Why despite it’s reputation, Waterworld is a pretty fun time…
As a bit of change of pace, I thought I’d take a look at an old film I have quite a soft spot for, the 1995 film Waterworld. This is a notorious movie, partly because of its flaws, but probably more because it is remembered as a massive flop, which cost way too much to make. While this is partly true, I think that the reputation of this film has informed many people’s opinions, and I’d like to take some time to explain why I personally think it’s pretty good.
Firstly, lets recap the film. Waterworld is a post-apocalyptic film about a time after the Earth has been covered in water thanks to global warming. Kevin Costner plays the Mariner, a lone wanderer who sails a trimaran across the ocean, taking in resources. Through a series of misadventures, he becomes involved with a woman and her step-daughter, who has a tattoo on her back which is said to lead to the last dry land in the world. Along the way, there are floating cities, a brilliant villain and lots of great action.
So why is this film considered such a failure? There are certainly flaws, for instance, Kevin Costner isn’t very good in it. He is extremely bland; his entire performance gives the impression he doesn’t really care what is going on. Now, I’m not one of the people who think Costner is a bad actor, but his range is quite limited and he needs a good director, or a strong character, and sadly he doesn’t have either in this film. Secondly, the dialogue and plot can be a little awkward at times, particularly with the young kid Enola. The actress Tina Majorino has gone on to do good things, such as Napoleon Dynamite, but this early in her career, she isn’t convincing, and in fact is quite annoying at times.
However, actors and dialogue aside, most people know Waterworld as the Icarus of film, the movie that flew too close to the sun with a massive budget and not enough returns in the box office. While it is true that the film overran its budget thanks to the ambitious scope; everything was filmed on the water, most of the sets were built on the water. In the end the final budget was over 170 million dollars, it was never likely it would be able to make that back, after all it wasn’t a franchise film, and apart from the two leads didn’t star any major stars. In the end it took home just 88 million dollars at home, but 170 worldwide, meaning that the film almost broke even, but thanks to the profit cinemas take in, it took longer. In the end the film became profitable from DVD sales. While it wasn’t that financially successful, it certainly wasn’t the huge flop most people remember.
But anyway, what is so good about this film? The film has a surprisingly resonant message about how our world might be changed by global warming. It gets most of the science wrong, but that this film was made over 20 years ago shows an unusual awareness of a subject many still ignore today. The story is engaging and fun, the idea of a completely new world, not just the ruins of the old one is exciting for a film premise, and a lot more original than most modern post-apocalypses. But one of the major reasons I enjoy this film is watching the way things work in this world. There are some really creative machines and boats made out of recognisable present day junk, and watching how they function is really interesting. Add to that some epic water battles, including dogfights above the water and jet skiers leaping over the walls of a floating city, and you have a recipe for good entertainment. The film is like Mad Max with boats, using some really interesting vehicle designs and costumes that reflect the new society, made up of fish nets, discarded plastic and even deep-sea diver boots at one point. The film also takes great pains to show how people survive, using dirt that can grow plants as a new type of currency, and even some humans who have evolved to survive, with gills (although for some reason everybody hates the mutants).
But the best reason to see this film is to behold Dennis Hopper as the head of the smoker gang, Deacon. I have yet to see Hopper in a film where it isn’t clear he is coked to his eyeballs, and this is no exception. The man is just so entertaining, and at times even intimidating in his performance. He has a wicked sense of humour, and a short temper that he takes out on his own men. The intensity of his acting is mesmerising and makes me look forward to each scene he is in. It’s actually hard to tell if he is actually good as his character, because all I can see is Dennis Hopper having the time of his life, tearing the scenery to shreds with his teeth. If nothing else I have said has convinced you, watch this film just to witness Dennis Hopper.
So, despite not very compelling heroes, and some questionable dialogue and performances, this film is a fun dose of action through the lens of an interesting and original story premise. The costumes, set design and action scenes are spectacular, as you would hope for such a high budget. Dennis Hopper is gloriously fun as the villain and makes every second with a bland Kevin Costner all the more tolerable. In short, it’s a good time, and as long as you have the right expectations, you can go into this film and expect, at the very least to have fun.
Oh, and Jack Black is in it briefly!