Waterworld (1995) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, brief nudity and language
Running Time: 136 min.
Cast: Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino, Michael Jeter, Jack Black (cameo)
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Screenplay: Peter Rader, David Twohy
Review published February 10, 2007
The tag of Waterworld being Mad Max in the water is an appropriate one, as both films are set in a post-apocalyptic world full of anarchy, eccentric madmen, and vehicular mayhem. The film would become infamous for being grossly over budget (becoming the most expensive film at the time), and when news got out of its production problems, it became a sitting duck for many critics, while American audiences stayed away, assuring its place as one of the biggest box office losers of all time, although it would recoup its money in foreign markets.
For all of its bad reputation, it's actually not without merit, and it does have some entertainment value strictly as an action flick. Unfortunately, it isn't strictly targeting action fans, as it has roots in science fiction, adventure, drama and even a little comedy, and along these fronts, the entertainment value is inconsistent at best, or at worst, almost nonexistent.
The setting of Waterworld is a few hundred years from the present (perhaps longer), during a time when the entirety of the Earth is covered by water after the polar ice caps have all melted away. The concept of dry land resides only in myth, and the hottest commodity on the trading market is dirt, which is the latest treasure that the swarthy mariner with no name (Costner, A Perfect World) has a dying community abuzz. When it's discovered that the mariner has gills and webbed feet, he is decried as a mutation and sentenced to die. However, an iron-fisted opportunist named Deacon (Hopper, Witch Hunt) attacks the sea village (aka the Atoll) moments before his imminent death, and in exchange for their safe passage, the mariner takes on two new passengers on his vessel -- a woman named Helen (Tripplehorn, The Firm) and a young girl named Enola (Majorino, Napoleon Dynamite). It seems the girl has a tattoo on her back rumored to be a map to find dry land, and Deacon desperately wants to obtain it, stopping at nothing, including the murder of countless innocents to get the world's most valued prize.
Shaky science notwithstanding (many have claimed it an impossibility for the entire Earth to be covered in water even if the entirety of the polar caps melt), Waterworld seems the equivalent of a Roger Corman film if he had almost $200 million at his disposal to make one of his pet projects come to life. Perhaps as a low-budget film, this sort of idea would have been enough to be passable as cult science fiction fare, but as a major studio attempt at a summer blockbuster, it's woefully inadequate. The acting, especially by Hopper, is way over the top, with silly shenanigans and half-baked scientific explanations that make it unsuitable as a film to be taken seriously. A man with a working set of gills, which in most likelihood would take millions of years, isn't even worth the dramatic license to indulge, especially since it doesn't even factor in as critically important to the overall story.
Yes, this was a far-fetched crock just from the first idea, and one can only speculate as to why such a lavish production couldn't have started with securing the rights to a more fully developed screenplay before they even started to engage in their free-spending production. The only elements of the film that work at the level they should are the stunts and swashbuckling action scenes. Alas, those aren't really enough to keep our interest in a two hour and fifteen minute movie.
Waterworld isn't as bad as its reputation would have you believe, but it's also not nearly good enough to qualify as anything more than an extravagant no-brain popcorn flick. If you're in the mood for escapist adventure and explosive vehicular carnage, this may suit your needs. Even so, The Road Warrior did the same but much better at less that 3% of the budget of this overblown, underdeveloped misfire.
©2007 Vince Leo