Written By: Michael Green
Draft Date: January 30, 2011
Doctor Emmet Cole was the world-famous adventurer and star of a long-running wildlife and nature documentary TV show. Something like the Crocodile Hunter, but less about outrageous antics and more about the magic and wonder of nature. Doctor Emmet Cole has been missing for 6 months, ever since he took off on a trip down the Amazon River, claiming he was on the verge of a truly huge discovery. Three of his crew were found dead. He is presumed dead.
And, so, Tess Cole (Emmet's wife) tries to convince their 28-year old son, Lincoln, who was never able to find the "magic" in nature that his father forced on him as a child, to join her voyage down the Amazon to try and find her husband and his father. Tess still believes he's alive.
Lincoln is convinced his father is dead. He wants to head back to his life and finish his doctorate. But Tess reveals something: Emmet's emergency beacon's signal just went off, after six months. She's made a deal with a TV network, they'll pay for the trip which is the only way she can follow up on this lead. But they'll only pay if Lincoln goes, too. Lincoln, who wants nothing to do with being on TV again, relents.
Even though he had to be convinced to come, Lincoln is definitely the lead character here. The whole story is about activating him. Helping him discover the "magic."
So... it's on. Lincoln and Tess are joined by Emilio, who was Emmet's engine man for 23 years but was told to not come on this last trip, Emilio's similarly mechanically minded 17-year old daughter, Jahel (ha-yel), who only speaks Portugese, Clark, the longtime producer of the TV show, two cameramen Adjay and Sammy, and Reese, a bodyguard and ex-Navy captain.
These right, plus a team of crewmen, head down the Amazon on the S. S. Hopewell. They find the beacon... in an empty, submerged diving cage. It seems like a dead-end. The trip is over just as soon as it began. Until Lena Landry arrives. Lena is the daughter of Russ, one of Emmet's cameramen, also presumed dead on Emmit's trip down the Amazon. She's a fearless helicopter pilot and longtime friend of Lincoln's even though she was always much more attuned to the "magic" of nature than he was. She's pissed at Lincoln for not telling her about this trip to look for his father... and for her own.
And she has aerial pictures that she took when she was searching for her missing father and for Emmet, before the start of our story. She found the Magus, Emmet's ship. It's shoaled off a fork of the river that Google Maps dares not tread called the Boiúna. Local girl Jahel warns against going down there. No one who goes comes back. The S. S. Hopewell's crew won't go. But Tess is determined. So, split into two high impact lifeboats, the team of nine (Tess, Lincoln, Lena, Emilio, Jahel, Reese, Clark, Adjay, and Sammy) head down the Boiúna.
The rest? It's just too good to spoil. I wouldn't want to. It's pretty scary and in the grand tradition of carefully edited (perhaps "found footage" because who knows if any of them, eventually, survive) horror films with some nice character moments, especially between Lincoln and Tess as well as Lincoln and Lena.
The River is a show I can immediately get behind, with intriguing, imperfect characters that jump from the page and I want to know more about, a prescribed style (even if it's one I fear will be an immediate turn off for some due to what is sure to be an effusive amount of shaky-cam), and, well, it's just damn good.
It's also a show that seems like it would make a great horror movie... but as a TV series? How do you get multiple seasons out of this (in other words, how are they going to Lost this)?
Given the "documentary TV show" conceit, the script itself actually has a self-aware reference to this question when, stumbling on some of Emmet's secret video files and hearing Emmet say "the further we go up the Boiúna... the more physics breaks down, and reality... is so much... bigger," Adjay, the lead cameraman, says, "We just got a second season."
At the very least, The River should get a second episode out of it, as the remaining crew on the Magus continue down the Amazon in search of Emmet, following in his footsteps... the barely-glimpsed preternatural threat contained... perhaps.
The one gripe I have are the openings of acts two, three, and four, which are stark contrast "personal interviews" taken of various crew members. It's the familiar talking head interview thing. It fills us in, a little, on some character details... but mostly you just want to jump right back to the action following the act outs. So, if this pilot runs long, I suspect those would be the first things I'd cut. If I had any say over it. Even though, in the long-run, I can these personal interviews becoming necessary.