Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Riverworld Blu-ray Review

While I love the idea of a channel dedicated to science fiction, The SyFy Channel (formerly the SciFi Channel) seems to be in an identity crisis hence the name change. This is a channel that cranks out a ton of original movies that are questionable in quality such as Mansquito and Mega Snake, but they also had great shows like Battlestar Galactica and Stargate SG-1. I was curious as to where this movie would fall as far quality counted. Although my wife loves their movies like Mansquito but I absolutely hate them. Those movies usually have C or D list actors, poor special effects, and a terrible script. That being said, when she started this movie without me and shut it off after watching it for around 30 minutes, it didn't inspire much hope for me especially when you take into account the 3 hour running time. But being the dedicated reviewer I am, I sat down and watched the whole thing while my wife happily spent her time more productively.

Film (1 star out of 5 stars)

From what I've gathered from doing some background research for this review, is that Riverworld is based on a series of novels written by Philip Jose Farmer which was optioned by the SciFi channel and made into a pilot starring Brad Johnson but wasn't successful enough to become an ongoing series. I don't know how much this film follows the books it's based on as I haven't read them, but it seemed like the movie was missing a lot of narrative threads that would have helped. If you do decide to read the novels, start with the first one, "To Your Scattered Bodies Go" which was published in 1971 and continue until the final one of the series "Gods of Riverworld" which was published in 1983. I highly suspect, although I can't prove it, that these books were inspired by the Star Trek episode "The Savage Curtain," which aired in March 1969 and dealt with forces of good and evil joining forces with long dead historical figures in battle. In the case of the Star Trek episode (which was done a lot better than this), Kirk and Spock are joined by Abraham Lincoln and other historical figures from Star Trek lore. In Riverworld, Matt Ellman (Tahmor Penikett) will be joined by Mark Twain (Mark Deklin who's the best reason to watch this movie) and Tomoe Gozen (Jeananne Goossen), while his foes are Richard Francis Burton (Peter Wingfield), Francisco Pizarro (Bruce Ramsay) and Judas Caretaker a blue (Alan Cumming) who likes to do mystical waterboarding . In any case, Matt and his girlfriend (Laura Vandervoort) are killed by a suicide bomber for reasons that are never really fleshed out well, and they wake up separately in different areas and years apart in a place called Riverworld.

It turns out that Riverworld is in something of a civil war between blue alien caretakers who don't really seem to fighting each other so much as manipulating the humans that wash up on the shore after coming back to life. Hardly any plot device is answered with only a token effort at explaining why everyone that arrives to Riverworld can speak English. (Think the matrix). This movie has the unique distinction of being a study of contrasts. It either needed more time to fully develop the story from the novel or it should have just cut its losses and been a lot shorter as part of the frustration of viewing this movie is seeing the possibilities of what it could have been. As a concept, Riverworld works as most people would love to have the opportunity to interact with famous historical figures, not to mention have another chance at living after being killed, but in execution Riverworld fails. Character motivations are muddled, there are no character arcs at all, and the plot seems to go in the same endless cycle that the constantly revived characters experience every time they die. This should have made a great tv show as no one ever really dies in Riverworld, and you could have a ton of guest stars arrive as well as any historical figures you wanted. The whole concept should be a slam dunk but sadly, this is a movie is a missed opportunity.

Video (2 out of 5 stars)

The picture quality had the same up and down quality as the special effects. In some cases, it had a clean look to it while other times, it was hazy and soft. The 1.78:1 1080p/24 VC-1 encoding for Riverworld isn't very remarkable and oftentimes it was too dim. For some reason there was no consistency in quality as some scenes are sharp and detailed while others for some reason look like they've been shot with Vaseline on the lens.

Audio (3 out of 5 stars)

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack is serviceable but nothing more. There were moments of good surround use and a few instances of good use of the subwoofer, but seeing as how this was mostly likely a fairly low budget production I doubt they spent a lot of time working on the soundtrack. Dialogue is clear and the sound field is primarily focused on the front speakers which wasn't too surprising. 

Special Features (1 out of 5 stars)

The lowest point of this disc is the extras. They are so laughable that they should have been left off the disc so as to not insult the customer. For what it's worth, here they are:

Behind the scenes with Alan Cumming – For those of you that are interested on what it looks like to be painted blue. That's really all it is.

Riverworld Trailer

Final Thoughts (1 out of 5 stars)

I would recommend either reading the novels this book was based on or if you like this concept watch "The Savage Curtain." This is a movie of missed opportunities, although it does have some moments it is weakened by a muddled script and a low budget. Some movies can rise above those issues with some creativity and imagination, but this is not one of them. If you really want to see this movie I would recommend getting it from Netflix and not buying it.

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