Awful Movie Versions: Riverworld

22:37 Mon 07 Apr 2008
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I’ve never seen Johnny Mnemonic, but I’ve heard bad things. Terrible things. It is renowned as an absolutely disgraceful adaptation of a beloved short story. That being said, I suspect it has nothing on the Sci-Fi Channel rendering of Philip José Farmer’s Riverworld Saga.

The original books are classics. They’re flawed, certainly, and have a number of questionable aspects, but they remain an excellent example of “big” sci-fi: everyone who’s ever lived comes back at the same time to live along a gigantic river, and dying just means waking up at another spot along the river the next morning. The obvious what’s life, what’s death, what does it mean to be human questions are important threads in the series. Farmer’s main characters are mostly extremely interesting people from history: the deeply flawed Richard Francis Burton is the most prominent, and others include Aphra Behn, Herman Göring, Alice Liddell, and Samuel Clemens.

So, for the movie adaptation, what did they do? They replaced the complex and interesting Burton with a fictional American astronaut, presumably to appeal more to American audiences, and they also removed the fact that death resulted in resurrection the next morning—presumably to increase the dramatic tension. They got rid of most of the other interesting characters also, and instead of the quest for understanding of the world, reduced the “plot” to a struggle against a terrible cliché villain, Nero (who was not in the books). Granted, it was only a pilot, but still, there’s really no excuse for that. Especially since they wasted a ton a money to make the pile of crap. That’s what gets me most, the waste. If you’re going to go through all the effort of doing something like that, why destroy its artistic integrity from the very beginning?

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One Response to “Awful Movie Versions: Riverworld

  1. Jonathan Says:

    Yeah, I saw that on the Sci-Fi Channel. Pointing out the similarities between the books and the show would probably be much easier than pointing out the differences. It was bad in the really cheesy Sci-Fi Channel way.

    Questionable aspects? Those questionable aspects taught me all that I know about the 70s. At least I think that explains it. Perhaps I know nothing about the 70s after all. Between the references to LSD and all of the crazy issues they dealt with, it’s only natural that I would assume that the books were heavily influenced by the time period.

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