Making it as an independent production that allowed them to have the creative freedom to return to its R-rated roots, Riddick – the much-anticipated new chapter of the captivating sci-fi saga that includes Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick – is a dark thriller that sees the anti-hero wanted by every mercenary and bounty hunter in the known galaxy, and both Riddick (Vin Diesel) and the mercs are forced to fight for survival. The film also stars Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Jordi Molla, Dave Bautista, Raoul Trujillo, Bokeem Woodbine and Nolan Gerard Funk.
At the film’s press day, writer/director David Twohy spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about bringing the franchise back, knowing where they want the story to end up (ideally with two more films), how much the story changed over the years, the challenges of making a stand-alone movie while also incorporating the previous mythology, how the first cut was about two hours and 20 minutes, that he’s doing a director’s cut with an additional 10 minutes for the DVD/Blu-ray release, how the idea for the mud demons was something that was developed nine years ago, for one of the earlier films, and what it was like to create such a vast world on a soundstage. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
DAVID TWOHY: It feels good. I guess you don’t make any franchise movies unless the fans are there. The difference is that there was a time when we thought the franchise wouldn’t be going forward, and they helped us realize that that shouldn’t be. They felt unfulfilled, and that mirrored what Vin [Diesel] and I were feeling. So, it took us awhile, but Vin and I sat down and started thinking about, “Okay, what do we do to correct this situation?” It didn’t have to be a big, huge project. It just had to be Riddick, back in action. That’s what we wanted to see. So, we got together and realized that Universal made it clear that they were out of the Riddick business. They didn’t want to spend that kind of money anymore. So, it was going to be an independent movie. We’d get the rights back from them and just go. Curiously, when we were going, there was pent-up demand for this movie and we had good sales on the international market, so when we were looking for somebody to distribute the movie domestically, it was strangely Universal who said, “Well, what about us?” And we said, “Wait a second, you’re the guys who kicked us to the curb, right?!” It was a case of, “If you build it, they will come.” They knew we were going and, suddenly, they didn’t want to miss that ride. They said, “Okay, let us come along, too, and we’ll distribute it for you.” And now, everybody is happy together again. It just shows what a strange business it is.
What you did Pitch Black, had you always envisioned this bigger picture?
TWOHY: No, not really. We do know where we are going to end up, so we had something to aim towards. We just don’t know how all five movies chart out. I don’t have the master chart, and maybe I don’t want to either, but I do know where we’re going and how we’re going to end up, which gives us something to aim towards. It’s like when I start to write a screenplay. I’m well deserved by knowing what my finale is. If I know what my finale is when I’m writing a screenplay, then I don’t always have to chart out every scene before that. I can adequately find my way. I’m experienced enough to do that now. That’s where we are with the franchise, too. I know where we’re going, but I don’t have to know every twist and turn that will happen to get us there.
In the time since the last film, and all the years you spent talking to Vin Diesel about it, was this always where you’d talked about going with this film, or had you originally had completely different ideas?
TWOHY: I think it did change. Had we had all the money in the world to spend and we were doing another studio movie, we probably would have jumped quickly into the Necromonger universe and done an Orpheus Descending movie there. But, that was a big movie, and a very fantasy-based movie with 1,300 visual effects shots. We didn’t have that kind of resource. So, we said, this time, “If not that, this time, then what is it? What does this new movie look like?” Quickly, just in talking about it very simply with Vin in his kitchen, we decided on a survival, left-for-dead story, where Riddick could, as a character, reclaim the animal side. It was about getting back to those lean days. He’s a character who’s worried that he’s lost a step and dulled his own edge. Now, he’s thinking about using this dumping ground world as a proving ground, to prove to himself that he’s still got his edge, or that he can at least reclaim it. So, it became a nice little paradigm for the franchise, as well. We got mean and lean again, and rediscovered what we had before. The bigger scope appealed to us, but as a smaller movie, we thought there was something really good at its core, as well.
How challenging is it to make a stand-alone film while simultaneously incorporating mythology and setting up for future movies?
TWOHY: Well, it’s difficult. This film respects the mythology and incorporates the existing mythology, but doesn’t do a lot to advance the mythology. That’s for the director’s cut DVD. But, you know where we’re headed. You do have a sense of a bigger direction. And that’s probably all we could ask to do with a budget of under $40 million.
TWOHY: Strangely, I always have a lot of cut scenes. I keep writing shorter and shorter scripts, thinking that this time, I’ll get all my scenes in. I shot a 100-page script. That’s pretty short, as far as things go. But damn, my first cut that I showed to distributors was probably about two hours and 20 minutes, even though my contract said two hours. So, I had to lose 20 minutes. It’s incredible that it just keeps happening. Though I have to remember that the shooting script for Alien was something like 82 pages long, and now I understand why. While you’re making the film and working with the actors, if you want to have a little room to breathe and experiment and play, it grows, and you want that to happen. It’s not enough to just shoot the script. You’ve gotta come up with new inspiration, as you shoot it. There’s gotta be room for that and time for that, so it grows. And yes, it happened to me again. I lost more scenes than I wanted to lose, and that always happens.
Is it difficult for you to part with scenes, like that?
TWOHY: Yeah. Thankfully, there will be an editor who can be tougher than me. Having not written it, the editor can sometimes be tougher on the scenes than me.
Will you included those deleted scenes on the DVD?
TWOHY: I’m doing that cut right now, as a matter of fact. I’m putting back in about 10 minutes of footage.
I think it’s great you got away with that whole opening sequence that has very little dialogue. Did you get any pressure to cut that down, time wise?
TWOHY: Yeah, they pointed to that. Vin and I both liked the starkness and simplicity to that. I’m not sure how the studio felt about it, but it really wasn’t a studio, so who cares?
TWOHY: There’s the jackal in the movie, and then the other antagonistic creature we just internally called the mud demons. It was actually a design that I’ve been sitting on for nine years, since The Chronicles of Riddick. I had developed some creatures then, that I didn’t get the chance to put on film, so I kept it. It was designed by Patrick Tatopoulos, who did the creature design for Pitch Black and who is now a good production designer and very creative guy. So, he had this lovely design and I had the pictures sitting around my office, for all these years. When I got down to writing, I said, “I don’t want to design a new creature. I’ll just endow this with certain attributes in the script, but I like how it looks. We’ll customize it a little bit, and the CG house will customize it a little bit.” Rather than starting from scratch, I just got that image in my head. But now, they live underground, in the mud, and they lie dormant there until they find a source of water or the seasonal rains come. It was a good idea, and I hung onto it for nine years.
TWOHY: You know, you hear people say that there’s too much CG in movies today, but CG is what allows me to take a green-painted wall in a studio and make it disappear, and then put 100 miles of landscape in. CG, in the right hands, can be a marvelous tool. You can’t say it’s too much. It can be done badly and over-exploited, but to me, it’s just a tool. I can either take the whole crew outside and find this alien landscape that I’m going to have to tweak in a computer anyway because it really doesn’t look alien, or just create it from scratch and save some money by doing it. To me, it’s just a tool and you just have to figure out how to use it. There were 850 shots in this last movie.
Was it important to you, if you were going to go hard R with the violence, that you also balanced that with some great, funny one-liners?
TWOHY: I think so. I don’t want to have so much humor that it undermines the jeopardy, but enough to sometime relieve tension. I wanted to give the film other colors and remind the audience that this is a film that we’re supposed to enjoy and not take too damn seriously.
Riddick opens in theaters on September 6th.