Novel, 1971–1983
Riverworld (2003)

Television pilot: director Kari Skogland; writer Stuart Hazeldine; featuring Brad Johnson, Cameron Daddo, Emily Lloyd, Jonathan Cake

Riverworld (2010)

Television mini-series: director Stuart Guillard; writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Randall M. Badat, Hans Beimler; featuring Tahmot Penikett, Alan Cumming, Mark Deklin, Peter Wingfield, Jeananne Goossen

Riverworld (2003) scene

Samuel Clemons, aka Mark Twain (Cameron Daddo), fights for his riverboat in the 2003 Riverworld pilot.



Riverworld awaits its big screen moment

Someone really should do an all-out film adaptation of the Riverworld books—a well-scripted, well-financed series, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's got an incredible but natural setting, fascinating characters (the most interesting from all of human history), an intriguing overarching storyline, involving subplots, and a built-in fanbase, given the longterm popularity of the books. Could be a blockbuster.

But all we've got so far is a couple of weak, condensed television videos that could barely hold the interest of the novels' countless fans.

The river of forgetting

First up is a Riverworld TV pilot in 2003, Canadian-made but shot in New Zealand (where The Lord of the Rings was filmed). Needless to say, it failed to launch the anticipated series.

Brad Johnson as astronaut in Riverworld

Brad Johnson as former astronaut Hale.

Despite having seen it though, I really cannot remember much of it. It's competing in my mind with the indelible original stories and the more recent TV remake. Damn, I might have to watch it all over again—a fate as bad as having to live your life over and over again in a primitive state next to a long boring river.

But let's try. First off, the 2003 show drops colourful British explorer Richard Burton, the first protagonist introduced in the novels, in favour of an American astronaut, named Jeff Hale. Probably figured North American viewers would mix him up with actor Richard Burton and think he was searching the Riverworld for Liz. Hale is killed by a meteor shower while orbiting Earth in the present-day, and wakes on the Riverworld with the rest of humanity.

Instead of running into Nazi villain Herman Goering, he has to contend with the reincarnation of Roman emperor Nero, minus his fiddle. That one, I don't understand.

Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, makes his appearance in this first instalment of the projected series (although he doesn't enter the book series until the second novel). But there's no King John, nor an Eric Bloodaxe, for him and Burton—I mean, Hale—to partner or battle with.

The Neaderthal character, who is a dependable ally in the books, goes unnamed here and is soon killed off.

The female warrior princess Loghu of the books is now an African called Mali....

Okay, I'll stop now. So the characters are different. So the story line is so abbreviated as to not make sense—when do all the world's people learn to speak English? And pointless action scenes replace all the thought-provoking parts of the novels....

Oh, heck, there isn't really any comparison to the books here at all. So let's just accept it as a movie on its own merits—

Oh, I forgot, it doesn't have any of those either.

Just an hour-and-a-half, run-of-the-mill, television scifi show. Eventually Hale and Clemens get their act together, defeat the bad guys (temporarily) and set off on a fusion-powered boat to solve the mystery of Riverworld. But that's not to be.

So let's give up on this film and move on ourselves. See if there's a better world up around the bend.

— Eric