RIVERWORLD
Written by Jason Flick

June 30, 2010

Life after death has never been so confusing or strange in SyFy’s newest DVD release Riverworld. Based upon a series of science fiction books by author Philip José Farmer, Riverworld was a four hour made-for-TV movie that is a reboot of the show by the same name that never saw light past the pilot. The story follows one Matt Ellman (Tahmoh Penikett), a war story reporter, whose life is taken in an explosion in Singapore caused by a female suicide bomber.

Shortly after, Matt wakes up and washes to shore on a riverbank after being resurrected in some unknown location along with several of his friends and a 13th century Buddhist nun. After a short time Matt comes across a mysterious man searching for Jessie, Matt’s love interest played by Laura Vandervoort. After the altercation he awakes and comes across two sides of the same alien race. One wants Matt’s aid in ending the life of one Richard Burton, the English explorer and the other played Alan Cumming wishes for Matt to aid Burton.

Along the way Matt meets a few influential people from throughout history such as their friends the 13th century nun/warrior samurai Tomoe Gozen and Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) and enemies Richard Burton and Francisco Pizarro. The story that ensues contains flashbacks of Matt’s deeds, as well as several run-ins with the Blue Man Group race of aliens, and several surprises along the way.

The story of Riverworld feels like a surreal dream or a giant loop of déjà vu. There are no clear answers throughout the journey only that there are those that wish to end Riverworld’s existence and those that wish to make sure it remains. There are hints of several real world events in Riverworld, such as the Hindenburg, the Genpei Wars and 9-11 throughout the film which add a bit of reality to the whole film.

Filmmaking: 7
Riverworld is a world full of deceit, love, revenge and adventure. There are mysteries that may never be explained as the story ends on a cliff hanger note. Depending if another show comes to light we may get those answers but until then we are left with many questions. I would definitely want to see it if they do. I really liked the characters in the film and the actors/actresses involved play their parts rather well.

Visuals: 7
A large part of the movie takes place on or around a vast river with the exception of a few mountain climbing scenes and a bit of forest walking. The scenery is pretty and presented in widescreen mpeg-2 format. I did like the costume designs that each of the historical figures wore especially those of Burton, Tomoe and Twain. The only real downside to the graphics is the sometimes cheesy animation throughout the film but other than that they were pretty good.

Sound: 7
Riverworld features some pretty good music as well as good sound effects. The small battle sequences sound good are pretty believable. The cast which is the film’s biggest asset delivers good performances and believable characters especially those of Peter Wingfield’s Burton and Mark Deklin’s Clemens. They are the ones that make this film worth watching.

Value: 3
Riverworld comes with very little in the area of special features. There is only one small feature called “Behind the Scenes with Alan Cumming” which after a brief explanation by Alan about being blue in X2 you get to see him turned into the Judas Caretaker via a time-lapse segment. On the upside the film is a 3 hour feature so it’s not too bad for the $13-15 dollar price tag.

Overall: 6.9
Riverworld was a pretty enjoyable film. It was certainly better than some of the films I’ve seen lately from the SyFy channel. I was actually surprised. The biggest asset to Riverworld was the cast for sure. All of them made this movie truly work. It’s definitely worth a watch.