DVD Review: The River: The Complete First Season

Genre: Sci-Fi | Horror | Drama

Writers: Oren Peli, Michael R. Perry, Michael Green, Aron Eli Coleite, Zack Estrin

Directors: Jaume Collet-Serra

Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Joe Anderson, Leslie Hope, Eloise Mumford, Paul Blackthorne, Thomas Kretschmann, Daniel Zacapa, Shaun Parkes, Paulina Gaitain

Format: AC-3, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, DVD, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC

Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

Number of discs: 2

Rated: TV14 (LV)

Studio: ABC Studios

DVD Release Date: May 22, 2012

Run Time: 344 minutes (8 episodes)


THE RIVER: The Complete First Season: From Executive Producer Steven Spielberg, and the director of “Paranormal Activity” Oren Peli, a truly harrowing and hair-raising series comes to DVD on May 22, 2012. “The River: The Complete First Season” tells the tale of famed wildlife explorer and TV personality Dr. Emmet Cole who went looking for magic deep in the uncharted Amazon and never returned.

Now, six months after he vanished, a brave crew of family, old friends and new acquaintances embark on a mysterious and deadly journey to find him in the deepest and darkest depths of South America. The DVD is filled with exclusive bonus features, including deleted scenes that draw audiences further into this heart-pounding adventure.

What a great show this was! And although I am amongst the mourners who grieve the fact that it won’t see another season, this first and only season is fantastic. There has been nothing quite like it on TV, and given how much this must have cost, there likely won’t be anything like it again, at least not outside of the deep pockets of subscription TV. If you haven’t seen it, it is a “found footage”-style series, much like Paranormal Activity was as a movie. In this series, a nature show documentarian – who often used a Calypso-like boat for his adventures and series production – goes missing, so his family and former crew go looking for him using his boat on, you know, THE RIVER.

We’re used to seeing this multiple-camera style in horror movies and in actual documentaries, though most often – or maybe it’s just me – for paranormal investigative shows. The use of it in a scripted series is unprecedented, and when you think about the work that had to be involved in making each episode, including the mostly-Hawaiian-jungle location shoots, the mind reels. The multiple angles from all of the different cameras, as well as different video styles, does an amazing job of making dark scary jumpy things even more realistic, and even more dark, scary, and jumpy. Its use for horror TV is truly inspired.

Above and beyond the overall style, this series boasts two of the best horror visuals I have ever had the pleasure to be totally freaked out by. Both of them are in the second hour; one is the “crying child,” the other the strange grove of trees. I’ll not say more in case you haven’t seen this,  but those two scenes are, for me, worth the price of the entire DVD series. Add in the final moments of the season (and series) and the visuals make the price of the entire DVD series an absolute bargain.

But what about the writing? It doesn’t disappoint. Sure, there’s an aspect of legend-of-the-week to it, but the legends are at least regionally based, and get ramped up to a pretty outrageous level by the last couple of episodes. There are tender moments, there are transformations both literal and figurative, and there is a definite arc with more twists and turns than – well, you know. There are some slower moments and stories but you can be assured that creepy things will happen in every episode. And although the finale leaves us with plenty of questions and cliffhangers of a sort, there are some things that conclude with a flourish, and those were enough for me to feel nicely satisfied with how I spent those eight episode-hours.

The ensemble cast is solid, led by Bruce Greenwood’s boundless enthusiasm, Leslie Hope’s single-mindedness, Joe Anderson’s transformation,  Eloise Mumford’s freshness, and Paulina Gaitain‘s amazing creepiness. I have to return, though, to the look, and acknowledge the Herculean work done by all involved in the production and post-production to have created the visual and atmospheric treasure they have in this series.

Now to the specifics of this DVD outside of the series. The bonus features are a little sparse: just two episode commentaries, deleted scenes, and one “making of” featurette that pretty much takes care of what you’d otherwise be missing. It’s nice and long and covers most of the questions you might have had about the creation of the series, including casting and the 13 – yes 13 – cameras used, sometimes by the actors themselves, to shoot the scenes. It’s done interview-style, and is generously inter-spliced with clips. And in case you were wondering, they actually did have a rule that all shots had to be true to the positioning of cameras on board and with the cast, a factoid learned through the featurette.

The packaging is fairly standard, though slightly disappointing in that the interior index, which lists the episodes by disc, doesn’t identify the existence or location of any bonus features. You need to look on the back for that, but they are there, so it’s not a really big deal. The discs themselves feature show artwork, disc number, and episode numbers, but again no bonus features listing. With only 8 episodes and two discs, however, it’s still not a major problem.

If you’ve seen the series, you know how great this will be as a DVD set, with no commercials to interrupt the presentation. If you haven’t seen the series and you like to watch shows that embrace the creepy, and/or “found footage” movies and/or paranormal investigative shows, definitely give this series a shot. I’m very happy to have it in my library.

I give The River: The Complete First Season Five Out of Five Stars.

Pick up your copy of The River: The Complete First Season at Amazon using the link below!

Erin Willard
Written by Erin Willard

Erin is the Editor In Chief and West Coast Correspondent for SciFiMafia.com