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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 August, 2004, 08:17 GMT 09:17 UK
Riddick's mixed bag of tricks
The Chronicle of Riddick franchise is powerful, but very mixed in terms of success and quality, says Daniel Etherington of BBC Collective in his weekly games column.

Screenshot of Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay
The game does not try to repeat the film's narrative
In 2000, a small but compelling sci-fi horror film seemingly came out of nowhere.

A refreshing exercise in low-budget genre filmmaking, Pitch Black combined motifs familiar from Alien and stranded-in-space movies like 1964's Robinson Crusoe On Mars.

Fast forward four years and we have a big studio and several collaborating production companies attempting to build an instant franchise.

They are offering us a cross-medium selection of cultural items: a movie, a game, an anime, a novel and a bumper new DVD edition of Pitch Black (re-branded The Chronicles Of Riddick: Pitch Black).

And some action figures are lurking out there too.

Fishy franchises

My suspicions about franchise culture regularly surface in these columns, as I wonder about the quality controls in place for creativity that is so much the product of extreme business contrivance.

But then you have to remind yourself almost all cultural items are made in a commercial context, despite how much we relish myths of creativity.

Even Michelangelo's work for the papacy could be considered a kind of franchise - Sistine II: The Last Judgement.

The real reason Escape From Butcher Bay works is that it suits the Riddick character> He is not saving the universe, he is serving himself

Of course, video games and mainstream movies are not so readily considered as art in many quarters, but we still idealise their status.

Just think of how upset thirtysomethings feel about the direction the Star Wars franchise has taken.

The irony is that George Lucas, despite creating films beloved of us as children in the 70s, is one of the key figures in the development and consolidation of modern franchise culture, pushed to its money-milking extremes.

The Chronicles Of Riddick franchise can be seen as the offspring of a Lucas cultural model. Interestingly, the whole franchise is very mixed in terms of success and quality.

Slew of stories

When Pitch Black was made, on a budget of $20m, sequels and spin-offs were not the intention. However, the film was so profitable that it became inevitable.

Now we have a slew of new stories, interconnecting and expanding the Richard B Riddick character.

One problem, however, is that Riddick worked so well in Pitch Black because he was mysterious, but still of credible proportions.

Screenshot of Chronicles of Riddick the film
In the film, our hero is not just dark, he is superhuman
For the 2004 feature film, Riddick is suddenly a superhuman of mythic dimensions. He is not just a (dark) hero, he is expected to be the saviour of the universe.

The film is spectacular and not half as "Riddick-ulous" as the US press seemed to think, but it is also bloated with delusions of grandeur.

But then, how could it not appeal to David Twohy's and Vin Diesel's egos to create a $100m-plus film wherein their boy saves the universe?

Elsewhere in the franchise is Dark Fury, a 45-minute anime by Peter Chung (Aeon Flux, Animatrix: Matriculated).

This film essentially picks up where Pitch Black left off. It is stylish stuff, and helps give more detail to the wider universe of the 2004 feature, but it is not revelatory.

Good press

Which brings me to the game. Considering the critical mauling received by the film, the game has fared very well, with the reception being entirely positive.

Gamespot.com gave it a "9.3 Superb" rating, with even the frequently reticent Edge magazine granting it an above average 7/10 (5/10 being average).

Screenshot of Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay
Gamers learn the truth about his see-in-the-dark eyes
Rottentomatoes.com's "Tomatometer" has the film at 30%, while the game's reviews average out at 96%.

The game adds back-story to the Riddick character.

It reveals the truth about his see-in-the-dark eyes, as well as stylistically bridging the gap between Pitch Black (defined more by its lower budget and use of photographic techniques and miniatures) and The Chronicles Of Riddick (defined more by ambitious, expansive CG and blue/green-screen work).

It also shakes off the perennial problems of games related to films: it does not try to repeat a film's narrative or offer a poor cousin to the parent film's imagery or action.

Instead, it provides stealth with a twist, thanks to Riddick's special vision.

But the real reason Escape From Butcher Bay works is that it suits the Riddick character. He is not saving the universe, he is serving himself.

The character we met in Pitch Black was robust, cryptic and selfish, which so very much fits the medium of a single player, narrative-based game.


SEE ALSO:
Riddick game raises the stakes
20 Aug 04  |  Technology


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