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ABC’s The River – CliqueClack Preview

Maybe you've caught the commercials for ABC's 'The River' recently and are wondering what the heck it's all about. Here's a little insight into what you're in for, why it's interesting and why it may fail.

I caught the pilot episode of ABC’s The River many months ago, watching it again just the other night. As I was watching it the second time, it dawned on me that, earlier this month, I had gone a a semi-rant about found-footage movies over on CliqueClack Flicks. The thing is, while I may have sounded as though I have a particular distaste for found-footage movies and TV, there are times it’s pulled off quite well and it works for me … but not often.┬áThe River is shot in this documentary/found-footage format a-la The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. While the story itself is so far pretty interesting, this particular filming style might be its undoing.

The premise of The River is rather unique. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) — the star of a very long-running reality series (think Discovery Channel) called The Undiscovered Country — suddenly goes missing during an on-location shoot in the Amazon. After six months of no success in finding him or the crew of his largish river boat, the search is called off. Cole’s wife, Tess (Leslie Hope) learns of some evidence that may prove her husband is alive, and she convinces their son Lincoln (Joe Anderson) to join her and a documentary crew to find Emmet. The entire story is brought to us via whatever the attending (and very nosy) filming crew happen to record, as well as through some other clever camera placement where it makes sense cameras might be. We quickly learn in the show’s first two hours that a lot of frightening crap went down on board Emmet’s ship, The Magus, and everyone’s now sucked into one hell of a voodoo-like nightmare.

The first time I watched the show’s pilot, I got to a point in the episode where I was getting a tad annoyed with the filming style. As I said, I’m not necessarily averse to the idea of this kind of filmmaking, but it has to be done right. What’s “done right?” Well, for starters, I don’t want to see any loopholes. In this episode, there are a couple of scenes in particular where I was a bit pissed off that they were unaddressed by the characters. For example, there’s a stationary camera that we’re led to understand is constantly recording one particular area, yet we get a moment when an event occurs and — wouldn’t you know it — the possibility the event was recorded is blown off entirely. Another moment came where the cameraman closes up on some obvious bloody claw marks, and it’s never mentioned as being, y’know, a bit effed up and maybe they should get the hell out of there.

There are a few decent moments that remind me of The Blair Witch Project, particularly with some “what the hell is that?!” scenes that the director hopes will get viewer to inch ever closer to the screen, only to scare the bejeezus out of them with some quick, sudden and obscured movement. They sort-of worked, but then again we’ve all seen these kinds of movies at this point, so it’s hard not to see it coming.

While I’m interested in seeing how the rest of the series plays out, I’m afraid its filming technique could grow old on a lot of viewers. If the pilot has some loopholes — even if you consider them minor ones — then what does that say about how subsequent episodes might fare down the road? Will they get too “convenient” with their placement of cameras — or lack thereof — in order to tell their story without ruining surprises, or can they pull it off cleverly enough not to cause us to have to dismiss these instances as artistic license in order to move things along without telling us too much too soon?

The River premieres February 7th on ABC.


Categories: | Features | General | News | Previews | The River | TV Shows |

7 Responses to “ABC’s The River – CliqueClack Preview”

January 28, 2012 at 10:59 PM

Hmmm. Just tell me – am I going to like it? :)

January 29, 2012 at 10:13 AM

I’ll tell you! :-) You might. I’m going to give it one more episode, because there are some intriguing elements that were planted toward the end of the pilot. However, I don’t care for the format, the show takes itself too seriously to be truly entertaining and I have a feeling it may move very slowly, have trouble being cohesive and not give enough payback on the story arc each week. I’m guessing they’ll get enveloped in a new adventure each week that will twist them off the path that I find intriguing … kind of like Lost did. But if you loved Lost, you might really like The River.

January 29, 2012 at 3:13 PM

Thanks Debbie. Indeed, you are the better half! You’ve got me in “maybe” territory.

January 29, 2012 at 11:48 AM

Thanks Debbie, you just saved me two hours of DVR time. I hated Lost and now don’t even have to bother with this one.

January 29, 2012 at 1:20 PM

LOVED The River pilot, and can’t wait for it to premiere. Heart of Darkness meets Lost with Paul Blackthorne. More, please.

January 30, 2012 at 8:31 AM

Keith, I was planning on reviewing this show on my podcast, now I am not so sure. I don’t think I could take the hand held camera style, for more than 7 hours. The fact that you said they ignore some obvious moments also turns me off…

January 30, 2012 at 9:22 AM

Well it’s not too much shaky camera work at least, but it is in that docu-style format. So for the most part you won’t get motion sickness from it.

It’s not all that spoilery, so I’ll note the scene I mentioned as being ignored. They’re on a boat at night. Among many other cameras that constantly record, there’s one on the back. At one point someone says, “hey, who untied the rafts?!” — and they never think to, y’know, go look at what was recorded.

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