Waterworld

WaterworldSynopsis: See one of the screen’s biggest action-adventure epics like never before in Waterworld! Set in the future when Earth is completely covered in water and the human race is struggling to survive, mankind’s one remaining hope for a better future is a drifter (Kevin Costner) who gets caught up in a battle between the evil Deacon (Dennis Hopper) and a child’s secret key to a wondrous place called “Dryland.” Featuring groundbreaking special effects, Waterworld is a visually stunning, futuristic thriller beyond your wildest imagination!

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Waterworld 6.0

eyelights: the shots of the submerged cities.
eyesores: it feels déjà vu. it’s deathly drab.

“You should have stayed under water.”

1995 ‘Waterworld’ is one of the most troubled productions in Hollywood history. Its cost over-runs are legendary, as are the onset fights between its star and its director. To make matters worse, the inclement weather delayed the shooting and destroyed sets, and many cast and crew nearly drowned or were hospitalized.

In the end, it barely recouped its sprawling budget.

I still remember all the stories making their way through the entertainment news of the day. Every other week seemed to have some insane story about “Waterworld’. People were calling it ‘Fishtar’, expecting it to be the biggest flop in history. It wasn’t, but it remained one of the biggest jokes in Hollywood for years.

When I finally got around to seeing it, on home video (naturally), I didn’t think it was as horrible as some claimed; its reputation as a bad movie was overstated. But it was rather boring, drab. I only remember plugging through but feeling no excitement at any point – although I did roll my eyes at some of it.

The basic idea of ‘Waterworld’ is that it’s set in a distant future where the polar ice caps have completely melted, flooding the Earth. Few humans have survived, and the ones who did live on this vast ocean, struggling to find food and other resources. Gangs of marauders called “smokers” are a constant threat.

For this action/adventure film, we follow a no-name loner (that people come to call the “mariner”) as he tries to survive in these harsh conditions on his boat, a trimaran. Along the way, he winds up saddled with a woman and a young girl. But the smokers are after the girl, who has a map that may lead to the mythical Dry Lands.

The picture is basically your run-of-the-mill pirate-type movie, but set in the future. Think of it as “Mad Max on Water” (or “Mad Max Beyond Waterworld”, if you must). The script went through three dozen writers, including Joss Whedon (who described the experience as “seven weeks of hell”), just to get to a traditional three-act piece.

Act 1: Intro to the protagonist and his world. He goes to a man-made island to barter.
Act 2: After an attack he escapes with the woman and girl. They have many troubles on the high seas.
Act 3: The girl is kidnapped, so he goes off to her rescue. Then they set out for Dry land.

Look, ‘Waterworld’ really isn’t all bad. But it isn’t great either: I was flat-out bored and uninvolved, once again.

The Good

  • There’s a clever use of the Universal logo to situate us on this future Earth, minus the melted polar caps. Since the original logo already incorporates the Earth, it then morphs to this new reality before taking us into the movie proper.
  • The visit to see the submerged former cities was astonishing to see and it was well-rendered. Oh, sure, he and she didn’t blend in with the picture well, but the sights were amazing anyway.

The Intriguing

  • There is so little diversity left in this reality that inbreeding has become a problem. Consequently, he is offered a fresh-faced young teen to impregnate in exchange for resources. Creepy, but realistic.
  • Dirt is worth a fortune. Since there is no dry land to be seen anywhere, this is a scarce resource.
  • We discover that he’s a mutant with gills and webbed feet. We have no idea how he developed this and why he’s the only one of his kind, but this is considered an aberration and people want to destroy him.
  • He actually calls Earth “Waterworld” at one point. This is baffling. What happened to “Earth”? And why bother calling it “Waterworld” when there’s nothing but water? It suggests an alternative – which no one believes exists.
  • When they aren’t on water, they get land sickness. Weird, but makes sense contextually.

The Not-so-good

  • Kevin Costner is simply not credible as a high seas adventurer. He was barely believable in a simple role like that of Eliot Ness in ‘The Untouchables‘. This stretches the boundaries of credulity.
  • The lead is grumpy and ruthless (ex: he wants to toss the girl overboard and even barters time with the woman with a drifter. I know… he’s a real dick). It’s in character but it makes him impossible to like.
  • At about the halfway mark, our lead softens to the kid. Years of ruthless pragmatism are suddenly tossed overboard. Next thing we know, he’s swimming with her. Really? It’s as easy as that?
  • The whole cast reeks of b-level quality. C’mon, Kevin Costner versus Dennis Hopper? Think about it. The fact that the next most well-known performer is Jeanne Tripplehorn says a lot. Who, you ask…? Exactly. (I love her to death, truth be told. I’m just making a point about the overall cast)
  • The film is populated with tons of men but very few women. Why is that? How could humanity survive this way? I blame Hollywood sexism for this, because it simply doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
  • The smokers conveniently attack just as our protagonist is about to be “recycled”. Of course, they did.
  • How can the smokers have modern guns (and bullets for them) given their limited resources? Who makes those?
  • When out on the high seas, our trio meets a drifter who is a poor man’s Robin Williams, acting frantic and bug-eyed. Again, it’s a casting issue: just get Robin Williams if you want someone to play Robin Williams. Geez.
  • The whole film hinges on a “map” on the girl’s back. Why doesn’t anyone just transcribe the damned thing? Why chase after her when it should be easy to just transpose it in some fashion – even without paper?
  • The ending is absolutely implausible: bullets don’t hit, the villain’s gun jams at a crucial point, the protagonist crashes a plane with the villain and girl in it and she comes out unscathed, …etc.
  • Characters keep falling into the water from great heights and aren’t even stunned, let alone killed.
  • Our trio goes off for the Dry land without enough resources, a really stupid thing to do – it’s basically suicide. You’d think they’;d take the time to prep first. Nope. Movie’s long enough as is.
  • They find the Dry Land, which coincidentally happens to be where the girl is from. She couldn’t tell anyone this until now, of course. And, by pure coincidence, they arrive at her home. They could’ve been anywhere on this patch of land, but there you have it.
  • The main set pieces look more like an amusement park than a place to live.
  • The film is called “Waterworld”, which sounds like an amusement park – not a gritty post-apocalyptic adventure movie.
  • The picture was served in a 1.85:1 ratio, instead of 2.35:1, which would have given it a more epic quality. I mean, seriously, if they’re going to drop 175 million dollars on a movie, they should at least make it look good.

In the final scene, our so-called “Mariner” returns to the seas, where he feels more at home, leaving the others behind. If it was a set-up for a potential sequel, the filmmakers were dreaming: there would never be a sequel to this picture. At least, not on film: they released a comic book sequel a couple of years later.

But ‘Waterworld’ has otherwise been forgotten by the movie-going public. Hollywood will never forget, however, and it certainly didn’t forgive Costner, whose career went from superstardom to second banana pretty much overnight. His career is seeing a bit of a resurgence of late, but it’s been a long haul back.

It takes a lot to rise up from a watery grave such as this one.

Date of viewing: February 22, 2015

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