Last March, I traveled to frigid Montreal to visit the set of Universal's "Riddick," the long-awaited third installment in the cult franchise that begin with 2000's "Pitch Black" and continued with the bigger-budget 2004 sequel "The Chronicles of Riddick." While there I was given the opportunity to tour the sets and speak with cast and crew about what we can expect in the new film, which sees Vin Diesel's interstellar antihero fighting for his life against vicious alien predators and expert bounty hunters after being left for dead on a harsh alien planet. Below are 20 key things I learned during my visit.
1) The movie will be rated "R"
While "Chronicles" was rated PG-13, both Diesel and director David Twohy maintained that the new film will harken back to "Pitch Black's" harder-edged tone.
"We're shooting a rated-R 'Riddick,' when do you see a rated-R movie?" said Diesel. "You can't count on your hands a bunch of rated-R movies that are getting a lot of play. They're so far and few between. In fact, we were victims of that in going the studio route with 'Chronicles of Riddick.' Budget went up, and we went into that film we were going in rated-R, and the first thing taken out was rated-R. You want to spend that kind of money, you want to expand the mythology like that, you have to reconfigure the way you're going to produce this movie and make it PG.
"Some people argue, 'Hey, there's the 'Dark Knights' that are PG but pushing the R envelope,' but it does mean something," he continued. "It means something in your approach to making a movie. There's something appropriate and liberating and honest and free about going into a picture like this and being able to make it a rated-R picture and not have to comply with an understandable studio mandate of PG filmmaking for the blockbusters in Hollywood."
2) The movie is more "Pitch Black" than "Chronicles of Riddick"
For those whose taste runs to the nastier, more stripped-down aesthetic of the first film, you'll be happy to know that "Riddick" continues in that tradition.
"This particular one is such a composite of the two films, a little more on the 'Pitch Black' side than the second one," said cast member Raoul Trujillo, who plays the role of Lockspur, a bounty hunter. "I think what’s probably going to be the strongest element for the fans especially is the fact that again, it’s really character-driven."
Concurred director Twohy: "[It's] more like Pitch Black because it’s clearly R-rated as 'Pitch Black' was and yeah, we're not pulling any punches this time. You're sort of forced to when you're doing a studio movie for 100 million dollars or more you have to pull your punches because there is too many people, too much input, too many people trying to turn it into something else, too many people who don't want to take chances. So all that softens your blows and we don't want to soften our blows anymore."
3) There are two groups of bounty hunters after Riddick
As if Riddick didn't have enough problems with the planet's vicious alien predators, he also must fend off attacks by not one but two groups of bounty hunters. The competition between these two groups was highlighted by cast member Matt Nable, who plays Boss Johns, the leader of one of the mercenary units.
"When we arrive on the planet, you know, there’s a bounty out on Riddick and Jordi Molla’s [Santana] crew [is] a sort of a rag tag group of mercenaries," said Nable. "My character Boss Johns has a fairly decisive sort of motive for appearing and going after Riddick. And certainly the crew I’m with are a much more professional type of unit, an elite group of mercenaries compared with the other guys."
"We're pirates, sort of," said cast member Conrad Pia, whose character Vargas is a part of the "rag tag" group. "So we're much more thrown together..."
"Kind of rogue mercenaries rather than militant mercenaries," chimed in Dave Bautista, whose character Diaz is a part of the same group. "We just want to get paid. [Laughs] That's our thing - we just want the money."
4) The film appears to have something of a "Predator" vibe
In my notes during a tour of the "Riddick's base camp" set, I wrote that it looked almost like the headquarters for a group of Predators, with rib meat hanging from hooks and a totem pole-type structure that appeared to be made out of bone. This impression was partially borne out by Bautista and Conrad Pia, who play the roles of bounty hunters Diaz and Vargas.
"I definitely do see the similarities [between 'Predator' and this movie]," said Bautista. "The biggest difference would be a lot of those guys seemed like they were very similar in their background and their physicality, but we are all so very different from each other."
Chimed in Pia: "If I remember 'Predator' correctly, a lot of the characters were very typical alpha males trying to lead the pack. In this case, we have the two groups. Each group has very distinct characters on them. We have certain rivalries within the group, and then we have also the big dynamic against the other group."
Ok, so maybe not exactly like "Predator" - but perhaps not too terribly far off either.