Waterworld: A Review by Nate Hill


I don’t get the hate for Waterworld, and I can’t wrap my head around the fact that it was was a ginormous flop at the box office. I suppose there has to be one incredibly underrated gem of an adventure film every generation (John Carter comes to mind), and I’m ok with such films becoming cult classics years later, or loved by a small, loyal faction of people, but I still can’t see how such a creative, entertaining piece of cinema was so ignored. The best way I can describe my impression of it is Mad Max set adrift at sea. And what a premise. Kevin Costner and team craft an earthy steam punk dystopia where nearly all of our planet has been covered in oceans, hundreds of years in the future. Costner plays a lone adventurer called the Mariner, a humanoid who has evolved to the point where he sports gills, and can breathe underwater. He’s on a quest to find dry land, and is hindered at every turn by a one eyed tyrannical warlord called Deacon (the one, the only Dennis Hopper), who is on a mad hunt for oil of any kind, laying waste to anything in his way. He runs his empire off of a giant, dilapidated freighter ship, and commands a gnarly army of scoundrels. If they made a post apocalyptic super villain mortal kombat, he would probably face off against Fury Road’s Immortan Joe. Costner is a dysfunctional beast who somewhat befriends a lost woman (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and her plucky daughter (Tina Majorino in what should have been a star making turn), venturing forth into the vast blue on a rickety raft, meeting all sorts of sea bound weirdos on their journey. Kim Coates shows up with a whoville hairdo and an indecipherable accent as a sunbaked pervert who’s probably been afloat for a decade. The film is pure adventure, and loves it’s target audience unconditionally, which begs me to question why the masses savagely bit the hand that graciously feeds them. No matter, it’s a winner regardless of how it was received, and has probably gained a following that they never thought they’d arrive with when they made it. The cast extends further with work from Costner regulars and newcomers alike, including Michael Jeter, Robert Joy, Jack Black, Robert Lasardo, Sean Whalen, Lee Arenberg and R.D. Call. No one who loves a good old adventure can turn this down, and I’m still pissed that my knowledge of its reputation held me back from watching it for so many years. Let that happen no more. Either you’re won over by an inventive, balls out adventure epic like this, or you’re not.

One thought on “Waterworld: A Review by Nate Hill

  1. “the fact that it was was a ginormous flop” except it wasn’t actually a flop = that has always been a myth, heaped by nicknames like Fishtar and Kevin’s Gate. Yes, when it debuted it was the most expensive production ever, but it actually performed well overseas.

    Universal’s owner (Japanese Matsushita aka Panasonic) sold the company to Seagram in 1995 in a deal that included coverage for the entire cost of Waterworld. Therefore technically (via accountant shell-games) the movie was already pure profit at launch. Video sales were eventually so large that Waterworld became *truly* profitable even when the cost of the earlier ownership trade is factored.

    The movie was *always* intended to be “Mad Max on the water,” going so far as to employ Mad Max’s actual cinematographer, Dean Semler.

    The problem is that the original Mad Max trilogy was shot cleverly for the cheapest possible costs, whereas ripoff Waterworld chose the most expensive route, for lesser results. To prove this point, 1 year earlier director Kevin Reynolds’s Rapa Nui (produced by Costner) managed a beautiful widescreen (2.35) South Pacific adventure with exotic costumes and sets for only $20 million, yet rather than follow that example, Waterworld chose a smaller-screen format (1.85) despite an initial budget of $100 million. They could have accomplished most of their visuals in a safely enclosed water tank, but instead chose to build the main set floating out in the Pacific, and when it sank and had to be salvaged, costs began escalating to $175m ($235m counting ads etc.)

    Costner was also going through a mid-life crisis at the time, contemplating leaving his wife, and having a fresh new supply of Hawaiian university coeds delivered to his private rented palatial mansion each weekend. The crew hated him. Every A-list actress in Hollywood turned down the role that eventually Jeanne Tripplehorn accepted. Helmer Reynolds got fed up and quit, forcing Costner to take over and finish.

    James Newton Howard’s score was lush, and there were a few fun action sequences. But the whole was less than the sum of its parts; Mad Max is not dismissed as “Waterworld in the desert.”


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