Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Intense Sequences of Action Violence, brief Nudity and Language
Directed by: Kevin Reynolds
Written by: Peter Rader & David Twohy
Starring: Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino & Michael Jeter
It’s impossible to review WATERWORLD without briefly mentioning this film’s notorious history. In 1995, this Kevin Costner summer blockbuster was the most expensive film ever made. Part of this was because the film was an ambitious project, another reason was because Kevin Costner was a diva who demanded special treatment on the set (e.g. his own private yacht), and most of this was because the production was an utter disaster. Many troubles occurred during the shooting of this film. These included: a set being destroyed by a hurricane, the director leaving the film halfway through production, and Kevin Costner almost dying on set. Constant bad press gave negative attention towards this movie before it was even released. When it finally hit theaters, it flopped hard at the box office (despite spending two weekends at the number one spot). This all being said, how is WATERWORLD when removed from its reputation and taken purely as popcorn entertainment?
In the distant future, the polar ice caps have melted and the world is now covered in water. Mariner (Kevin Costner) is a mutated loner who spends his time sailing on a unique boat and diving under the water for valuable trading items. After a deal goes wrong in a floating community, Mariner finds himself trapped and facing certain death. Right before he can be executed though, a vicious gang of “smokers” raid and pillage the community. Rescued by bartender Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and strange little girl Enola (Tina Majorino), Mariner soon finds himself transporting precious cargo and searching for a mythical place: dry land. However, the smokers’ cycloptic leader Deacon (Dennis Hopper) is also desperate to find dry land and is looking to get revenge on Mariner.
Let me be upfront about this, WATERWORLD is a mess. The film’s length (originally trimmed down from three hours) has many dull moments as we are treating to overly long montages, pointless scenes, and a second act where nothing much happens. To boot, Mariner isn’t a likable protagonist. I know that he’s essentially supposed to be Mad Max on the water…but Max was a likable anti-hero from the beginning. For the first half of WATERWORLD, the film constantly plays on the unpleasant possibility that Mariner might rape, kill, or sell the two passengers he has aboard his boat. When the story does transform him into a more sympathetic hero, it feels rushed and unconvincing. We get one “good” deed (he takes back a deal to sell Helen to a rape-happy stranger) and a montage (he teaches Enola how to swim), then suddenly we’re supposed to buy into his unconvincing change of heart.
To further add to Mariner’s unpleasantness, Costner seems totally bored in his role as the urine-drinking, web-toed, gill-necked jerk. Not many positives can be said about the rest of the cast members either. Jeanne Tripplehorn appears to be reciting her lines for the first time in certain scenes, while Tina Majorino puts in one of the single most annoying performances that I’ve ever seen from a child. Majorino’s character is supposed to be a strong kid with an attitude, but there were moments where I didn’t care if Kevin Costner straight-up drowned her. She’s everything that’s wrong with kid sidekicks in film, especially in big budget adventures. Dennis Hopper took on the role of Deacon two years after embarrassing himself in SUPER MARIO BROS. Suffice to say that Hopper is still doing the exact same over-the-top shtick here, except now he makes a bunch of eyeball puns and walks around in a steampunk outfit. Deacon is one of the least intimidating villains to grace the big screen.
Though WATERWORLD’s pacing, writing and acting may suck, it still has a few redeemable qualities. The sets are very impressive to look at, even if the computer effects don’t hold up too well. WATERWORLD was actually filmed using similar techniques to James Cameron’s TITANIC, though there is a remarkable difference in quality between the two movies. Action sequences on these gigantic sets are also pretty damned great. The stuff in between the action may be dull, stupid and clichéd as hell, but the explosive set pieces do manage to excite and entertain. Finally, the film’s soundtrack is perfect for a swashbuckling adventure. I’ve heard it used many times in movie trailers from the late 90’s and early 2000’s, but never knew its origin until now. There was a distinct moment when my mind went “That great music came from this lame movie?!?!” It was an odd realization to say the least.
WATERWORLD has an awesome idea at its core. MAD MAX on the water sounds kind of amazing, but it was executed as a big mess. Despite the film’s bad rep, there are some positive qualities to be found. The action, practical effects, and music all deserve to be attached to a better movie. Meanwhile, the film’s dull pacing and laughably over-the-top acting seriously hinder it. The writing itself is far from anything special. It’s THE ROAD WARRIOR on water, except it doesn’t live up to that potentially great premise. I know that there are a few diehard fans of this film who claim that the Extended Cut of the movie is great and magically gets rid of all the glaring errors. To me, it seems like adding 41 extra minutes to “fix” WATERWORLD would be like trying to place a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.