Apr 26, 2010

[Movies] Riverworld (2010)

Riverworld (2010)I'm getting increasingly disappointed in SyFy's ability to release interesting movies under its brand. Sure, we know they partner with other movie makers to create these made-for-TV types of movies based on popular science fiction and fantasy tales, but something tends to go wrong and the ultimate result is odd.

I think the only SyFy movie I liked was Tin Man, then the others that followed were highly, well, "meh" for lack of a better term. Then others followed like Alice, which was highly disappointing.

And now this one.

It's weird to think that this was not the first time that SyFy tried to translate this book series into something more visual. Their last attempt, which was a full TV series, ended up being just a pilot episode and nothing more. Maybe this was one of those times when they should have left good well enough alone or something.

Riverworld is a 4-hour TV mini-series released by the SyFy Channel as based on the Riverworld books written by Philip José Farmer. I've never read the books myself so this is a review truly based on the movie alone.

Penikett at GateconImage via Wikipedia

At the center of our story is reporter Matt Ellman (Tahmoh Penikett), who is about to propose marriage to his girlfriend Jessie (Laura Vandervoort) while in Singapore. However everything changes when a suicide bomber takes out the club where they're at, thus killing everyone. Eventually Matt finds himself waking up in a river alongside many other people who appear to be garbed in the attire of different time periods.

This is the Riverworld, whose only defining geological figure is a massive river that snakes its way all over the land. It appears that everyone who has ever died in history comes back to life here in the Riverworld as some sort of second chance at things. They now possess the ability to heal very quickly and if they die in the Riverworld, they end up getting resurrected somewhere else along its banks. Matt then struggles to locate Jessie amidst two levels of conflict. One comes in the form of Richard Francis Burton (Peter Wingfield), who has organized many resurrectees as his private army to take control of Riverworld. The other is between two mysterious blue-skinned aliens who have a different interest in the fate of the humans trapped in Riverworld.

Concept wise, the movie has a lot of potential, as does most movies and TV shows based on popular books. The novel experience allows one to explore such alternative worlds very heavily and thus creating a very rich backstory to take advantage of. Then comes the studios who end up condensing all that original material into something that is leaner and somehow simpler for viewers to understand. At least that's how they see things - it's all about trying to make the movie as accessible to as wide an audience base as possible for better ratings and DVD sales.

The movie felt very dragging and confused with Matt reduced to a whiney boyfriend who spends the entire time desperately looking for this girlfriend. Not quite the most developed plot when you think about it and it totally makes his reason for being less than just shallow. I lack the worlds to describe it. The whole thing just becomes one highly confusing mess that is extremely difficult to sort through. It probably didn't help that Tamoe wasn't as strong a lead as the producers hoped. He just looks good without a shirt and in various states of physical torture.

The blue aliens ended up being very hokey and it wasn't at all clear what they really wanted to accomplish. While we know that they're meant to be the overall manipulators of the world, they didn't come across that way. They were just sort of there in the background, odd wisps with bad make-up.

The only remotely interesting part of the movie was the introduction of the female samurai Tomoe Gozen (Jeananne Goossen), but just on a very shallow we-like-kick-ass-women kind of way. Having Mark Twain (Mark Deklin) in the mix was just weird.

The movie as a whole just drifts by you like something floating along down the river. There is no current to drive things or give it a sense of urgency. It just moves from one point to another and then continues on beyond our range of vision. Yeah, the notion of comparing this to flotsam or driftwood really appeals to me right now.

Riverworld is another sad attempt at turning a good book series into a movie and another reminder to SyFy that they need to get their act together. If they really want to break into the original movie market for science fiction and fantasy fans, they so need to get better writers at the very least. It gets 1 inconsistent use of an accent out of a possible 5.


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