I haven’t seen Waterworld since the theater–probably opening day. I remember it being an unimpressive sci-fi adventure without a lot of distinct characteristics, but certainly not a disaster. Watching it again after fourteen years, that description holds (for the most part). The film–even in the three hour extended version–moves quickly. There’s always something going on, some bit of tension to pass the time. But I certainly didn’t remember Kevin Costner’s character was such an unrepentant bastard. He might be the worst protagonist in a major Hollywood summer tent pole. It’s stunning how little the film–until the third act–cares about making him a likable character. The way the film works, how to plot unfolds–and how long they manage to keep pertinent information (information the viewer knows) from the protagonist is something.
Costner has some good acting moments, but the script doesn’t provide many of them. He’s fine throughout, but it’s frequently a physical, silent performance. He has a good conversation with Jeanne Tripplehorn at one point and then, at the end, he has a fine standoff with Dennis Hopper. That final standoff comes after the viewer is told all about Costner being a dangerous person. The film only shows the aftereffects, which makes the sequence awkward, but when Costner faces off with Hopper–those previous, iffy sequences get an automatic pass.
Hopper’s okay as the villain. He’s got some good moments and some bad ones. He’s really funny with Tina Majorino. Waterworld‘s interesting today because of its rather neon anti-American sentiments. The villain wants nothing more than to turn the mythical Dryland into a golf course development. Not to mention the ice caps melting (from an unmentioned global warming)–it’s kind of strange, but also an indicator of when the film was made. I don’t think any big Hollywood pictures today are going to allow any “anti” American sentiments in.
Waterworld‘s most successful as a spectacle. It cost a bunch of money and it looks great. There’s some definite 1995 CG, but it’s certainly excusable, given the amazing practical effects. Kevin Reynolds knows how to shoot action scenes–complex ones with intricate geographies and lots of players–and Waterworld‘s exciting when it’s trying to be exciting. James Newton Howard’s fine score only amplifies the film’s (relative) success. It’s a big action-adventure movie with zero sequel prospects included–a dead sub-genre.
Even though it doesn’t affect Waterworld‘s quality overall, the third act features some truly idiotic developments. It humanizes Costner all of a sudden, with one particular scene being the turning point. Except that scene doesn’t have anything to do with humanizing him. Either there’s a scene missing or Waterworld‘s makers thought the audience wasn’t going to be paying enough attention. It’s an annoying misstep, the first of many in the conclusion. After spending at least two hours inflating the viewer’s suspension of disbelief–everyone speaks English (and some can read it), there are still discernible ethnicities, there’s oil around and the ability to refine it–Waterworld ends on fast forward. There’s a rapid-fire romance between Costner and Tripplehorn, which doesn’t make any sense since she kind of seduces him and then, in the next scene, has given up hope. There’s the convenient return of the people from the first hour–I mean, R.D. Call’s good and I was glad to see him back, but come on–and then there’s the conclusion. It’s not like they’ve got Hercules’s twelve labors to get to Dryland. It’s kind of sitting around for anyone to find and it’s unbelievable only two other people did. Waterworld plays fast and loose with its time frame, which is fine until the lackluster ending, when it should come through and doesn’t.
Some of Waterworld‘s failures have to do with Costner. When he made this film, he wasn’t a big star–he was on the way down, as I recall–but he made epic films. Waterworld is a finely paced summer diversion masquerading as an epic. It needed a solid rewrite, another half hour and, surprisingly, a bigger budget (for more characters and sets).
Directed by Kevin Reynolds; written by Peter Rader and David Twohy; directors of photography, Dean Semler and Scott Fuller; edited by Peter Boyle; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Dennis Gassner; produced by Charles Gordon, Lawrence Gordon, John Davis and Kevin Costner; released by Universal Pictures.
Starring Kevin Costner (The Mariner), Dennis Hopper (The Deacon), Jeanne Tripplehorn (Helen), Tina Majorino (Enola), Michael Jeter (Old Gregor), Gerard Murphy (The Nord), R.D. Call (Enforcer at the Atoll), Jack Black (Smoker Plane Pilot), John Toles-Bey (Ed, Smoker Plane Gunner), Robert Joy (Ledger Guy), John Fleck (Smoker Doctor), Kim Coates (Crazed Drifter), Sab Shimono (Elder of the Atoll), Leonardo Cimino (Elder of the Atoll), Jack Kehler (Banker), Rick Aviles (Gatesman at the Atoll), Sean Whalen (Bone), Lee Arenberg (Djeng), Robert LaSardo (Smitty), William Preston (Depth Gauge) and Chris Dourid (Atoller).