”Fantastic … A Great Film!” says the DVD sleeve, quoting one Chris Evans. If it’s the same Chris Evans who plays the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies, then I’m not surprised at his youthful enthusiasm since he was a mere fourteen years old in 1995. Okay, so it’s probably not that Chris Evans. Regardless, Waterworld is most certainly neither fantastic nor a great film. In fact, it is barely watchable. I saw it when it came out, and haven’t seen it again until now. Being sadly unable to keep my hands off anything remotely sci-fi-like, I bought this DVD when I stumbled across a cheap disc. And now that campy mega-talent Dennis Hopper has left God’s green Earth, I thought it was time to get a load of him in Waterworld once more. Do you sense the words “big mistake” coming on?
God, this movie is bad! I recently gave Space Truckers (1996) a positive review, affectionately calling it a Mad Max-in-space type of story. Well, Waterworld is, as it has indeed become known, Mad Max-on-the-water, but there’s nothing to be affectionate about here. The movie is a lumbering piece of nonsense, some clueless leftover from an era (known as “the ‘80s”) that could at least keep its tongue firmly planted in its cheek when doing trash like this, thus making it entertaining to watch for the outlandish acting and the sheer absurdity of the concepts. Fortunately, Waterworld has Dennis Hopper to pull it in the right direction, but, less fortunately, his role is too small and the movie is too bloated for him to do much good.
The plot revolves around “dry land”. You see, we’re in a future where the continents have sunk into the ocean, and a few survivors are living on “atolls” – pieces of driftwood and other flotsam tied together into little floating communities. We don’t hear how long it’s been since the land got swallowed up by the sea, but dry land has become a legend, and (almost) nobody has ever seen it, nor knows what happened. And yet, some of the characters seem remarkably well informed, both about science and about how to control various bits of worn technology. The human survivors seem to sustain themselves on trading with each other, and they hardly ever get anything to eat. Living on the ocean and all, you’d think they would dabble in fishing, wouldn’t you, but you’d be wrong! In this entire movie we see or hear about no fish at all, except for some (I assume) mutated monster thingy.
Kevin Costner plays the mutated “Mariner”, a gilled “Ichtyo sapiens” (a “wise fish”? You’d have thought he would be a Homo aquaticus, but…) with webbed feet. He is grim and gritty and generally unsociable, and he basically stays that way. Also saves him from having to act too much. He ends up with a woman and a little girl on his boat, who talk about dry land a lot. The kid has a map tattooed on her back which is supposed to show the way there, if only anyone could read it. The Mariner, being naturally acquatic, has no interest in dry land (although for the first half of the movie he drags out the plot by just pretending that he does), but his little family unit is chased by a big gang of marauding “smokers” who live on the Exxon Valdez oil tanker and love to go jetskiing. Far enough out for you…? And so it goes. What happens thereafter is exactly as you expect.
The cardinal sin of the movie is that it is dull. It is trying to be lighthearted in places, but it never succeeds. The characters are uncharismatic, the story leaves you blank-eyed and indifferent, and very few of the details work. Look, I’m going to reveal a spoiler here. The tattoed map is upside down!!! So all the people who tried to decipher it by making paper copies of it never once thought to just turn it around?! Aaarrgh! You call this a plot?!
This was surely the most expensive bad movie ever made in its day – even if it was surpassed only three years later by Armageddon.
My DVD is strictly bare-bones, with no extras except a trailer and static actor biographies. It has come to my awareness that there is actually an extended 176 minute version of this movie out, you know, just for those buggers who felt that the 135 minutes of the original cut wasn’t enough already. Well, better them than me.
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Cast: Kevin Costner, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Dennis Hopper, and others
Runtime: 135 min.