UNIVERSAL CITY, California — Three years ago, Vin Diesel was hailed as Hollywood's next big action star. But after a couple of underperforming films, do audiences still work up a sweat for him?
Hundreds of fans answered that question at the Thursday premiere of "The Chronicles of Riddick" by waiting for hours outside the Universal Amphitheatre, hoping to catch a glimpse of the man who first brought the character of Riddick to life in the 2000 sci-fi thriller "Pitch Black."
The sequel takes place five years later as Riddick, an escaped convict with the ability to see in the dark, is caught in the middle of a galactic war. With the help of Aeron (Dame Judi Dench), a mysterious ambassador, he learns the secret of his origin and ultimately tangles with the main bad guy, Lord Marshal (Colm Feore), in a battle that will decide the future of the galaxy.
Thanks to a bigger budget and an already devoted fanbase, the movie expands upon the scope and vision of the original. " 'Pitch Black' was a very contained film, it takes place in one location," Diesel said. "But 'The Chronicles of Riddick' explores the whole universe."
Diesel's co-star, Thandie Newton (who is no stranger to action films, having starred in "Mission: Impossible II") noted "Riddick" is far from your average adventure movie. "It's bad versus evil," she said. "It's interesting that the bad guy suddenly becomes the good guy. It puts a whole new spin on what to expect." She added that Diesel himself puts a spin on the action-hero template, noting that he doesn't just kick ass. "He is beautiful, he is an everyman and he is a really special, sweet human being," she said.
Before entering the theater, Diesel took a moment to sign autographs and chat with fans. The tough guy couldn't help but smile at all the attention. " 'Pitch Black' was the first sense of validation as an artist, as someone creating a character that people could embrace," he said. "But creating a mythology like 'The Chronicles of Riddick' is the ultimate testament of success."
For his part, however, Diesel seemed most enthused about working with Dench, one of his all-time favorite actors. "I have always wanted to work with her," said Diesel. "I am so glad I finally got the chance."
Actor Tracy Morgan weighed in with some comic relief on the red carpet. Lifting his shirt to reveal a distinctly non-Diesel-like physique, he joked. "I am going to start a new action hero called Stretch-mark Man!"
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