Waterworld (1995)

24 Jan

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

The most expensive movie ever made at its time, 1995’s “Waterworld” is known as one of the all-time bombs—up there with productions like “Heaven’s Gate” that didn’t even come close to making its money back. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s one of the all-time worst movies. Actually, it’s a pretty decent action flick with nicely-handled sequences and great sets that give atmosphere.

Though, with the label of “most expensive movie,” it’s easy to see why people were disappointed by the outcome of the production. Even disappointing to me, actually—for a movie of this budget, perhaps being merely “decent” is a disappointment. But you take what you can get.

“Waterworld” takes place in the distant future, as we see a change in the opening Universal logo with the polar ice caps melting, and a brief narration stating that most of the world is covered with water. Thus, we have Waterworld, a place filled with drifters, terrorists, and falling civilizations—all survivors now living on manmade boats, one large ship, and large docks. No land in sight. Freshwater and dirt are now valuable trading. People and brotherhood aren’t what matter to the survivors anymore.

Kevin Costner stars as Mariner, a drifter who lives on his own, sailing on a boat of his creation. He trades for some dirt and sells it in a civilization made up on a big floating “atoll.” However, upon closer inspection, the people there see that he’s a mutant—he has gills and webbed feet. But while the people want him executed, a barmaid named Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and her adopted daughter Enola (Tina Majorino) believe he has seen Dryland, assuming from most of the materials he has traded. So they join him on a journey to get there. However, a terrorist group called the Smokers, led by one-eyed, nasty Deacon (Dennis Hopper), is after Enola (quite an unusual name—it’s “alone” spelt backward) because she has markings tattooed on her back that might actually be directions to Dryland (though no one can decipher them).

“Waterworld” has some intriguing ideas. As we see in the beginning of the film, we see how Mariner is able to stay hydrated and healthy—he processes his own urine, drinks it, gargles, and spits on his little lime tree. That’s very clever. We also see many of the technical aspects of this world—there are a lot of shots focused on how many gadgets work. I love the focus on the mechanics in this world.

But there are some pretty dumb moments with “Waterworld” as well. For example, why would the people on the atoll try and kill Mariner after finding out about his mutation, when HE WAS JUST ABOUT TO LEAVE? What did they have to worry about? And also, why is there a prejudice against people with gills in this world? With some experimentation, couldn’t there be some problems solved around this man who can breathe underwater, in a world that is maybe entirely covered in water? Nothing is made clear of this. There are also moments involving stunts involving jetskis in which the movie looks like a TV spot for Seaworld.

The action sequences are mostly well-staged, particularly the Smokers’ attack on the atoll as Mariner, Helen, and Enola must escape. Even if the stuff with the jetskis looks commercial-like, there is some impressive stuntwork there. I also really liked the final sequence in which Mariner must storm the Smokers’ ship in order to rescue Enola from Deacon’s clutches (and hammy speeches).

Kevin Costner is probably not the best choice to play this part—as the anti-hero, Costner doesn’t particularly come across with as much energy as Mel Gibson with his “Mad Max” movies, nor does he have the goofy one-liners that Schwarzenegger could deliver. Sometimes, he’s just kind of a bore. But as an unsmiling action hero, he’s mostly effective. He does have his share of badass moments. Dennis Hopper, as the villainous Deacon, is deliciously over the top and also serves as weirdly effective comic relief. Jeanne Tripplehorn is fine and Tina Majorino, while kind of annoying at first, gets better as the role progresses.

“Waterworld” has its problems, but has its action and sets to make up for them. This may be one of the bigger bombs in the past thirty years, but it’s far from one of the worst movies in the past thirty years. It’s just decent.

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