Kevin Costner, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino in 'Waterworld'

It's hard to believe, but 15 years ago this week 'Waterworld' was released (on a somewhat suspecting public). Yes, time flies when it comes to legendarily awful movies, and 'Waterworld,' dubbed "Fishtar" by some, is right up there on many Top Flops lists.

The film is widely considered part of the one-two punch that derailed the previously red-hot career of its star and co-producer, Kevin Costner, who also reportedly took over director Kevin Reynolds' duties at one point. (Two years later, 'The Postman' would complete the KO.) To be sure, 'Waterworld' was in trouble before it even reached the screen. Over-budget, behind schedule and beleaguered by production woes, the movie was anticipated for all the wrong reasons by a press and public who smelled blood after Costner's underwhelming 'Wyatt Earp.'

Was it really all that bad? We recently took another look at 'Waterworld' (the 135-minute theatrical version; not the 176-minute director's cut aired by ABC in 1998), and yep, it's pretty bad, if not quite the total disgrace it's celebrated as. But it does have a few fun, over-the-top aspects going for it.
Kevin Costner, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino in 'Waterworld'

It's hard to believe, but 15 years ago this week 'Waterworld' was released (on a somewhat suspecting public). Yes, time flies when it comes to legendarily awful movies, and 'Waterworld,' dubbed "Fishtar" by some, is right up there on many Top Flops lists.

The film is widely considered part of the one-two punch that derailed the previously red-hot career of its star and co-producer, Kevin Costner, who also reportedly took over director Kevin Reynolds' duties at one point. (Two years later, 'The Postman' would complete the KO.) To be sure, 'Waterworld' was in trouble before it even reached the screen. Over-budget, behind schedule and beleaguered by production woes, the movie was anticipated for all the wrong reasons by a press and public who smelled blood after Costner's underwhelming 'Wyatt Earp.'

Was it really all that bad? We recently took another look at 'Waterworld' (the 135-minute theatrical version; not the 176-minute director's cut aired by ABC in 1998), and yep, it's pretty bad, if not quite the total disgrace it's celebrated as. But it does have a few fun, over-the-top aspects going for it.


Kevin Costner in 'Waterworld'The Story
A post-apocalyptic sci-fi action film -- heavily influenced by the 'Mad Max' franchise -- 'Waterworld' depicts life on Earth after melting of the polar ice caps has caused heavy flooding. Society has degenerated into isolated "atolls" made out of rusting debris that house settlements of bedraggled, crazy-eyed humans.

Costner plays a drifter (the Mariner) who's clearly a bad-ass (he scowls, doesn't talk much and recycles his own urine for drinking and plant-watering), living on a tricked-out trimaran. He visits an atoll to trade dirt, a rare commodity, and meets shopkeeper Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and her young charge Enola (Tina Majorino), an orphan who has the map to the mythical Dryland tattooed on her back. When the Mariner refuses to impregnate a local girl despite pressure from atoll elders (inbreeding is a big problem), and it is discovered that he is an aquatic mutant -- complete with gills and webbed feet -- he's sentenced to be "recycled," i.e. submerged in brine.



Dennis Hopper in 'Waterworld'His plight is interrupted by a band of "Smokers" -- fuel-burning pirates with pack-a-day habits -- who arrive like seafaring Hell's Angels on souped-up jet skis, motorboats and other makeshift contraptions. Led by the demonic, cackling Deacon (Dennis Hopper), the bandits want to steal Enola and her directions to Dryland. Helen enables the Mariner to escape, so he allows her and the girl aboard his trimaran, after fighting off the Smokers (and putting Deacon's eye out).

When they're not battling the marvelously deranged Deacon and his Smokers, the Mariner and Helen clash with each other in classic pre-romantic fashion; she shoots a Smoker plane (piloted by Jack Black, no crazier than anyone else here) with a harpoon, among other costly mistakes, but eventually and predictably they bond. Similarly, after throwing the mouthy Enola overboard (she survives), the Mariner warms to her spunky ways and even teaches her to swim in a mushy slo-mo montage.

Kevin Costner in 'Waterworld'Deacon finally abducts Enola and takes her back to the Smokers' lair, which turns out to be the remains of the Exxon Valdez, complete with dwindling oil supply and a still-hanging portrait of Captain Joe Hazelwood (nice touch). As Deacon announces to his minions that Dryland is at hand -- he plans to cut the map off Enola's back -- the Mariner rolls up and there's a big showdown which doesn't quite settle things. Deacon attempts to re-kidnap the girl and the Mariner rescues her by bungee-jump, yet another of his quick-thinking exploits.

Eventually, the good guys reach Dryland, which turns out to be the green, green top of Mt. Everest, still above water, and one can't help but be affected at this point, even if it's just by the novelty of seeing them walking around on actual earth. But the Mariner, as his name implies, has no interest in acquiring landlegs and returns to his watery abode. The end.

The Good Stuff

• Dennis Hopper has a whale of a time as Deacon: "If you'll notice the arterial nature of the blood coming out of my head, you can assume we're having a real lousy day!" "Don't just stand there, kill something!" Fun!

• Some of the lingo (especially Deacon's): "I swear to Poseidon," "Oh fish rot," "go-juice" (oil), "gentleman guppy" (the Mariner)

• The good-looking scene in which the Mariner takes Helen down to a shipwreck on the ocean's floor via diving bell.

• Nice use of the "kiss of life," which the Mariner employs to keep Helen alive underwater, also an obvious aid to their romance.

• Enola is a pretty tough kid and there's not much gratuitous heart-string tugging.

• Some of the machines are pretty cool, though contraption fatigue sets in after a while.


The Bad Stuff
• It's all very silly and illogical (Why has humanity devolved into this ridiculous state? Where are the other mutants? This is far enough in the future for human-fish mutations, yet cigarette packs still exist?)

• The tone is uneven -- sometimes jokey, mostly not. Dialogue and characters are often cartoonish, which works for Hopper, but not so much the others.

• The generally clueless Helen -- frequently bug-eyed with mouth agape -- becomes tiresome, despite her attractiveness.

• Costner's dour Mariner, while understandably anti-social (being a mutant), is kind of a drag.

• It's hard to feel anything for any of the protagonists, even the kid.

• Despite impressive-looking action scenes, the movie is just not all that exciting.

• The heavy-handed soundtrack veers from generic perky adventure music to clichéd heavenly choruses.

All in all, 'Waterworld' pretty much lives up to its reputation as an overambitious folly (one wonders if Tripplehorn and Majorino ever discussed it on the set of HBO's 'Big Love'), but one that might be worth seeing for the late Hopper alone.
CATEGORIES Features