“Riddick”: The Last Heir to the Dying of Art of B-Movies

Hello. This is a Korean in America. Today, “Riddick”, the third movie in the troubled B-Movie franchised opened in theatres over the country. And Short evaluation of this movie is that it is THE B-movie of the year!

The original movie in the franchise was “Pitch Black”. That movie was a B-movie! The location was just a desert planet with a very limited cast. The unique thing with the “Pitch Black” is that it is a monster horror movie with monsters on both sides. On a one on one basis, Riddick was the scarier monster than the alien creature. 

The success of “Pitch Black” was based on three elements the movie had: the setup, the alien design, and the character of Riddick. The other characters were generic cut outs by mainstream standards. The performances displayed by the actors were nowhere near Oscar caliber. The dialog was cheesy and awkward by any literary standard. However,   “Pitch Black” was not a Mainstream A-movie. The creators made it as a B-movie. And the audience recognized it as a B-movie. In other words, “Pitch Black” was through and through a B-movie. Because it worked as a B-movie, a movie that was not a good movie by Mainstream standards became a success and the start of a franchise.  The question is why do B-movies have different standards compared to Mainstream A-movie.

According to the urbandictionary.com, a B-movie is defined as “A movie without the benefit of well-recognised actors and cinema screenings, though also commonly associated with poor acting, bad effects and a minimal or ridiculous storyline which justifies any number of violent acts or scantily clad women.  More often than not these films can be enjoyed with a group of friends armed with large quantities of alcohol and be found more entertaining than anything with enough budget to make blood not look like strawberry toothpaste.” At its core, B-movies are about the exploitation of specific niche audiences by catering to their specific interests. As a result, B-movies only need to be good at the specific elements that their audiences want. In comparison, mainstream A-movies need to be great at most of the things that make up a movie. In this way, art-house movies have similarity with B-movies. They only need to cater to the tastes of the cinephiles. As a result, they are lacking in such things as a comprehensive narrative.

The second movie in the Riddick franchise, “The chronicles of Riddick”, was made during the early ages of the current “gentrification” phenomenon of turning essentially B-movies into block buster mainstream A-movies. With the wider acceptance of niche sub-cultures by mainstream culture, B-movies loved by these sub-cultures were seen as the blue print towards cashing in on the devotion of these sub-cultures but only on a larger scale. This required not only educating the mainstream culture about these sub-cultures but also enhancing the elements of movie making ignored by these sub-cultures such as the script.

While some movies have been able to be successful at this task, many have not been successful. One of the mechanics behind the B-movie phenomenon was the drastic contrast between the good elements and the terrible elements. For example, the terrible acting in a Slasher movie makes the killing better! However, for a mainstream movie which requires all elements in the movie to be above a certain average quality, this means that the good elements need to be at the forefront of what the industry can produce in order to generate enough contrast. It is not a leap to say that this is extremely difficult.

The effect of this “gentrification” phenomenon on the part of the audience is that the basic standards of the audience have risen significantly by exposer to movies that were successful in gentrification. Even movies that fail in this also contribute to the rise of standards. Thus, we are left with audiences that demand the Best all the time with all movies! In this environment, there is no room for B-movies to stand. “The chronicles of Riddick” was an attempt to “gentrify” a B-movie franchise which failed. It was still too a B-movie for the mainstream while being too mainstream for the hardcore niche audiences. Personally, I liked the movie because I liked the design elements and the Space-Conan theme. For my tastes, the design elements were just weird enough to be palatable and the “Space or Sci-Fi” element made the Conan theme enjoyable since I could not get into the proper Conan material. However, I can acknowledge it was an oversized B-movie and it was not a good movie by objective mainstream standards.

Now, we have “Riddick” which is a B-movie at its core. The opinion about the movie is that I enjoyed it. It still has the alien designs I enjoy. It still has the setup of two monsters confronting each other. It still has the character of Riddick being himself without anything to distract him from just being himself. However, I understand all the complaints of this movie from a mainstream perspective. Yes, there is not much plot. Yes, the characters are genre cut outs. Yes, the dialog is wooden and camp. Yes, some of the special effects are not on par with the A-list block busters.

One this that is important to acknowledge is that “Riddick” is a movie true to what it is. It is a B-movie focusing on what it does best! And the other stuff be damned. If you do not like what “Riddick” is offering, it’s OK. You were not what its intended audience. Not all movies need to be mainstreamed. It is not an assault on your position as the master of your own small universe if you do not like a movie. This means that it is OK for a movie to be not of your liking.

At the end, there is a virtue in being true to the movie you are whether it be a campy slasher, a cheesy alien movie, or a weird horror movie. And this virtue is worthy of being respected. However, seeing “Riddick”, it is sad that there seems to be no room for true B-movies in the modern movie age. 

It is a damn shame! A shame!

Score: A- for a B-movie


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