Movies

Waterworld: is Kevin Costner's damp squib a cult classic in the making?


When looking back at the most infamous films of the 1990s – Batman & Robin, Judge Dredd and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace spring to mind – it’s easy to pinpoint why each failed so miserably. Joel Schumacher’s superhero sequel had Batnipples, wooden acting and a pantomime-level script; Judge Dredd had a miscast Sylvester Stallone and rubbish “comedy sidekick” Rob Schneider; The Phantom Menace had Jar Jar Binks, plastic CGI and abundant racist stereotyping. And yet it’s harder to recall exactly why Kevin Reynolds’ Waterworld, which hit cinemas 25 years ago this week, ended up being one of the worst Hollywood turkeys of all time.

Perhaps it’s because it was released slap bang in the middle of a Hollywood decade otherwise known for the return of sharp-edged indie film-making, and really feels like a brash and bombastic 80s action flick. Maybe it’s because Kevin Costner’s taciturn acting style was unsuited to such an over-the-top adventure. Perhaps only James Cameron can make expensive movies about the sea that connect with audiences. But there isn’t really anything notable about Waterworld to suggest it truly deserves such a low reputation, other than the fact it was the most expensive film of all time and an appalling box-office bomb.

The film’s production problems are well documented. Steven Spielberg had warned Reynolds not to shoot on open water after his own struggles filming Jaws, but nobody listened. Costner, at the peak of his fame and power, fought so hard to get his ideas included that Reynolds walked away before production had wrapped. Joss Whedon was flown in for a bout of last-minute rewrites that he has since described as “seven weeks of hell”, largely because he was required to edit in Costner’s ideas with zero filter. The movie’s star almost died in a squall, and a multimillion dollar set was ripped apart when a hurricane hit the shoot location just off the coast of Hawaii. And yet watching the movie in 2020, you would never guess any of this happened.

READ  Spider-Man Will Join Venom & Morbius in Sony's Marvel Universe

Waterworld was originally concocted as a Mad Max rip-off by screenwriter Peter Rader, with Reynolds even hiring that series’ director of photography, Dean Semler. One suspects if Reynold’s movie had been made for $10m, as Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome was, instead of $175m, it would be remembered as a decent little film for a rainy day when one’s mind turns to the end of human civilisation as we know it. But Reynolds and Costner did not have Miller’s modest budget. Even 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, which experienced its own production setbacks and was shot 20 years later (by which time budgets had ballooned), barely passed Waterworld’s mammoth production costs.

Reynolds’ film has silliness in abundance. Costner’s unnamed Mariner is a fish-man whose species has evolved to develop gills that allow him to spend copious amounts of time underwater. This is despite dolphins and whales having yet to develop the same mutation despite the tens of millions of years that have passed since their ancestors last set foot on land. It cannot have been long since the waters rose and covered the Earth, or the sea planes, boats and guns, scavenged in abundance by human survivors, would have rusted into nothing. And yet this matters not one jot: the scene in which the survivors of humankind, lingering on a grimy atoll, discover that Costner is a mutant retains a trashy comic-book cool, as well as going a long way to explaining his solitary existence. Ultimately, it’s all good B-movie fun.

Dennis Hopper makes a fine villain as the one-eyed, ferociously acquisitive Deacon, a man who wants to eat the world and its remaining resources, a feverish Gordon Gekko of the dystopian high seas. Along with Speed, Waterworld marks the finest moment of Hopper’s enjoyable late-career devolution into furniture-chewing bad guy.

READ  Emily Blunt and Jamie Dornan Get Romantic in ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ First Look Image

The action set-pieces, from the Mariner’s battles with sea pirates to his underwater wrestling match with a giant mutant fish, are preposterously ambitious yet pulled off with aplomb. His transforming trimaran makes the Batmobile look like something from a secondhand toy shop. The humans are superbly decked out in post-apocalyptic future-wear.

If you are not looking to give your cerebrum an overly taxing workout, Waterworld is a thoroughly rousing, pleasingly throwaway 135 minutes. It should certainly not be considered the nadir of Costner’s career when he also starred in movies like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Postman. Perhaps it’s time to let those critical water-levels fall back to reveal the existence of a perfectly watchable sci-fi cult classic.



READ SOURCE

Leave a Reply