Riverworld (2010) Horror Movie Review
Horror movies Review
What is Riverworld? That was one of many questions swirling through the epic, emotive Syfy miniseries “Riverworld,” an adaptation of Philip Jose Farmer’s epic science fiction masterpiece. “Riverworld” tells the story of Matt Ellerman (Tahmoh Penikett, “Battlestar Galactica”, “Dollhouse”), a war zone journalist, as he wakes from death along the banks of a seemingly endless river where everyone who lived and died on the earth has been reborn into their youthful bodies. But what is the purpose of this place? Why has Matt been “chosen” by the blue-skinned alien Caretakers? Is it an afterlife or a purgatory? What *is* Riverworld?
These questions and more fuel this strange journey along the banks of an endless river, populated with a lively cast of characters each with their own agenda. As Matt begins the search for his missing fiance, Jesse (Laura Vandervoort, “V”, “Smallville”), he runs afoul of Sir Richard Burton (Peter Wingfield) and Francisco Pizzaro, joins forces with Samuel Clemins, a.k.a. Mark Twain (Mark Deklin), and begins an epic journey along the mighty and endless river to find the source of Riverworld and find answers to his many questions.
“Riverworld” raises many questions over the course of its four hours, and not all of them are answerable. While questioning the very purpose of humanity on an alien world, “Riverworld” neatly dodges overloading the viewers with existential angst while providing thrilling action and fascinating glimpses into the microcosms of history that have developed along the banks of the titular river: Francisco Pizarro’s conquering Spanish army and the slave camps they’ve set up as part of their empire, and Mark Twain’s riverboat and its memorable crew draw polar opposites of the good and the bad arising in the Riverworld.
The characters populating “Riverworld” are well-developed and flawed enough to be human. Characters darkly discuss the “suicide express”—killing oneself and seeing where one ends up along the river—and the lively slave trade that has come into existence in the forests, while Matt finds himself caught in a deadly chess game between the Caretakers as those who wish to destroy Riverworld and those who wish to save it begin a civil war fought through the human champions they’ve chosen, leading to a fairly disturbing torture sequence that forces Matt to question everything he knows about himself, his purpose, and his love for Jesse.
All of this isn’t to say that “Riverworld” is without fault—while it is an original and intriguing story, many fans of Farmer’s novels will be frustrated with the changes made to modernize the story. The Caretakers themselves are never satsifactorily explained, and Matt’s continued quest to reunite with Jesse despite the discoveries of her dark side rearing its admittedly ugly head is fairly inexplicable. In fact, there are several aspects of “Riverworld” that are never truly explained, and the miniseries itself was left far too open—while it is a possiblity that “Riverworld” will be developed for series, if it is not, fans of the miniseries will never recieve closure on some of the issues raised within the miniseries. Also, certain mea culpas are required: While Tamoe, a Japanese female warrior, was played rather well by Jeananne Goossen, the historical liklihood of her existence is rather slim. The deus ex machina explanation of why everyone in the Riverworld spoke English was also a bit of a “gimme,” though it’s overlookable after a while. This incarnation of “Riverworld” was certainly a vast improvement over the campy 2003 production, at least.
Still, Penikett capably carries much of the weight of “Riverworld” on his shoulders as he turns Matt into an everyman, representing all of us within himself as he is forced to question everything around him when he awakes to this strange planet. Peter Wingfield once more masterfully plays the villain of the piece, but where Burton could have been a simple “bad guy” he is instead a human being with motivations not entirely unsympathetic. Mark Deklin, of course, steals nearly every scene he is in as he deliciously plays Mark Twain to the hilt, and Alan Cumming is suitably mysterious as the leader of the dark side of the civil war being fought between the Caretakers.
Ultimately, “Riverworld” was an enjoyable exploration of an intriguing world, introducing viewers to a likeable cast of characters, and the climactic and somewhat troubling finale was suitably explosive, to say the least. Never sparing on excitement and mysterious enough to keep viewers questioning, the open-ended nature of “Riverworld” will undoubtedly have many viewers wishing for a fully developed television series. As “Riverworld” doubled Syfy’s viewership and broke records for miniseries premieres on weekends, it might not be a far-fetched idea.
While “Riverworld” can, at times, be as meandering as the titular river, it is never dull, and always as flowing and exciting as any journey down the vast, mystical river can be.
Four out of five stars.
About Riverworld (2010)
Starring: Brad Johnson, Karen Holness, Emily Lloyd, Jeremy Birchall, Kevin Smith
Director: Kari Skogland