A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 86 – Riverworld (2003)

Riverworld (2003) – May 25th, 2010

When I got home tonight I said we needed a short movie. We weren’t going to be able to start watching until after 10 and I don’t like the idea of finishing the movie after midnight. Thankfully, we’ve been updating our big-ass spreadsheet of doom with runtimes (thanks to friend JP for the suggestion) and I sorted by that column, came up with a lot of shark movies (we’re saving those for later), a lot of stuff we’ve seen, and this. It’s 90 minutes long. Neither of us have seen it. It was made by the SciFi Channel back before it rebranded itself with something trademarkable.

This is a science fiction movie based on a book by Philip Jose Farmer. Unfortunately, I haven’t read it, so I went into this blind. Andy, on the other hand, has read it and started out by immediately making comments about little changes made. It’s not a terribly big budget film and we can easily play spot-the-ad-break. I noticed a couple of scenes that seemed to have been shot on different stock than the majority of the movie, which was odd and jarring. And it’s got an hour and a half to introduce the world and the concept that drives it while also fitting in an actual plot, because while it was a made-for-tv movie, it’s still a movie, not a series. Maybe they were hoping for more, but it never happened and while there are plenty of books in the same world from Farmer, there’s no way to get to everything in one movie. Which is too bad. Having not read the books, I can see the basic idea here, but I’m sure it’s far more fleshed out with more space. It’s a fascinating concept: That all human beings, when they die, are reborn in adult bodies on a world dominated by a river. That all of humanity washes up on the riverbank in random groupings, left to their own devices to build what societies they want. My internet-trained brain immediately assumes this is all a social experiment.

So we start out with our main character, Jeff Hale, dying as his space shuttle is hit by an asteroid or something. A mysterious cloaked figure wakes him in some sort of giant diatom and gives him some visions. Then he and a bunch of other confused folks wash up on the riverbank and find some handily provided clothing that seems to fit everyone, though the men get a mesh panel on the backs of their shirts while the women get a boob window. Cute. Anyhow, they’re quickly set upon by the Vandals, a nasty army led by a dude named Valdemar. But he’s not long for the movie because we need a villain whose name we’ll recognize, right? Right. A small group of core characters are quickly established. In addition to Hale we get Alice, Lev, Mali, Monat and Gwen. Alice is a young woman from the early 20th century, Lev is a young man who died in Auschwitz, Mali is a Yoruban priestess, Gwen is a little girl who doesn’t talk so who knows what her point is aside to be cute and not have to memorize lines, and Monat is an alien. They get dragged off to Valdemar’s fortress where eventually Nero fights him (yes, Nero, I did say we needed a villain we’d recognize) and kills him while our heroes escape. They meet up with Sam Clemens and his merry band of boat builders who are making a riverboat (duh) and plan to head off downriver. Of course there’s a spy in their midst and of course they need to go back to the fortress and of course Nero fights Hale like, eight billion times in the course of the movie.

It’s not bad, as SciFi Channel movies go (we really should get Mansquito). I’m sure it leaves something to be desired for folks who’ve read the books. I can’t say I didn’t mock it while we watched it. There are cheesy lines and cheap stunts and the aforementioned weird stock change and the ad breaks. Since it was made for television, they scripted the ad breaks in. It’s kind of unsettling. But overall, I enjoyed it, cheese included. While it’s obvious that some romantic intent was meant to happen and four of the main characters are supposed to couple up, it never truly goes anywhere and that’s kind of refreshing. Don’t waste my precious science fiction time trying to build up a romance that would just detract from the plot. There’s set-up for a sequel that won’t happen (not with this cast anyhow, there’s another adaptation, and it’s got Peter Wingfield, Tahmoh Penikett and Alan Cumming, so I’m kind of hoping they did better), but I won’t knock it for that. SciFi has expanded upon things before. I should probably go read the books now. At least before I see the newer version.


May 25, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment


May 25, 2010


You may recall that when we reviewed Knowing I said that I had no intention of buying that movie until repeated previews declared it to be from “the director of i Robot.” Well here’s another movie I wouldn’t have purchased except for its relationship to Alex Proyas. (In this case he produced it rather than directing it.) Still, I embarked upon this movie with low expectations. It’s a made for TV adaptation of an extremely rich and dense series. Such things are often disappointing. (See: Earthsea.) And yet, I was pleasantly surprised by the two Dune miniseries that were made for SciFi so maybe it has a chance to be good.

The biggest problem this movie has to overcome is also its biggest advantage: the complex artificial world that Phillip Jose Farmer created. I’d say that I’m more of a fan of the world than of the books, really. Farmer posited this world where every human who ever lived was resurrected along the shores of a never ending meandering river on an alien world. They are provided with all the necessities to live. There are “grails” which are magical cups that are filled with supplies when inserted into the grailstones at sunset. The entire world has a temperate climate which is hospitable to human life. But humans being the savage beasts that they are quickly form into isolated warring bands. They enslave each other and hoard the supplies provided by the grailstones. All the old civilizations and rivalries of Earth are reborn to be tragically replayed.

It’s a tremendous amount of exposition that needs to be done in very little time for a made-for-TV-movie, so I was curious to see how they accomplished it all. The truth of the matter is that they did a respectable job. Naturally the sheer scale of the world cannot be contained within so limited a project, but they hit on most of the important points. For the sake of the movie all the action takes place in a very limited part of the Riverworld. The whole mechanic from the books whereby every time somebody dies they are resurrected somewhere else on the planet is not explored at all. Neither is the strange social makeup of the resurrectees – with most people in any one region being from the same general time period and region on Earth, but with a few random misfits thrown in for reasons only the planet’s keepers know.

Overall I would say that the movie does a good enough job of showing this strange kind of afterlife experiment, but that it fails to capture the grandeur of the world depicted in the books. It does make me want to pull out my Riverworld books and read them again, though, so perhaps it’s all okay. In the end it ends up being a pretty standard and somewhat predictable action/adventure tale with a cool kind of setting for a background. I enjoyed watching it, and don’t regret buying it for our collection, but it failed to capture any of the epic feel that the books had for me.

May 25, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment