After his father Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood), the popular host of a long-running outdoor adventure series and a noted wildlife expert, goes missing somewhere in the Amazon, estranged son Lincoln (Joe Anderson) joins his strangely obsessed mother Tess (Leslie Hope) on a journey into the same heart of darkness in hopes of finding him. They’re joined by a ragtag crew including cameramen, a television producer, hired muscle and a mechanic and his maybe psychic daughter. Also along for the ride is Lincoln’s childhood friend and his dad’s most trusted assistant, Lena Landry (Eloise Mumford), her cameraman father Russ (Lee Tergesen) missing as well.
Brought to television by the unique team of Paranormal Activity wunderkind Oren Peli and Academy Award-winning legend Steven Spielberg, the found footage suspense/horror series The River certainly isn’t lacking in regards to pedigree. The cast is beyond solid, the technical team behind it is top of the line and the idea is without question a good one. The only issue is how to you make such a concept work for the long haul; how do you craft a series around a cinematic concept that usually gets tiresome after 90 or so minutes.
The truth? Apparently you don’t. After a somewhat great first episode, the show quickly loses steam and has trouble maintaining momentum. Sure it has moments, and there are definitely sequences throughout each of the next seven episodes that had me on the edge of my seat (including a great bit with a ‘doll tree’ and a seriously unsettling sequence with an unseen demon who enjoys catapulting its victims into the air and then leaving their mangled bodies skinned to their marrow at the tops of trees), but the human element never is a constant, the dramatic tale of a family questing to reunite not quite coming together in a way that’s entirely invigorating.
Don’t get me wrong. The show certainly shows potential, and the cast is universally excellent. Sure the found footage element gets a bit old after a while (how could it not), but overall the showrunners do a good job of maintaining consistent tone and keeping focus on their main story beats. The Coles are the heart and soul of this mystery, their relationship is what keeps the heart beating at the center of it all, making the anticipation of their hopeful reunion all the more uncomfortably palpable.
It should also be said that the final episode, in some ways sadly the last one we’ll ever see as far as this particular adventure is concerned, is downright awesome. Tightly wound, filled with startling images, grounded in the world of the characters and rooted in familial emotions, everything comes together just about perfectly, elevating all that came before to a plateau it otherwise never would have attained. The River may be disappointing, but it certainly isn’t without interest, and I’d be hard-pressed not to admit I would have been the first to tune in to the season two premier had ABC decided to give Peli, Spielberg and company a second chance and not relegated the program to the cancelation dustbin.
The River – The Complete Season One is presented on two DVDs with 1.78:1 Widescreen transfers.
Each disc features English Language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and includes optional English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
Extras here include:
· “Magnus” – Audio Commentary with executive producer/writer Michael Green, executive producer Zack Estrin and director/producer Juame Collet-Serra
· “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” – Audio Commentary with executive producer/writer Michael Green, executive producer/writer Zack Estrin and actor Bruce Greenwood
· The Magic Out There Featurette
· Deleted Scenes
Of the two audio commentaries, the one with director Collet-Serra is unsurprisingly the more technical of the two, while the one featuring actor Greenwood is the more jovial. Which one is better? It’s basically a wash. Information can be gleaned from each of them, but the two executive producers are so happy with themselves the constant back-patting does get a bit tiresome.
As for the rest? Fine for what it is, if altogether fairly run-of-the-mill and rudimentary as extras for semi-failed series available on DVD are concerned.
The River boasts a decent enough concept, a solid first episode and fantastic finale, it’s just the six 44-minute dramas in-between that are the problem. The show spends too much time going in circles, not doing much of interest, and while there are definitely scares to be found, as well as there being potential in the journey itself, it isn’t too big a surprise ABC decided against rolling the dice for a second season.