Riverworld is the 2010 SYFY made for TV movie/miniseries that’s based on the literary series by Phillip Jose Farmer. The books were incredibly popular among science fiction fans and has been adapted for the screen a few times before the 2010 version of Riverworld. In the newest production, we follow a war journalist, Matthew Ellman (Tahmoh Penikett).
Not seven minutes into the film, Matthew and his almost-fiance are killed in a massive explosion. As I was completely unfamiliar with the concept of this movie, and hadn’t even read the synopsis, I was totally shocked at the fact that our leads were just blown to bits. But wait, they aren’t dead! Matthew awakens to find himself on a beautiful riverbank with several of his friends.
No one quite knows where they are but heroic Matthew works to keep everyone together. As they wander the riverbank they soon meet a woman who claims she’s from 12th century Japan, but speaks perfect English. Low and behold an even stranger thing happens; Francisco Pizarro (Bruce Ramsay) shows up with a full cavalry and captures Matthew and company as prisoners.
At this point in the movie I was actually pretty intrigued, I wasn’t expecting such a deep plot line with dead famous people, but it just kept digging deeper and more surprises kept popping up. One other interesting aspect was these hooded blue people who kept appearing randomly to certain characters, Matthew in particular. This part of the storyline is where I got hooked because I was so interested in why these people who had seemingly died, were resurrected to this large blue planet ran by psychic beings.
As Matthew travels the river in search of his deceased fiance, he runs into many other famous dead people including Sir Richard Burton (Peter Wingfield) and Sam Clemens (Mark Deklin). The religious theme of “why are we here” started to be very prominent and Sam Clemens’ main goal is to try and figure that out. Matthew however comes to that conclusion very soon as one of the blue people, aka "caretakers," appears to him and flat out explains what the planet was created for and why there is a conflict. Unfortunately I better not let that cat out of the bag for you and you’ll just have to watch this movie to find out what Riverworld is all about.
Sometimes Riverworld gets a little cliche, like when Matthew constantly draws on puns to make a point. It gets pretty ridiculous when he sits there and calls the caretakers things like “Blue Man Group,” or Smurfs. This little annoying part of the movie is the worst thing viewers have to endure. Occasionally the acting isn’t all that great either with Laura Vandervoot-- who plays Matthew’s fiance --being the absolute worst at delivering lines. Granted, our lead, Tahmoh, isn’t exactly perfect in his role, but he’s not too hard to look at. For just a made for TV movie, I was actually really impressed with how well Riverworld came together.
I already mentioned I didn’t have any idea about what Riverworld was about before I began, the same goes for the novels it was based off of. As it turns out, the novels are extremely popular and award winning. The fact that the film was based off of such a great series of books make it hard to turn out a complete pile of dung. It was definitely a made for TV movie based on what seemed like there wasn’t an amazing director to get the actors doing exactly what they should have done, but the plot is so rich and full of deep concepts, it’s certainly worth a viewing. SyFy puts a lot into their big releases like with the Tinman, and Riverworld was very similar in its production value. Even if you aren’t entirely sold on the plot, there’s actually really great costume design and plenty of other eye candy on the Blu-ray of Riverworld.
Vivendi brings Riverworld to Blu-ray with an MPEG-4 AVC encode and an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (original aspect ratio). This is a beautiful show, no doubt about it. Detail is absolutely pristine. Close ups on faces are great and so are shots of the scenery in Canada where Riverworld was filmed. The crystal clear foregrounds, faces, and shots that contain no CGI are reference quality at all times. The only time you will see the clarity suffer is when there is any form of CGI in the background, and suddenly the definition blurs a bit. Other than that you will see such gorgeous images with not a trace of grain. The color pallette is fully distinguished and very functionally applied to the character’s natural flesh tones and clothing. In general this film had an all around great video presentation.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 in Riverworld is even more outstanding than the video. Each one of the speakers light up during all the right times, including a fair amount from the sub. And the best part about it is, there’s a diverse amount of sounds to accomodate the exceptional sound, from fighting and explosions, to dialogue with strong background music. There’s a few scenes where the dialogue does just what it’s supposed to do, like in one scene when it has a little echo because the characters are supposed to be in a cave. The score was the most impressive part with a subtle amount that shakes the sub up but doesn’t over power any of the dialogue which comes straight through the center channel. The music is definitely not anything like a Hans Zimmer track, but it fills in in the area of adding dramatic effect. Don’t take my word for it though, Riverworld was nominated for the prestigious Canadian Gemini for Best Sound in a dramatic feature, and the Blu-ray transfer doesn't disappoint.
Only two extras are on the Blu-ray disc of Riverworld, a Behind the Scenes With Alan Cummings and a Trailer. Not all that great of a "behind the scenes" either as it's in standard def and only a few minutes long of Cummings sitting in a chair getting his makeup on.
You will get what you pay for in Riverworld as it’s sitting at a great price most places for less than $20. If you aren’t a Sci-fi fan, I can’t promise you will be super thrilled with the premise. However, as a fan of the genre, I was pleasantly surprised with how deep the plot really is. A nice bonus is the fact that the sound and video presenation are near reference quality. Do yourself a favor and give this movie a chance, it might not be loaded on the extras, but it’s a three hour film with an incredibly intelligent plot and outstanding Blu-ray transfer.