Brought to the small screen with the help of Executive Producer Steven Spielberg, and the director of Paranormal Activity Oren Peli, ABC had good reason to they had their newest hit with The River. Unfortunately, what looked like a promising premise turned into a confusing and ridiculous mess.
Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) is a popular television personality, having hosted the nature series The Undiscovered Country for twenty-two years. Having spent much of his life “looking for magic,” with his family in tow, it comes as a surprise to Emmet’s wife Tess (Leslie Hope) when he leaves her, and discharges his normal crew to explore deep into the Amazon. As the series opens, it’s been six months since Emmet disappeared. Just as Tess is beginning to move on, her husband’s emergency beacon goes off. To fund a search, Emmet’s former producer Clark Quietly (Paul Blackthorne) agrees to film the expedition for a network, documentary-style. The search team includes Emmet’s estranged son Lincoln (Joe Anderson), who would just assume bury the past, and put the difficult relationship with his father behind him.
Given the fact that Oren Peli co-created the series, it should come as no surprise that “just found footage” plays a large part in the entire premise. Similar to Cloverfield or The Blair Witch project, the rapid-fire back and forth between sharp, highly detailed footage and grainy, low resolution camera work may be hard for some viewers to deal with. By setting the action in the interior Boiúna region of the Amazon, the writers have a naturally spooky place to feed off of. Inexplicably though, they’ve chosen not to show the scares, instead keeping them off camera and in the imagination of the viewer. While there are a few moments clearly meant to be scary, most of them come off as silly, rather than frightening.
Performances are quite good across the board. Bruce Greenwood is excellent as Dr. Emmet Cole. While he’s mostly featured in a series of videotapes the rescue crew finds along the way, Greenwood takes center stage in the sixth episode, “Doctor Emmet Cole,” as he struggles to survive in the difficult conditions of the jungle. By far the best episode of the bunch, if the entire series had been this well written and tightly focused, I suspect The River Might have been the runaway hit ABC was hoping for. Leslie Hope’s strong, yet vulnerable Tess is convincing in every scene, while Joe Anderson’s Lincoln matches her scene-for-scene. Thomas Kretschmann as security chief Captain Kurt Brynildson is clearly keeping some secrets, while Eloise Mumford as the daughter of Cole’s cameraman (Lee Tergesen in a couple of memorable guest star appearances) is real spitfire, and utterly determined to find her missing father.
Here are the eight episodes which constituted the entire run of the series contained on two discs:
3. Los Ciegos
4. A Better Man
6. Doctor Emmet Cole
7. The Experiment
8. Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the show has been anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. Given the various image levels used on the show, the standard definition DVD presentation is pretty impressive. During the clear footage, images are perfectly clear, during “lost footage” segments we see the necessary line fuzz, but images still remain discernible. Black levels aren’t outstanding, but adequate.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix is surprisingly creative. The soundfield is alive with jungle sounds, ships etc. The music by Graeme Revell is driving and well placed through the fronts and rears. Very impressive.
The following special features are available:
- Audio Commentaries: There are two available. On the episode “Magus,” producers Michael Green, Zack Estrin, and director Jaume Collet-Serra discuss the series’ premise, casting, shooting the pilot in Puerto Rico. Bruce Greenwood joins those above in discussing, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t contribute much, as he apparently hadn’t seen the episode. The others discuss the shooting process, and a bit about the story.
- Magic Out There (18:15) In this behind-the-scenes featurette, we get a look at the making of the series. Interviews with the producers, director Jaume Collet-Serra, and stars Bruce Greenwood Leslie Hope and others, are included.
- Deleted Scenes (16:50) Thirteen in all, they can viewed together, or played separately.