. It’s such a strange and beautiful hotel that Kubrick created. There aren’t many horror films in which I wish I could live in the setting, but perhaps it’s more about how Kubrick presents it all.

The mood of The Shining is what has always worked the most for me. The famous steadicam work, the music, the amplified performances, the imagery, and the general sense of foreboding throughout are enough for me. That isn’t to say that I just sit there drooling while I watch this movie. I can just turn off the analysis portion of my brain and still enjoy it. 

That written, I still analyze The Shining from time to time when I watch it, but I try to stick with what is clearly on screen rather than try to find hidden meanings in set decorations (like baking powder canisters positioned to remind us of genocide or a skier on a poster representing a Minotaur or any kind of number fuckery [Danny has a "42" on his shirt early in the film which means this film is clearly all about the Holocaust]).

Mirrors are the most important part of the film for me when I want to dig a bit deeper. A lot of shots are shown in a mirror or with a character facing a mirror, and mirrors are all over the hotel. There’s something to be said about the duality of a person with all the mirror stuff, but I like to think of them as adding to the overall uncertainty of the film. Where others look at the stuff that doesn’t make sense, like the impossible window in Ullman’s office or Danny’s impossible circuit on his big wheel, and try to apply it to whatever theory they’re pushing, I see things like that and chalk it up to the Overlook being a haunted mindfuck of a hotel where physics, among other things, no longer operate like they do in the regular world.

Uncertainty is something that usually bothers me in a film, which is why I obsess over Eyes Wide Shut, but I embrace it in The Shining because the uncertainty is part of what establishes the mood. I don’t know exactly what is going on with the Overlook, and neither do the Torrances. To me, that is the reason for many of the inconsistencies with the film (AKA the continuity errors that aren’t allowed to be considered errors because it’s a Kubrick film [more on that later]). 

It’s a rare situation, but I find the uncertainty of this film enjoyable and rather than try to figure it all out and start to map out Overlook hallways (kind of like how I look at reflections in windows in Eyes Wide Shut to figure out that Bill apparently took a taxi to go across the street from the nightclub to the costume shop), I just accept it. Out of all the theories out there, I posit this one: is it possible that in a film that features mazes and mirrors prominently, we are meant to be confused by it rather than solve it? Perhaps that’s me being lazy, but with The Shining, I find it more enjoyable to let inconsistencies just be a part of the experience rather than a piece of the puzzle to be solved.

Maybe Kubrick Just Made a Movie Some People Didn’t Like. Or (Excuse the Blasphemy) There Are Mistakes in This Film.

First off, I am a fan of Room 237 despite my aversion to conspiracy theories about this film (I find a lot of them interesting, but I disagree with a lot of them and would rather just enjoy the movie as is). What I don’t like about that film is the fact that nearly every contributor who presents a theory says something along the lines of not liking the movie at first, or they present Kubrick as an infallible filmmaker.

I get both points of view because I do the same thing with my favorite filmmakers. There’s no way Kubrick or Paul Thomas Anderson or Nicolas Winding Refn or Darren Aronofsky, etc. made a movie I didn’t like, right? I must be missing something. I’ve come around on that in the last few years, and I can now admit I don’t like some movies my favorite filmmakers made. That written, I will give them the benefit of the doubt and rewatch the film at least one more time. 

I am all for giving the best directors a second chance when it comes to a movie, but I don’t start applying conspiracy theories to make myself like their work. Usually, it comes down to not knowing what they may have been going for the first time around. Inherent Vice comes to mind. I liked it at first, but for the most part I found it unnecessarily confusing. Upon a rewatch it occurred to me that the confusion was part of it, and the film was more of a hazy comedy than a detective story. It’s not as if I rewatched it and came away saying, “Inherent Vice is actually about the fall of the Ottoman Empire.” Maybe it is, but if I’m doing that much work for the film, then I think the filmmaker has failed.

The works of filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick certainly deserve a more discerning eye than your run-of-the-mill directors. But if you feel the need to run the movie forwards and backwards at the same time to discover what Kubrick “was really trying to say” then I think that says more about you than the film.

As for my own experience with The Shining, I don’t recall ever being disappointed by it. But it came out before I was born, so when I got around to it, it was already considered a classic. Perhaps if I had seen this opening day with expectations sky high and found the story way too simplistic for the likes of such a filmmaker, maybe I would have been looking at the set decorations more than the main plot too.

Is It Possible That Kubrick Didn’t Plan Things as Much as You Thought, or (Gasp!) There Are Mistakes in His Films?

I am definitely guilty of this one. Kubrick, more than any other filmmaker, is considered a genius master planner who never made a single mistake in his films. Continuity errors are intentional. Every piece of the set decoration is chosen by him. Every word of dialogue meticulously considered for months, even years, before filming. 

I agree with this, for the most part, but there is something that I and others need to acknowledge: filmmakers, even geniuses, do not make their movies by themselves. Kubrick did use small crews, but if you watch behind-the-scenes material (especially his daughter’s documentary about The Shining), you will see a lot of people working on the film. Because of this, it is theoretically possible that mistakes were made that got past Kubrick. He famously did dozens of takes for scenes, which means things could get moved around between takes. Mistakes are less likely on Kubrick’s films, I agree, but I have to admit that there is a possibility of mistakes. 

The set decoration is a big deal for me. I do believe that Kubrick was obsessive about his sets (most of the films he worked on used constructed sets, and he did have blueprints for everything). But there was a set decorator for each film. I’m sure Kubrick consulted with him on The Shining, but I bet a few things were just up to the decorator. Maybe Kubrick did insist on the Calumet Baking Powder being so prominent, but I bet he didn’t give a fuck where the Oreos and Kool-Aid were located in a scene.

And this brings me to the biggest revelation of the documentary of The Shining: Kubrick was willing to change things up on the day of shooting. There is a scene of him typing that day’s script pages on the set. And Nicholson jokes about not reading the script and just waiting for the new pages that day. On top of that, we get to see Kubrick decide on a shot in the moment. He decided to shoot Nicholson from the floor the day they shot the scene in the pantry. This does not take away from his genius; if anything, it adds to it. He was willing to change things up in the moment if it wasn’t what he wanted now that filming was happening. But it also means sometimes what is in the background is just what was in the background. Maybe it ends up in the shot; maybe it doesn’t. 

Once again, I keep an open mind, and I like crazy theories about movies. But I think we need to take a step back on Kubrick from time to time and regard him as a human filmmaker. This, coming from the guy who’s going to write another article about Eyes Wide Shut at the end of the year, this time focusing on all the artwork in the Harfords’ apartment. (I’m joking, but only because I don’t know much about art and because someone has already done this.)

Stanley Kubrick was a cinematic genius, though. I do believe that. And it is possible that every single inch of the frame we see was thought out. I love that about his work. But I also love his work on a purely entertaining level. So when I want to just enjoy his films, I tell myself this was a genius, but he was also a guy who just liked making movies. Sometimes it’s nice to just be a guy watching those movies. 

A Horror Film Can Be Great Without Being “Scary”

When people ask me what my favorite horror film is, I always pick The Shining. A lot of times the response I get is, “Really? I didn’t think it was very scary.” The truth is, I don’t find it to be all that scary, either (probably because I’ve seen it so many times). But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good horror film. 

Horror, perhaps more than any other genre, relies on mood. Jump scares and clowns with crazy teeth might freak me out in the moment, but if those things occur in an otherwise basic film, then they have no lasting effect. The Shining doesn’t have anything in particular that scares me (Mrs. Massey in Room 237 comes close), but the general feeling of dread and terror stays with me long after I finish watching it every time. That is what makes a horror film great: staying power.

Though I will admit that the overall premise of the film is terrifying. The thought of your father chasing you through a maze with an axe, the thought of your spouse losing their fucking mind then trying to kill you, the thought of a hotel filled with fucked up 1920s ghosts wanting you dead, etc. When you stop and consider these elements from different perspectives, it’s truly horrific. Once again, though, this is not immediate horror. The site of Jack limping through the maze with an axe doesn’t scare me, but imagining myself being in that situation does. 

The horror of The Shining is primarily mental. The plot and mood burrow into your mind to mess with you after the film ends. Other movies may scare me in the moment, but The Shining is one of the few horror films that stays in my head. And I’ll take that type of horror over a jump scare or a clown every time.

Why Do I Own This?

Kubrick’s films pretty much require multiple viewings, and I own almost all of them. 

Random Thoughts 

The main reason I dislike most of the theories about The Shining is because of how they are presented in Room 237. Too many theorists present their interpretations of the film as fact. I can’t stand that. These people did not know Kubrick, yet some of them are claiming for a fact this and that about his intention with the film. Yes, this makes your argument sound stronger, but you’re also fucking lying. Only Kubrick himself can say with fact what he intended, and he would never have done that. If you’re going to present a theory that the filmmaker never stated, then you need to present it as, “Perhaps Kubrick intended…” or something along those lines. This may sound like a pet peeve, but for me, when you start talking like you know what was going on in someone else’s head, especially someone you’ve never met, then I immediately start to doubt everything you are saying. And I know if I go back through my writing, I probably do this a hundred times, but I don’t plan on doing it ever again.

As for the specific Room 237 theories, here’s why I disagree with a few or at least find them dubious:
Native American genocide: this one works the best, in my opinion, but the insistence that all the Native American art and whatnot in the hotel as a signifier isn’t that big of a deal to me because the lobby is nearly an exact replica of the Ahwahnee Hotel’s lounge down to the decor. Sure, maybe Kubrick selected it because of that decor, but he didn’t design it or anything. 

Holocaust: the Holocaust theory relies on numbers way too much for my taste. I just find number theories pointless because you can alter them however you need to to fit your idea. Whenever someone starts getting into “42 represents 8 because 4 x 2 = 8” I just shut off.

Faked moon landing: Yes, Danny wears an Apollo 11 sweater, but wouldn’t that be a bit obvious if Kubrick was trying to admit to faking it for NASA? And the theorist saying that an argument between Jack and Wendy was the same argument Kubrick must have had with his wife was way too presumptuous. I can’t stand people who present their theories as fact when there’s no way to prove their claim.

Watching the film forwards and backwards at the same time: Yes, a few moments are interesting, but it’s hard to take this one seriously. Who could be expected to ever watch the film this way?

Jack as the Minotaur: I actually like this theory since there is a maze in the film. My main issue with this one is the theorist's assertion that the skier in the poster is a Minotaur.

I cannot imagine Jack Torrance as my English teacher.

Ullman has the widest tie knot I've ever seen. Does this mean something?!

I live how nonchalant Ullman is about Grady killing his family with an axe. He kind of laughs as he explains it. And who would say someone "ran amok" when referring to them killing their entire family?

What makes this an arthouse horror film for me is the blood coming out of the elevator scene near the beginning of the film. The way it's done with the music and cuts to Danny silently screaming and the Grady girls is unsettling and perfectly represents the overall mood of the film.

Wendy tells the disturbing story of Danny's "accident" the same way Ullman talks about Grady.

Stephen King famously dislikes this movie because Jack seems crazy from the start. While he does seem on edge on the drive up and whatnot, I wouldn't call him a full blown axe murderer just yet. It seems like King is forgetting that the bulk of the movie takes place one month into the stay at the Overlook. At this point the hotel has its hooks in Jack, and he's starting to crack. This is why you get the tense scene with Wendy about breaking his concentration, and you start to get the creepy moments of Jack staring off into space for long moments. It is true that Kubrick does not present a gradual descent for Jack, but it is implied that the first month went smoothly, and the film picks up when things start to unravel. 

Plus, I would argue that Kubrick's film is about how Jack has always been this way, and the Overlook is preying/awakening his true nature. King's book was more about a good man who is manipulated by the hotel, but his goodness wins out at the end as he is able to destroy the hotel. I like both the book and the film, but I definitely prefer the film.

The TV they're watching is unplugged. Just another element of Kubrick fuckery.

Hey Jack, maybe don't tell your wife about dreaming about cutting her and your son "into little pieces."

Tyrell from Blade Runner as Lloyd the bartender is perfectly evil.

So Wendy tells the doctor a couple months back that Jack dislocated Danny's arm but had been sober ever since making him five months sober. When Jack tells Lloyd about it, he claims it happened "three goddamn years ago!". This can probably just be chalked up to Jack wanting to believe it had happened longer ago than it really had. But it's more likely like everything else in the movie and is a bit off on purpose to add to the general uncertainty of everything.

"Are you out of your fucking mind?" God, I love Nicholson's delivery of that line.

I have GOT to find out who Dick Hallorann's interior decorator is.

Man, that naked old lady is really jazzed about pulling a fast one on Jack.

It sucks that this was all filmed on a soundstage. I wish these locations actually existed, especially the Gold Room and the red bathroom.

I've always thought that if I ever became rich enough to have a mansion built, I would make sure to have the red bathroom recreated for it. Unfortunately it doesn't look like that's going to happen…

I did find out that the Ahwahnee hotel in Yosemite was the inspiration for the lobby, and now I know where I'm staying if I ever go to Yosemite.

Wait, is it possible that the hotel ghosts are the masked orgy members from Eyes Wide Shut? I'm joking, but is that less logical than a lot of theories about this movie?

I seem to recall there being an explanation for the bear suit blowjob guy in the book. But I like how Kubrick just decided to keep that image in with zero context. Once again, totally in keeping with the whole not-knowing-what-the-fuck-is-exactly-going-on theme.


Monday, February 10, 2020

"The Chronicles of Riddick" - Fun with Necromongers


Next month my article for Riddick will run as part of Midwest Film Journal’s “All We Do Is Vin” series of articles, so I’m preparing by revisiting the first two film’s in the series. Last month, I wrote about Pitch Black, so now I’m moving on to my favorite film in the series, The Chronicles of Riddick. As a sci-fi fan, Chronicles was right up my alley. I wasn’t thrilled with the PG-13 rating for the theatrical release, but I knew they just needed to make as much money as possible (they released the far superior unrated cut on DVD, anyway). I loved how writer/director David Twohy just fucking went for it, going from the very small scale Pitch Black to the planet-hopping, world-building Chronicles. Some of the mythology is murky or needs more explanation, but overall Chronicles is a satisfying action/sci-fi film that unfortunately bombed at the box office, which led to the much smaller in scale Riddick later on. Hopefully, they can dive back into the mythology created in this film when they make Furya.

Despite the extreme focus on death, Chronicles is a very fun movie.

I love when a writer/director gets to go all in on a sci-fi film as David Twohy has done with Chronicles, but what makes this a special movie for me is the tone. There is some super serious shit going on here (main characters die, the entire universe is at stake, etc.), but the film never dwells on that. Instead, it plays to the strengths of the Riddick character: looking cool and being a smartass to mercs.

Chronicles features much more ambitious action sequences. And while there is plenty of CGI being used (I’m not a fan of the CG hellhounds, but they’re not awful), it still feels real. Most of Riddick’s hand-to-hand fights are compelling, and his big moments look awesome. The standout for me was when he saved Kyra from the mountain on Crematoria. Not only does it look great, but Riddick emerging afterward with steam rolling off of him is a straight-up hero shot. 

The action is not the main reason I love this film, though. I like the Riddick franchise for his interactions with mercs. Riddick’s back and forth with Johns in Pitch Black was great, and his rivalry with Toombs in Chronicles is even better, but that might just be because Nick Chinlund is perfect for the character of Toombs. I like seeing Riddick talk shit to the Necromonger zealots, but his scenes with Toombs are what make the movie. Obviously Twohy and Diesel think so as well since Riddick is mainly just him and a bunch of mercs for the majority of the movie.

All the stuff with the mercs is just meant to make Vin Diesel/Riddick look like a badass, but it works. I could watch him talk shit to Toombs the entire movie. Even his unspoken moments are funny. Possibly my favorite moment in the film is when Riddick kills the merc while they’re on the sled into Crematoria. Toombs looks back to see what happened, and Riddick gives a “what the fuck did you expect?” shrug. And Toombs laughs. I just like the cynical nature of a bounty hunter/convict relationship.

The character of Riddick is why this franchise exists. The action and sci-fi stuff is all fine, but people like this anti-hero. For me, it’s the fact that this character is very similar to Dom from the Fast franchise, but there’s a reason why he’s superhuman. We’re just supposed to accept that Dom has become a superhero in Fast at this point. But with Riddick, at least we’re given a backstory to explain it. I’m okay with Vin Diesel playing a superhuman badass, but let’s keep this shit semi-logical. Speaking of that backstory...

So they have liquor stores on Furya?

In Pitch Black, Twohy and Vin Diesel didn’t think they had a franchise on their hands until they were making the film (hell, in the original script Riddick was a female character with a different name). So at the time, Riddick’s backstory of getting his eyes done as a shine job for “twenty menthol KOOLs” and being left in a dumpster of a liquor store as a baby were just elements of a convict who didn’t give a fuck. They weren’t thinking of him as a prophetic warrior from the planet Furya who would one day take over the Necromonger empire. 

So when Chronicles (especially the director’s cut) revealed that Riddick was one of the last surviving members of a warrior race from a planet called Furya, it meant an explanation was needed. With the eyes, it was simple enough: Riddick was just making up some bullshit, although the full explanation was offered in the videogame Escape from Butcher Bay (Shirah, the Furyan from his visions in Chronicles, gave him his eyeshine) and other properties, eventually explaining that Riddick was an Alpha Furyan, which is why he special powers. I assumed the story of his birth must’ve been at least partially made up, as well. 

We don’t get to see Furya aside from a field of gravestones in a vision, but I just assumed it wasn’t a regular world, you know, with liquor stores and shit. But apparently it is. I guess alcohol is a universal substance, so why wouldn’t Furya have liquor stores? Still, even that story is retconned a bit by explaining that Riddick was left for dead (strangled with his own umbilical cord...godDAMN) because the Lord Marshal received a prophecy claiming a male Furyan would cause his downfall. Naturally, he went to Furya and killed almost the entire planet. There’s still plenty of questions about all of this, such as: how did Riddick know he was left like this as a baby? Who got him out of the dumpster? How many Furyans are left? Is the planet really just a mass graveyard now? Who dug all the graves? Perhaps there are more explanations in comics and whatnot, but overall I think the holes in the story are because a one-off character suddenly needed a grander backstory for a franchise. Hopefully, since the next film is currently titled Furya, a lot of this is covered in more detail.

Thanks to DVD sales, David Twohy was able to go all out.

The home video market is much more about streaming these days, but for a while DVD sales played a factor in getting movies made. Without DVD sales, the Austin Powers franchise would be a single film. Universal saw how well Pitch Black did on DVD, and that, coupled with Twohy and Diesel’s enthusiasm for the franchise, convinced them to gamble big on this sequel. Since it only ended up making back its production budget (though DVD sales were very strong), plans to continue on with the franchise stalled after Chronicles. But because of DVDs, we got to see what Twohy would do with a shitload of money, and I’m thankful for that.

David Twohy and Vin Diesel decided to expand the series on an exponential level. The film hops from planet to planet, the action is much more prominent, a prison planet escape subplot takes place, and an entire evil empire of Necromongers is added to the story. 

I don’t want to be dismissive of this film and simply call it ambitious. Calling something ambitious is also saying it failed, in a way. Despite the negative critical response to this film, I think Twohy and Diesel are very successful in creating a vast mythology. They, along with the set and production designers, had a very clear plan for this film and future films. There are still plenty of questions that I personally have about the Necromongers (I’ll get to that in the next two sections), but I feel like if I had the chance to ask Diesel or Twohy any question they would have an answer. The problem is that a lot of answers aren’t on the screen. Many of them can be found in other properties a la Star Wars, but it would be better if everything was clear from the movie alone.

Despite my questions about the Necromonger mythology, Chronicles is a very straightforward movie. The terminology and some of the dialogue may make it seem a bit convoluted (the quasideads, Elementals, Furyans, the UnderVerse, etc.), but the plot is pretty simple: Riddick reluctantly joins the fight against the Necromongers to save people he cares about, specifically Kyra (Jack from Pitch Black). The film may hop from planet to planet, but it’s never hard to understand where the story is at and why the characters are doing what they’re doing.

And it looks cool, and it’s a fun movie. Chronicles could’ve easily drowned in its own mythology-building and been a very dry, serious film. Instead, Riddick is still a smartass despite the threat of the universe coming to an end. And all the new worlds and technology make for a much more visually interesting film than Pitch Black. The assault on Helion Prime looks amazing, as does the escape from Crematoria, to name a couple. This was an expensive movie, but every dollar is on the screen.

It’s just a shame that this film wasn’t successful enough for the franchise to stay on the path that Chronicles started. I partly blame the studio for demanding a PG-13 version. The director’s cut, which added a lot of the Furyan stuff, is much better and is more tonally in sync with Pitch Black. I’m probably wrong, though. An R-rating may have made this film even less successful. I just don’t think this is the type of franchise that can be profitable if over $100 million is spent making one movie. I’m just glad we got one big movie out of this franchise. Maybe they can find some middle ground with Furya: not as small in scale as Pitch Black and Riddick, but more focused than Chronicles.

Necromongers: the militant death cult.

The role of religion in Pitch Black surprised me when I rewatched it. It was interesting that they used an existing religion in the film rather than making one up. This time around, they did make up a new religion with the Necromongers, but it’s still a unique choice because it clashes with existing religion. The Necromongers basically show up to new worlds and tell everyone that their religion is wrong, and they must join up or die. 

Religion was on the fringes of the plot of Pitch Black, but it’s the driving force of Chronicles. The Necromongers are basically the Roman Empire in space, but instead of expanding their land, they are interested in gathering recruits to take to their holy land, the UnderVerse. The Roman Empire influence makes them one of the more interesting sci-fi empires, visually speaking. Their ships look like temples when they land, and there are statues honoring past Lord Marshals all around. 

As for their religion, it’s quite dark, if a little confusing. The Purifier explains during his recruitment pitch that life is a mistake to be corrected. These people are obsessed with death. Their ultimate goal, the UnderVerse, is only reached through death, but you must die at the right time, apparently. It gets a little confusing, but religions typically are complex and contradictory, even (“turn the other cheek” and “eye for an eye” don’t exactly jive). But certainly the focus on what happens after you die is in line with actual religions.

There are even Biblical parallels with their mythology, as well. The current Lord Marshal, upon learning of a prophecy about a Furyan that would one day kill him, went to Furya and pretty much wiped out the planet, which is how Riddick ended up in a dumpster with his umbilical cord around his neck. This is a page out of King Herod’s book as he ordered all males two years and under killed when he heard a prophecy about a new king of the Jews being born. These are some serious fanatics.

The dangers of religious fanaticism is the underlying theme of Chronicles. When one group decides to impose their views on the entire universe, life as we know it hangs in the balance. Of course, this has as much to do with power as it does religion, but that’s in keeping with history, as well. Typically, religion has been used by empires as a means to increase their power. That’s certainly the case with the Necromongers. It makes for a surprisingly heavy element in an otherwise fun movie.

What the fuck is the UnderVerse?

The inclusion of the Necromongers definitely adds a deep mthology to the franchise, but it also created a lot of questions, too. There are plenty of things that are kind of glossed over that I can deal with: the quasi-deads that read minds, the seeker things that don’t have noses, the neck torture that turns people into Necromongers (but not exactly slaves, since Vaako, Dame Vaako, the Purifier, and Kyra seem to maintain their independence), the Lord Marshal being half-dead after traveling to the UnderVerse...actually, never mind. I don’t get how most of this shit works.

To be clear, I don’t mind that much, and I still love this movie. But I do feel obligated to bring up some of the more confusing parts of the Necromonger faith, mainly the UnderVerse. I’m sure the quasi-deads and all that other shit are explained somewhere in some DVD special feature or something. And I’m okay with that. Sure, the quasi-deads are barely alive, and that, coupled with the black goo the Necromongers use, makes them telepathic. Fine. But what the fuck is the UnderVerse exactly?

The Elemental describes it as a constellation of new dark stars, which makes it a physical place to travel to. This is reinforced by the fact that the Lord Marshal has been there personally, which is why his soul can travel outside of his body and whatnot. 

But later on, the Elemental tells the Lord Marshal that he will reach the UnderVerse soon, making it sound like a threat of his imminent death. So simply dying takes you there? And Dame Vaako tells Vaako that he’ll never see the UnderVerse because the Lord Marshal will kill them “before our due time.” So if you die when you’re supposed to you will go to the UnderVerse? Then how did the Lord Marshal go there and come back?

Perhaps dying in their “due time” just means when they make it to the physical location of the UnderVerse. I guess I need to stop thinking of it like a Heaven or Hell and think of it more like Hades from Greek mythology. It’s a place where did people end up, but it can also be traveled to by the living. I still want to know so much more about how it all works. 

And I want to know what’s keeping the Necromongers from just going there and leaving everyone else the fuck alone. I get that the Lord Marshal wants to take as many people as possible with him to the UnderVerse, but why? I suppose this can chalked up to religious history, as well. Typically religions want as many converts as possible, and plenty of wars make it clear that people are willing to kill those who don’t believe the same thing they do.

What frustrates me the most about all this UnderVerse stuff is that it was going to be explored further in the sequel. Vin Diesel said in a press conferenceLINK that this was the first of a planned trilogy, and that the second film would have been Riddick traveling to the UnderVerse. He also referenced Lord of the Rings saying that Pitch Black was like The Hobbitt, and this proposed trilogy would be the real story. The director’s cut of Riddick does address a bit of this, but that film overall feels more like a speed bump on the way to the main story, especially since it ends with Riddick staring at what I assume is the entrance to the UnderVerse and the revelation that Vaako is now half-dead like the previous Lord Marshal. Hopefully, Furya picks up right where Riddick left off and they combine the second and third proposed sequels into one: Riddick travels to the UnderVerse to confront Vaako (and find Kyra) and goes to Furya from there. I think Vin Diesel has built up enough box office financial security with the Fast franchise to get to go big with Riddick one more time.

Why Do I Own This?

I love the Riddick movies, this one most of all. As a fan of sci-fi, I love it when a director gets the budget to go all out with his vision, as Twohy has done here. Sure, it’s messy and the mythology is confusing, but you have to respect the ambition. And they truly did a great job with the set design and world building, not to mention the action.

Random Thoughts

I hate that Dench implies that Riddick is evil in the voiceover before the main title. He can be an asshole, and he's definitely a smart ass, but what has he done that makes him evil? I know he's a killer and a convict, but in general he tries to save people he cares about. How is that evil?

I wish Riddick had the long hair and beard the whole movie.

"I'm sure God has his tricks…"

"Threshold! Take us to the threshold!" That might be the lamest chant ever.

I suppose seeing someone's soul ripped out would convince me to sign up with the Necromongers…

Sweet space mullet, Vaako!

"But I will take a piece of him."

I know he's a Furyan or whatever, but how the fuck does Riddick spin that knife like that?

Twohy went from low budget sci-fi horror to big budget Shakespearean (Dame Vaako is clearly Lady Macbeth) hardcore sci-fi, and I love it.

"Kill the Riddick!"

You gotta hand it to those Necromongers, they really cornered the market on black goo technology. 

Dame Vaako calling the Elementals witches and spies makes me think of the Bene Gesserit from Dune.

"Angle of approach: not good."

Sexual stuff with Riddick is odd. He doesn't have sex with anyone and has no love interests (which is refreshing), but the films make a point to show that women at least kind of want to fuck him (the flirting and whatnot with Carolyn in Pitch Black and that weird scene in Chronicles when the female merc straddles and sniffs him while everyone else is asleep).

The titles of these films have become confusing. They tried doing a Star Wars thing by retitling Pitch Black as The Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black on a DVD release. But that means The Chronicles of Riddick has no subtitle. And then the third film is just called Riddick. Or is it The Chronicles of Riddick: Riddick? (There are two alternate titles [Rule the Dark and Dead Man Stalking] that would work with the Chronicles theme.) Here's a title suggestion for the new one: The Chronicles of Riddick 4: Chronicle 3 - Riddick Origins: Furya.

Death by a Riddick pelvic thrust...I can't think of a more dishonorable death.

Crematoria has a real Alien³ vibe to it. Probably because Twohy wrote the first version of that film to feature a prison setting (his script wasn't used and he didn't receive a writing credit). 

Also, the planet in Alien³ is called Fiorina, but is known as “Fury.” Hmm...

I like how Crematoria has a band of welcome killers waiting for new prisoners to be lowered in.

I get that Crematoria is a prison, but one of the guards mentioned they get paid by the Guild per prisoner each year. Why set loose the weird giant dog things that try to kill the prisoners then?

A guard does say "They aren't dead if they're still on the books." But doesn't this mysterious Guild ever perform an audit? 

Those knives Riddick takes are cool, but no way he decapitates someone with them, Furyan or not.

Sweet backbreaker, Vaako!

The fuckin' Purifier went out hard. 

It's nice that they label the locations in this movie, but I hope at this point in the movie you know which planet Helion Prime is.

Lord Marshal: "Give me your soul!"
Riddick, as he uppercuts him: "Fuck you!"

And that Kyra, is why people should stay away from Riddick.

“Keep what you kill.” What a dumb fucking rule for any kind of society. What is it with sci-fi cults and this rule? This is what brought down Will Patton in The Postman. As for the Necromongers, I couldn’t help but think of that Futurama episode about the liquid planet where each king was pretty much immediately killed because of the rule. Why wouldn’t people just constantly try to kill the Lord Marshal? I know he has the weird powers now, but all it would take is two people: one to distract the ghost part and the other to kill him (kind of like how Vaako and Riddick did it). In the sequel, this was addressed in a very satisfying way: people constantly try to kill him as Lord Marshal until he is eventually marooned on Not Furya...because of an assassination attempt.

One more thing about this “keep what you kill” rule: what happens if a Lord Marshal dies of natural causes? Never mind, my brain is starting to hurt trying to figure out all this shit.

There are a lot of special features on the DVD, and my favorite is Vin Diesel's guided tour of the sets. Not only does it show just how expensive it must have been to do those sets practically, but you also get to watch Diesel geek out. You can tell he truly loves this shit.

Looking back at the theatrical ending, I like the final image of the ships and everything (to show what Riddick is now in charge of) more than the final image in the director's cut (a close up on Riddick's face). But I am glad they got rid of Vaako and the Elemental's dialogue for the director's cut.