How does that saying go? Never act with children or animals. But the golden rule remains: don’t film on water. Even Steven Spielberg said it was a bad idea – and he managed to make some money out of his ordeal. Other directors have not been so lucky, such as James Cameron and his much-loved flop The Abyss.
But Waterworld stands as the ultimate aquatic crater. It ran way over budget and pundits were already predicting doom for the film before it was even released. It may have been a bit of anti-Kevin Costner sentiment helping drive that, but even when audiences finally saw it they largely stayed away and at the domestic box office Waterworld failed to make back a third of its total budget. International earnings were a bit better, but not enough to save this floundering flagpole.
Yet today it is a real shame that Waterworld never got beyond treading water. It’s a bit of a sweeping epic and that rarest of film genre pieces: a post-apocalyptic world you’d want to hang around in, at least as a spectator. What could be called ‘Mad Max on Water,’ Waterworld takes place in the far future, on a planet Earth where the ice caps have melted and everyone left alive has to live floating on endless seas. There are rumours of land somewhere, but nobody has found it.
Into this world a mysterious drifter goes about on his boat, trading rare artifacts that convince some he might know where land is. But he is a mutant and his ability to dive deep underwater helps him salvage more. The real key to land is a map on the back of a little girl, who along with her guardian end up being saved by the drifter. But hot on their heels are the Smokers, a gang of pirates led by the evil Deacon.
Even if you don’t like Kevin Costner (and after 3 Days To Kill who can blame you?), Waterworld is full of nice surprises. A lot of care went into the design, where artifacts from our era blend with clobbered-together gadgets, dramatic sets and great costumes. It is a pity Waterworld didn’t birth a sequel, taking us to the more interesting corners of this world.
Costner makes for a good lead, but the real winner is the late Dennis Hopper, playing his manic best as the head of the Smokers. If in hindsight Waterworld does have a problem, it’s a musical score that feels all too much like something meant for a Disney film or family blockbuster. But Waterworld was supposed to be that, at least by the intentions of the studio: a PG hit for the summer. This was a sad misuse of a great premise and was probably the main reason why it flopped: at its core this movie is much closer to a Mad Max than Pirates of the Caribbean.
But mean-faced Kevin Costner is no Jack Sparrow. He’s tougher than that, so is the world he lives in – with floating settlements, sunken cities, slavers, bandits and giant sea monsters. It’s a pity that Waterworld flopped, but it’s even sadder that the stigma lingers. A remake would not be a bad idea.
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Last Updated: September 29, 2014