A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Riverworld (2010)

July 10, 2010

Riverworld (2010)

Tonight we embark on our second Riverworld adaptation. We picked this up on a whim this morning while out shopping and neither of us has seen it before. I’m interested to see a different perspective on the same world.

Right at the start I can see that it’s going to be a very different beast from the first made for TV adaptation. It’s not concerned with being too faithful to the books I guess. Our hero today is Matt, played by Tamoh Penickett from BSG, a war zone television reporter who travels to all kinds of dangerous remote locations to get his news stories. Ironically he dies in a nightclub explosion while proposing to his girlfriend and not while on assignment.

As with Richard Burton in the first Riverworld book (To Your Scattered Bodies Go) and Jeff Hale in the 2003 TV adaptation Matt has a brief glimpse of all the reconstructed bodies of humanity before he finds himself spat out upon the banks of the endless river that is where every human that ever lived is reborn. In this adaptation the people emerge fully clothed in the dress of their time. There are no “grails” but there are bracelets that everybody (except Matt) wears that they can use on the grailstones to get food and such. And furthermore most of the people that Matt died with are also reborn at the same time and in the same place. (A marked departure from the source work, where due to the vast number of people who have lived throughout history the odds of anybody ever meeting someone they knew in their mortal life are exceedingly low.)

Unlike the 2003 adaptation this one does address things like the “suicide express” which allows people to travel Riverworld by killing themselves to be reborn somewhere else. And there is grail slavery, where the supplies taken from the grailstones are taken by those with the greatest fighting force.

I’ve got to stop watching this as an adaptation. It seems that Richard Francis Burton is the bad guy in this film. I find that very disorienting. It hurts my brain to try to see all of these things twisted to fit some new configuration. I need to try and watch this on its own merits. So here are a few fragmented thoughts as I watch the movie:

Sam Clemens is very well written here. Very eloquent and given to the sorts of flowery language you would expect from Mark Twain. Mark Deklin’s performance however is grating to me. He comes across as smug, self righteous and irritating. It’s hard to root for the good guys when their leader and his annoying cackle makes me wince whenever he’s on screen.

Francis Burton, however, is played with his usual flare by Peter Wingfield. Sure he’s not a very nice character, and I don’t exactly root for him, but it’s a delight whenever he’s around. Bad guys are always the more interesting ones, anyhow.

The motivations of some of the characters in this movie make little sense to me. Matt is obsessed with his girlfriend Jessie to whom he proposed right before he died. I suppose I can understand this, her being the love of his life and all, but the movie doesn’t really show us anything of the two of them together before they die. We’re just kind of asked to accept their word for it that there was anything between them at all. The same situation exists for Tomoe – the badass samurai woman who, for no discernible reason attaches herself to Matt’s cause. She barely even gets a single scene with him, but is soon willing to kill herself to find Matt. It’s very strange.

Maybe it’s a result of editing. This movie is, after all, a miniseries compressed into movie form. Maybe there are scenes lost in the shuffle that lend credence to the motivations.

It isn’t until about halfway through the movie that we start to get a feel for the warring factions amongst the watchers of Riverworld and begin to understand what’s supposed to be going on. There’s a group of blue people (led by Alan Cumming) who want to destroy the Riverworld and end the constant rebirth of humanity using Sam’s riverboat and Burton’s general dissatisfaction with life. And there are some other blue people who want to save the world. And somehow Jessie is mixed up in this. At the start of the movie you wonder why Matt of all people would be “chosen” by the watchers, but I begin to suspect it’s because his previous relationship with Jessie makes him a good wedge to use with Burton.

I actually do enjoy this movie. It doesn’t grab me emotionally and it’s fairly linear, but it explores a lot of the issues of Riverworld and does get to the source and have a final confrontation. But much is left unresolved. It doesn’t ever get a chance to explore the true purpose of Riverworld and the notion of “moving on,” and most frustratingly for me a pair of ancillary characters that I quite liked never got the happy ending I was hoping for. As with the 2003 Riverworld adaptation it ends with our heroes again on the great river boat and ready for a sequel. Maybe in seven years somebody will try again.

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July 10, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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