Vivendi Visual Entertainment // 2009 // 175 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // June 22nd, 2010
"Can you tell me? Am I dead?"
"That seems to be the question of the day."
Samuel Clemens and Sir Richard Burton fighting for control of Purgatory? That's the premise of Riverworld, a Syfy miniseries based on the works of Philip José Farmer. The DVD version presents it as one long (nearly three hours) movie.
As it opens, heroic TV reporter Matt (Tahmoh Penikett, Battlestar Galactica) is proposing to the beautiful Jessie (Laura Vandervoort, V). She accepts, but it's a bad night anyway, thanks to the suicide bomber in the nightclub. Matt wakes up on a slab in a strange room. He wakes up again on a strange shore, where he meets others who were in the club that night. He also meets Sir Richard Burton (Peter Wingfield, 24), who knows Jessie and advises Matt not to look for her. Matt also finds a strange device; it makes meatloaf. Eventually Francisco Pizarro (Bruce Ramsay, Timeline) turns up, taking everyone along the shore prisoner. Matt escapes and hitches a ride on Mark Twain's steamboat, which the author (Mark Deklin, Never Say Macbeth) stole from Pizarro.
There are also two factions -- both blue -- of alien guardians in the fight to control the Riverworld.
All of this weirdness could remind you of Lost, especially with the occasional flashback, as when Matt turns a car accident over in his mind. However, the miniseries is more of an action piece. You'll see fisticuffs, swordfights, gunplay, and a couple of spectacular explosions over the course of three hours. The performances are okay, but it's the stunt work more than anything else that sticks with you.
All in all, it's an entertaining movie that met my minimal expectation: keeping the momentum going in the second half. If anything, the weirdness quotient went up in the second half, as the blue people joined the fray more actively. These include Alan Cumming, who notes cheerfully in a pathetically brief (about 2 minutes) extra that he was also blue in X2: X-Men United. The plot dilemmas are resolved, more or less, although there's an opening for a sequel or TV series. As far as I know, neither is in the works.
The CGI work is showy but not bad, and the picture and sound present no problems. British Columbia once again gives a standout performance as an alien landscape.
Sci-fi fans who missed Riverworld on Syfy will find it worth a rental.
Not guilty. Hopefully not an accurate depiction of the afterlife, although
magically appearing meatloaf does sound tantalizing.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 175 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Wikipedia: Riverworld