What can you really expect from a SyFy channel mini-series? It's like they go out of their way to create the wackiest story imaginable. 'Riverworld' is no different. A group of people is sent to some kind of purgatory where they have to do... something. Just what that is still isn't all that clear to me or to any of the characters.
It starts out decent enough. TV reporter Matt (Tahmoh Penikett) is killed by a suicide bomber in a club right as he's proposing to his girlfriend. The suicide bomber scene is actually quite intense and well done. It's the only suspense building scene anywhere to be found.
Soon Matt and his buddies who were also there in the club are transported to a purgatory of sorts, where they wash up on the shores of a gigantic river, and Matt is greeted by a blue being who looks like a cross between a Smurf and an Na'vi. Apparently they are the guardians of this place.
Soon Matt begins to meet other people, Spanish conquistadors, Japanese warriors, and yes, Mark freaking Twain. Mark Twain is leading a revolution against the conquistadors. Got to hand it to 'Riverworld' for mashing up the most unlikely war to ever take place.
Everyone that has died comes to this place. We are notified that there is no time here, people just are. In this movie when you die you do not go on to a better place.
I suppose you know what you're getting into when you start a movie that was made by the SyFy channel. 'Riverworld' isn't their best effort, but it isn't their worst. This isn't 'Pterodactyl' with Coolio shooting at flying dinosaurs. They really tried for a convincing story here, but it's just so long and so bloated that it never resembles a coherent tale.
It's definitely fun to laugh at. The blue people guarding the Riverworld are so badly painted it's hilarious. The dialogue is exactly what you'd expect too, flat and bland. Mark Deklin's portrayal of Mark Twain is laughable at best, but still ends up being the best part of the series. He goes all out, which is commendable, but when Mark Twain is up against conquistadors there's only so much he can do.
In all seriousness, after watching 'Riverworld' I can't make heads or tails of it. It's just crazy weird. People who love these corny shows and movies produced by SyFy are the ones that will want to see this. Everyone else, this is a bloated 175 minutes of silliness.
'Riverworld's 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer isn't magnificent, but it does look pretty nice for a made-for-TV mini-series.
The picture is pristine, clear of all grain or anything else that might make it look filmic. The colors are bright and vibrant throughout, but the picture does suffer heavily source noise during nighttime and darker shots. While fine details like smooth rocks on the river shore, textures of conquistador uniforms, and facial pores are visible and nicely rendered, much of the make-up used to paint the blue people looks even worse in high definition. The low-budget CG effects look dreadful in 1080p. Like they were done with on a bargain basement budget (which they probably were). The palette is very colorful, lending itself to the darker side of the spectrum with deep greens and vivid blues. Blacks are just OK, causing some crushing during a few scene like the flashbacks Matt has of being a reporter on the battle field.
When purchasing a made-for-cable mini-series, you most likely can assume you aren't going to get the greatest picture quality, but to 'Riverworld's credit it does a reasonable job with its low-budget limitations.
'Riverworld' sports a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 which is just about as low-budget as the video presentation. Again nothing spectacular to hear here. All in all, it's about as average as audio presentations on the format come.
Sound effects like clanging swords and shooting guns are slightly muffled through the show. Each and every sound effect has a cheap feeling to it. The best way to describe them is tinny and too soft. Dialogue is hampered too, coming across as muffled. On the brightside, LFE is engaged quite a bit during explosions and for portions of the musical soundtrack. Ambient sound during crowded battles is very soft and sometimes doesn't come through at all, leaving us with an extremely front-heavy mix, which should indeed sound much livelier in the surrounds.
Again, the sound presentation is passable as a made-for-TV production, but it isn't anything you're going to use to show off your system
SyFy originals can be entertaining to watch – preferably while inebriated with your buddies. It's frequently fun to laugh at them, and 'Riverworld' is no different. Kudos for being ambitious, I mean who would have thought Mark Twain would die and then commandeer a riverboat in order to go to war with deceased Spanish conquistadors? Still, if you're not into corny SyFy fodder, then this one is definitely skip worthy, especially with its mediocre audio and video offerings. For fans only.