In recent years, the found footage genre has established itself as a very lucrative and interesting form of entertainment. Horror and action tales seem to benefit the most from the genre. Films are often shot in this voyeuristic and exciting style. Television doesn’t follow in this trend too often and that is why ABC’s recently failed action/thriller series The River is a curious thing. The show aired and ended in the blink of an eye but that blink was actually not that bad. With a colorful cast of characters, an engaging and suspenseful story and the producing talents of Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity films) and the legendary Steven Spielberg, it’s pretty unfortunate that this gripping short-lived series simply came and went. Or should we say drowned?
The River follows a group of good-looking people on a boat called the Magus who are in search of Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood), an adventurous explorer and TV personality who has gone missing somewhere in the Amazon. His crew are also missing and are all feared dead. The expedition is a dangerous one and is funded only if a documentary film crew captures everything on camera. The documentary plot element provides lots of found footage action and drama throughout each episode.
Tess Cole (Leslie Hope) is the captain of the of the voyage and wife of the missing Dr. Cole. The rest of the ship’s passengers and crew are comprised of an eclectic and mostly attractive group on individuals. There is Lincoln (Joe Anderson), Dr. Cole and Tess’ son. He is a doctor, handsome and just overall heroic. He is joined by Lena (Eloise Mumford). She is the daughter of one of the missing people and childhood friend of Lincoln. The documentary film crew consists of Clark (Paul Blackthorne) and A.J. (Shaun Parkes) who each provide ample amounts of drama and humor. There is also Kurt (Thomas Kretschmann), a German bodyguard hired to provide security during the expedition. Lastly, there is Emilio (Daniel Zacapa), the ship’s mechanic and his daughter Jahel (Paulina Gaitan).
With a cast full of talented actors, gritty camerawork and suspenseful writing, The River is a pretty solid action/drama. Thematically and plot-wise, it bears a strong resemblance to ABC’s other “little known” show Lost. Both shows follow a group of unique personalities and throw them into a tense situation that keeps throwing dangerous curve balls left and right. It appears that since Lost’s finale, ABC was eager to find an adequate replacement. The River isn’t bad in that respect but then again it falls somewhat flat do to its obvious mimicking of Lost. One of the few things that keeps The River afloat is its Paranormal Activity-esque camerawork. It really provides a strong sense of suspense and freshness that many action/drama shows and even films these days strongly lack.
The River: The Complete First Season is now out on DVD and the 8 nail-biting 40-minute episodes are decent enough to warrant a viewing. The plot may meander at times and the script may seem a little stale, but it means well and manages to squeeze out some pretty creepy and exciting moments. The cast is alright with Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek) leading with his character providing the rest of the cast motivation to go seek him out. The Amazon is a harsh and mysterious place and with this particular group of people, The River provides for reasonably watchable television. It may not be Lost but it’s definitely more than a worthy clone.
DVD Bonus Features
The bonus features for The River: The Complete First Season are very good. Disc 1 contains a Magus audio commentary with executive producer-writer Michael Green, executive producer Zack Estrin and director-producer Jaume Collet-Serra. Disc 2 contains a Row, Row, Row Your Boat audio commentary with Green, Estrin and actor Bruce Greenwood. There are also deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes featurette entitled The Magic Out There.