Waterworld is one of those movies you kinda had to be there to fully unappreciate. Think of it is the inherent opposite of James Cameron’s scifi smash Avatar. I’m convinced that viewers who weren’t lining up in theaters (or in my case killing the battery of their Chevy Blazer at the drive-in) in 1995 in effort to see what all the negative hype was about will likely breeze through this film with a shrug of the shoulders and a quote to the effect of “it wasn’t too bad.”
And in fact that’s really an honest assessment of the film as a whole. There’s nothing too memorable about the experience but nothing overly offensive either. It isn’t until you discover that it had, at the time anyway, the most expensive Hollywood production cost recorded ($200 million budget, a record it would hold for two years until Cameron’s Titanic came along), required construction of a 1,000 ton floating set, demanded a script that underwent 36 drafts from six different writers, was shut down 3 times due to weather threats, had its director (Kevin Reynolds) walk off with only two-weeks of shooting to go, and cost lead star Kevin Costner 22-million of his own dollars to complete, does one finally start to realize that the end result is a little more than lackluster.
The premise of this one, in fact one of very few science fiction blockbusters that really won’t suffer too greatly by having its entire plot reduced to two or three sentences, is as follows: Waterworld takes place in an undetermined future date right here on earth and follows the exploits of Kevin Costner as the Mariner, a sailing individualist who, thanks to evolution, has sprouted gills and webbed feet, as he navigates the endless ocean that is Earth after the melting of the polar ice caps.
Pursued by a band of baddies calling themselves The Smokers (due to their reliance on the ancient internal combustion engine in their boats and jet-skis presumably), our hero finds himself captured and caged only to be freed by Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and enlisted to help her and a mysterious young girl (Tina Majorino) escape Smoker suppression once and for all.
So there you have it; a modern day masterpiece of a plot? Well not exactly, but it is and was passable enough as a sort of aquatic variation of “The Road Warrior”, again the suspicion (and ensuing failed expectations) not becoming a factor until you realize the behind the scenes drama and bottomless pockets the film required to make.
One can’t help but wonder if Costner and company had waited just a few more years to make this failed epic, the widespread use of computer generated imaging wouldn’t have slashed the budget to a mere fraction of what it ended up costing. There is little doubt that much of the elaborate floating set and battle sequences could have been done in a green-screened lagoon behind the studio parking lot today.
The pacing of the film (which runs 136-minutes in the theatrical release/ 176-minutes in the director’s cut) is actually bogged down by the odd combination of unchanging background (after all, there is little variation to behold on an endless ocean), and several chronological sequences that offer no spoken dialog. Surely done in attempt to more accurately portray the solitude and hopelessness being one of few wanderers left on the planet entails, the effort here is unfortunately more tedious and monotonous than artistically appealing. Though longer of course, the Extended Edition manages to address these complaints slightly, by piecing together a few key scenes and adding some footage that was sliced for time constraints in the theatrical version. Sadly though, even this release is a compromise in the view of many fans as the Extended Edition trades bonus material in favor of the cussing, violence, and some of the partial nudity in the original picture (as it is a direct release of the made-for-television ABC broadcast and NOT the highly sought after lengthened director's cut). Apparently the potential Waterworld customer has to choose which version they’ll purchase based on their priorities.
The action sequences are perhaps the first real signs of the film’s massive budget with some high-speed, high seas chases complete with big fiery explosions. The ending, while typical and slightly cliché, works pretty well here and is rewarding in a popcorn flick kind of way.
In all the best way to summarize Waterworld, even fifteen years after the fact, is probably to shrug the shoulders and say, “it isn’t too bad”. Both DVD versions of the film work well enough in their weird way and may even make for a decent rental next time you’re filling up your online queue. It’s an enjoyable enough science fiction piece so long as you avoid researching the drama and money that went into making it happen. For that reason alone, I suggest you navigate away from my review immediately.
And to the guy parked next to me at the Angola Drive-In that night back in 1995 who happened to have a set of jumper cables at the ready, my sincere gratitude.
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Waterworld is a 1995 post-apocalyptic action science fiction film. The film was directed by Kevin Reynolds and co-written by Peter Rader and David Twohy. It is based on Rader's original 1986 screenplay and stars Kevin Costner, who also produced it. It was distributed by Universal Pictures.
The film release was accompanied by a tie-in novel and video game, and also two popular themed attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Japan based on the film, called Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular, which are both still running as of 2009.