Unrealized story potential

6 May 2014 08:32

Years ago I was sitting in the local cinema, waiting for a movie to start, when a teaser for an upcoming Science Fiction movie started playing. First, a Universal Pictures logo, followed by a bunch of doors opening and the voice of Judi Dench narrating:

By the superstitious, they are called the Hood of the Devil We see a semi-transparent woman, wearing chains, walking down a stairway and into a ship, escorted by two soldiers. By those who have seen the towering statues left behind on dead planets, they are simply called: the End Semi-transparent woman (Judi Dench, our narrator), comes into view. Music changes, and we see a man looking at a large structure launching spaceships. Necromonger. It is the name that will convert or kill every last human life. Image switches to a man in armor (Colm Feore) before a group of armored men Convert now, or fall forever. Up until this point, I’m starting to get more and more excited about this trailer. And then something weird happens. A woman in golden clothes states: "The more you resist them, the greater the damage will be", followed by a bald-headed man in the shadows replying "I’ve made my choice". It’s hard not to recognize the voice, as it’s Vin Diesel. The movie, of course, is The Chronicles of Riddick. This is the trailer I saw:

Now, I want to make it perfectly clear that I did enjoy this movie (I have it on DVD I think), and I’ve also seen the Director’s Cut (which I thought was better). But let’s go back a few steps.

The Chronicles of Riddick is a sequel to the 2000 movie Pitch Black, which is essentially about a group of people marooned on a deadly planet, with the convicted felon Riddick the only one capable of getting them out alive. When I saw the trailer to Chronicles of Riddick, I had not yet seen Pitch Black. In fact, I didn’t find out there was an earlier movie until the Jack/Kyra flashback in Chronicles. But this blog post isn’t about the Riddick franchise (though if I can put in one final bit: the 2013 movie Riddick is more like Pitch Black while still being a good sequel to Chronicles).

My point in this blog post is the matter of unrealized potential. The teaser trailer for Chronicles of Riddick paints a picture of an apocalyptic battle for survival; a cultist army intent on wiping out all human life, which can easily imply a galaxy-wide struggle, and spawn a whole series of movies just on that premise. There are so many ways in which to expand on this theme, so many avenues to explore, that it’s a bit of a shame to see it being used as nothing more than a "bigger enemy for Riddick", and only for about two thirds of the movie. It doesn’t really fit to have Riddick, a man known for surviving extreme locales and prison breaks, to go against a universe-crushing army. In my opinion, it would have been better to have Riddick have another movie more like Pitch Black, and to have the Necromongers have their own franchise.

Of course, I am well aware that trailers are notorious for giving false impressions of the movies they represent. I had a similar experience with The Golden Compass. I read all three His Dark Materials books after seeing the first trailer, and I really liked them, but I was extremely disappointed by the movie. It felt way too "cute" compared to the books, they messed up the order of the story, and left out the book’s ending.

If you haven’t read His Dark Materials, it’s perfectly okay to watch the trailer and then read Northern Lights/The Golden Compass (titles differ depending on your region). But I wouldn’t watch the movie:

Can you think of any movie trailers that are similar in this regard? Of hinting at something far greater than that which was delivered in the final movie? Or perhaps an example of a trailer that is the opposite: that hints at a good movie but delivers something far greater?