Priest (2011): The Searchers for the Apocalypse

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I tried to watch Priest once before. At that time, I just couldn’t get into the film. For whatever reason, it just didn’t click. I honestly could not tell you why. Either my bio-rhythms were off or the fact that Carl Urban appeared to bite the “big-one” at the start of the film or a combination of the two, put me off the film.

When I saw a copy of Priest going for 3 pounds at the bargain DVD section at Tesco, I picked it up. I figured that for 3 quid, I’d give it another go. I’m actually glad I did. Because despite the film’s Korean graphic novel beginnings, it really turned out to be a western. And not just any western either, it was The Searchers revisited; sans Natalie Wood, Jeff Hunter and The Duke.

The Creators:

Directed by Scott Stewart  with a screenplay written by Cory Goodman and based on Min-Woo Hyung‘s graphic novel of the same name, Priest really is an almost perfect western movie. I know, I know; some purists out there are going to scream to high heaven about not being faithful to the “original” concept. Which seems to be the clarion call of all “fan’s” of work adapted from a “manga-type” source.

But, I don’t care. In case the folks in the cheap seats missed that, I’ll repeat; I don’t care. Because I’ve never read the original graphic novel and apart from seeing the cover of it in a comic store downtown, I would have never known of its existence if it were not for IMDb and Wikipedia.

The ever-beautiful and kick-ass Maggie Q.
The ever-beautiful and kick-ass Maggie Q.

The Plot:

It is a future version of a world torn apart by war. The church has become all-powerful and in this verse, vampires have existed since the dawn of time. These are not the suave and sophisticated vamps of literature and film. These vampires are animalistic and more of a “hive” insect with a queen who’s lays vampire “eggs.” A legion of Priests were created by the church to battle the vampires and in a long epic battle they were defeated and the remaining creatures were put in “reservations.” (Sound familiar?)

The Priests are disbanded and forgotten. Years later, in an outpost in the Wasted Lands, a farmer along with his wife and daughter are breaking their backs trying to make a living out of the desert soil. As they sit down to their evening meal, they are attacked by a horde of vampires and the daughter hides in the basement only to be discovered by something.

The Cast:

Paul Bettany
Karl Urban
Cam Gigandet
Maggie Q
Lily Collins

*Cast courtesy of IMDb.*

The Device:

Just like today, you cannot trust the guys in charge and refusing to give up is good.

The Twist:

Family is in the eye of the beholder.

The Story:

After a long protracted battle between vampires and men, the men win and put the surviving vampires in “reservations.” It turns out that they’ve been pretty damned busy down there and when an outbreak occurs the leaders of the church refuse to believe that there is a problem. One priest (Paul Bettany), whose family it was that got attacked by this upsurge of vamps, goes against the church and decides to rescue his niece Lucy (Lily Collins). He is aided by the local lawman, Sheriff Hicks (Cam Gigandet) and a fellow Priestess (Maggie Q).

Carl Urban as Black Hat all that's missing is the serape.
Karl Urban as Black Hat all that’s missing is the serape.

It turns out that the renegade vampires are being led by a former Priest, Black Hat (Karl Urban) who was lost to the vampires at the beginning of the film. He’s kidnapped Lucy to draw the Priest to him.

The Characters:

Paul Bettany as the Priest is all guttural angst and stoic grimness. He pretty much feels like Ethan in The Searchers but without the great lines that The Duke had in his film. Karl Urban as Black Hat is just, well, Karl Urban; there is not part that I’ve ever seen the man portray that doesn’t enthral me. Despite his tiny amount of screen time, when he is on-screen he blows everyone else away. Lily Collins, who was a relative newcomer when this film was made, did a brilliant job and even when she had snot running down her lower lip; still looked amazing.

As did Maggie Q as the kick-ass Priestess who helps Bettany track down all the bad vampires. Cam Gigandet’s sheriff was good at filling the Jeffrey Hunter role as the young guy who wants to make sure that girlfriend Lucy survives her reunion with her Uncle Priest.  And in the cameo department,  Brad Dourif was brilliant as the Snake Oil salesman who is touting the effectiveness of his “holy water.” And  Christopher Plummer  was great as the treacherous and “holier-than-thou” head of the church who banishes the Priest for even daring to presume that vampires have again become a threat.

The Verdict:

Despite the dismal reviews that this film garnered, I liked it. The second I made the  western connection, I was on-board and enjoying the show. The sets combined with the shooting locations and the CGI all made for a believable western-type apocalyptic arena for these “cowboys and indians” to do battle.

It’s pretty obvious that the creators of the film, loved western movies. The sets and the “frontier” towns would not have looked out-of-place in a Leone Spaghetti western. This combined with the epic scenery throughout the film made it look like The Searchers married to Once Upon a Time in the West.

A real 4 star out of 5 for me, just because of the loving “homage” to a great western that did not follow the original too closely and left things open for a sequel which, sadly, will probably not happen due to the poor performance at the box-office.

If you like/love westerns you’ll probably enjoy this film.

Bettany "searching" on the back of his "steed."
Bettany “searching” on the back of his “steed.”

Pitch Black (2000): The Beginning of Riddick

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Pitch Black was the first film I ever “googled.” One afternoon while hunting for a new film to watch (new as in one I’d not seen before) I had a vague memory of something I’d seen on the telly. The setting was very dark and these giant “bat-like” things were flying around and killing people.

If I remember correctly, I typed the phrase ‘film with giant bats’ in the search engine and the first thing that showed up was Pitch Black with Vin Diesel. The VHS video had been out for quite a while by the time I finally got to see the entire film. When I found it, I got it from one of those Video Rental Vans that used to deliver weekly to your house.

When it came out on DVD it was one of the first films I bought. We watched it again last night. It seemed like a good idea, what with Riddick  part 3 coming out September this year. I found, to my delight, that I still enjoyed the hell out of the movie and I noticed something at the end of the film that I’d never noticed before. A nice surprise for me on top of my usual enjoyment of the story and the characters.

The Creators:

Directed by David Twohy  – who also co-wrote the screenplay with the creators of the story Jim and Ken Wheat – Pitch Black was a film that boasted a unique “anti-hero,” a cast that was equivalent to an actor’s smorgasbord of talent, and story that had a great blend of action, science fiction, and horror (or as IMDb categorises it, thriller, which I suppose it is to a huge degree).

The Story:

The spaceship Hunter-Gratzner is transporting goods and people as part of its cargo. A meteor storm causes severe damage to the ship and the pilot, Frye has to set the ship down on an uncharted planet. After jettisoning most of the cargo and passengers, the captain forces her to keep the last two sections of the ship as it crash lands. The tiny amount of survivors include a bounty hunter, two settlers, a holy man and his three sons, an antique collector/dealer, a 14 year-old-boy, Fry and the incredibly dangerous and homicidal Riddick.

The planet appears to be a barren waste. Full of desert and it features an empty mining community. With no sign of where the miners are or where they went, the group begin outfitting a smaller spaceship  to escape this alien planet with three suns. As the “law-abiding” members of the crash keep an eye out for Riddick and try to move supplies a solar eclipse cuts off all the light from all three suns.

The dark is full of death and danger and it will be the longest and last eclipse that many of them will face.

The planet before the eclipse.
The planet before the eclipse.

The Device:

The planet with three suns has an eclipse that allows carnivorous creatures access to the planet’s surface. Riddick has had his eyes “polished” by a doctor to enable him to see in the dark.

The Twist:

Riddick becomes the group’s reluctant saviour along with the pilot Frye.

The Characters:

Vin Diesel
Radha Mitchell
Cole Hauser
Keith David
Lewis Fitz-Gerald
Claudia Black
Rhiana Griffith
John Moore
Simon Burke
Les Chantery
Sam Sari
Firass Dirani
Ric Anderson
Vic Wilson

*Cast list courtesy of IMDb*

It has to be said that every actor in this film performs brilliantly. Whether this is down to the cachet of talent that had been cast or whether it’s down to the writing of the characters, they all shine in this film. The dialogue as written by Twohy and co is snappy, funny, and ironic. Riddick has the best lines obviously, but Frye also has her fair share of pithy remarks as well.

Out of all the characters, Riddick, Fry and Johns have the best character arcs and their interactions are a treat to behold. But one of my favourite characters was Jack, who has such a case of hero-worship for Riddick that it’s truly funny and touching. But as I said, all the actors knocked it out of the park in this intimate small cast film.

The Verdict:

For it’s time this was a kick-ass movie that entertained and kept you on the edge of your seat. The CGI on the creatures was brilliant and the whole thing was impressive in its presentation and its originality. It made  household names of Vin Diesel and Radha Mitchell and it was only Twohy’s third time at bat as a director.

A great entertaining Science Fiction, Thriller, Horror Action film that does not disappoint and one that can be watched again and again and again. I’d give it a solid 5 out of 5 stars just for having a powerful female character in Fry the pilot and for the decision to use Radha Mitchell.

Neat Fact:

Pitch Black opens with Riddick talking about cyro-stasis. Avatar opens with Jake Sully talking about cyro-stasis.

Riddick invading Frye's personal space.
Riddick invading Frye’s personal space.