A film of 90 minutes, intended to be the pilot of a TV series for Sci-Fi Channel, but the rest of the series was not filmed. Loosely based on the first two novels in the Riverworld series, for instance most of the lead characters are different from those in the books.
The movie had its premiere on March 22, 2003 on Sci-Fi Channel in the USA. Riverworld had been nominated for The 30th Annual Saturn Awards (2003) in the category: "Best Television Presen-tation".
Welcome to the most spectacular afterlife ever, where everyone is reborn young and healthy - including the most vicious and ruthless warriors of all time! This is the wondrously imaginative setting of Riverworld, a mysterious, sultry planet where the past, present and future must battle together for the precious soul of humanity. When a meteor shower above Earth sends astronaut Jeff Hale to Riverworld, he immediately encounters a powerful warlord named Valdemar who thunders in with an army and declares himself master and all newcomers soldiers, workers or slaves. Now it’s up to Hale and an unusual band of allies to fight an ancient Roman emperor and a Viking warlord in order to reach Valdemar, gain their freedom and secure a future for all mankind. Starring Kevin Smith (TV’s “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and “Xena: Warrior Princess”) in his last performance, Riverworld is an extraordinary sci-fi adventure based on the stories of legendary writer Philip José Farmer. 
(Back cover text of the DVD, 2004)
Alex Proyas (et al)
Kari Skogland
Stuart Hazeldine
Brad Johnson (Jeff Hale)
Karen Holnes (Mali)
Emily Lloyd (Alice Liddell Hargreaves)
Jeremy Birchall (Lev Ruach)
Kevin Smith (Valdemar)
Nikita Kearsley (Gwenafra)
Brian Moore (Monat, the alien)
Cameron Daddo (Sam)
Jonathan Cake (Nero)
Paolo Rotondo (Flavius)
Patrick Kake (Tane)
Colin Moy (Langer)
Lloyd Edwards (Mysterious Stranger)
Crawford Thomson (Warrior)
"The original film Riverworld averaged a 2.2 rating, exceeding the time period average by 86 percent and becoming the most-watched original movie SCI FI has ever aired on a Saturday night (2.74 million viewers). Sci Fi Wire, April 2003
The opinions on Riverworld are very divergent. Many of those who have read the books before seeing the movie were disappointed, because of the many differences between the books and the film. These differences are not always logical or even necessary. For instance, why are there horses in the movie? And why have some characters from the books been replaced by completely unknown ones? Another 'complaint' is that there is a lot of action and fighting going on, but so there is in the books. 
However, much of the other part of the viewers, who got introduced to the Riverworld by the movie, did generally enjoy it much better. These people often wanted to read the novels after seeing Riverworld
Even it that was its only merit, the movie has done a great job. But it deserves more in my opinion. It's a well-produced, well-played and a very enjoyable movie. There are great scenes, for instance the underwater rebirth and the riverboat launch, and many of Farmer's original ideas can certainly be recognized. The movie is not like the books, that nearly never is the case for many reasons with movies, but it shows a lot of Farmer's original concept: a strange and exotic setting for an afterlife for everyone who ever lived on Earth till the end of the twentieth century, and what could happen in such an afterlife. Especially when there are meddling 'Ethicals' among the people.
The only thing absolutely wrong with this movie is that is has no end. We have been introduced to Riverworld and some of its inhabitants, we have seen an alien and the Ethicals. But to what end? Where does this all lead to? The boat has been launched, but where does it go? At the end of the movie you're lost in the beginning of a story. Riverworld had been intended to be the first part, the pilot, of a television series for SciFi Channel. But this is all we have been getting, and as it looks, ever will be getting, alas.
I love the Riverworld novels and, when I'm not comparing the two, I definitely like Riverworld the movie (except for the end). Give it a try!
-- Rias Nuninga  (December 2004) --
Following are some other comments, one by Philip José Farmer's wife Bette.
"I think the Sci-Fi Channel have done a wonderful job of capturing the complexity of Farmer's concept." Michael Lohr.
"If this is going to become a TV series it can do without me." Mark R. Leeper.
"In summary, an unexciting waste of a great premise. It is reasonably entertaining, but it's hard to feel any regret for the lack of a follow-up TV series." William Marnoch.
You may enjoy Riverworld as one of the many ordinary adventure shows to be found on the Telly and it didn't hurt to have the book finally brought to the attention of this generation but I do wish that they had really made a movie that would grip a TV audience as it gripped the reading public.
To me, the movie was ordinary. Shelby Peck.
"Riverworld is a decent movie, and pretty enjoyable. I'd watch another one. But back off, man -- I'll read the books before then. Joe Crowe.
"There are many other differences, of varying degrees of significance, but my overall impression is that Philip Jose Farmer's ambitious books were dropped into a blender and reconstituted in a smoother, blander, less challenging form. ... There are some positive points: the show is visually stunning, the casting of familiar characters (Alice, Gwenafra, Zev, Monat, Sam) was well done, the acting is generally good." Dave Seidel.
"I remember when this movie premiered on the Scifi channel. I couldn't get enough of it. It has a great story filled with great characters. I cant wait to get my own copy of this flick." Daren Hellwod
"I had the opportunity to watch some of the film with Farmer; his wife, Bette, and Journal Star writer Theo Jean Kenyon and, while Farmer was gratified to finally see his work come to the screen, the author's initial one-word comment as he watched the start of the televised product was "horrible"." Steve Tarter.
"When Phil and I watched the first half, you could hear a lot of groans like, "where in the world did those horses come from?" or "Nero...what is he doing there?" Then came the second part. Let me tell you all, when that boat came down that beautiful river with Sam at the wheel, Phil and I both got choked up ... I thought the scenery was spectacular. I thought the acting was much better than I usually see on tv, and actually that was one of the best riverboats I've seen in a long time. The story...sure you and I know there is a much better one beneath it, but I still could see and feel more of it than if it didn't air..." Bette Farmer, April 2003

More comments can be read on IMDd.com or on Amazon.com
Riverworld has been filmed in New Zealand. There are many rivers, lakes and mountains on the  Southern  Island. I have been there twice,  it's not Riverworld  but it is certainly worth a visit, a long stay visit even.

© Zacharias L.A. Nuninga -- Page last updated: 25 Sep 2019