"Roads to hell are paved with good intentions". This old proverb should come to mind when we remember Waterworld, 1995 science fiction epic directed by Kevin Reynolds. What was supposed to be the post-apocalyptic drama with strong environmentalist message turned into monument to Hollywood's megalomania, embodied in its main actor, producer and co-director Kevin Costner. Two years of production, plagued by various accidents, constant re-scheduling and bad publicity, resulted in the budget that reached skyrocketing 175 million US$ - a record sum for 1995 - and widespread belief that the film, regardless of its potential popularity, simply can't turn profit. This impending disaster was partially prevented by US movie critics that greeted this film with surprising levels of enthusiasm. In the end, Waterworld didn't turn out to be commercial disaster (mostly due to non-USA markets), but the career of Kevin Costner took a huge dive and any time someone tries to make ridiculously expensive film in Hollywood people compare it to Waterworld.
The plot is set in distant future. The global warming has caused polar ice caps to melt and sea levels have risen, flooding the entire Earth. The civilisation is lost under the sea, and the remaining humans are trying to survive on ships and man-made atolls. One of them is Mariner (played by Kevin Costner), mutant who is able to breathe under water. He spends all time sailing alone with his trimaran and occasionally bartering scavenged goods with people on atolls. But his solitary existence is going to be changed after one of the atolls get attacked by evil "Smokers", pirates equipped with jet skis and armed with automatic weapons. Mariner reluctantly agrees to shelter two women on his small ship - former bartender Helen (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn) and her adopted daughter Enola (played by Tina Majorino). Soon it turns out that Deacon, the leader of "Smokers" wants to lay his hands on Enola - tattoo on her back represents the map that leads towards mythical place called Dryland.
It seems that US critics, despite their lamentations about the sad state of Hollywood, seem to be addicted on summer blockbusters. Concern for the future of such films is one of the explanations why Waterworld initially got such positive reviews (and some of them even forced one of Croatian "critics" to call this film a masterpiece). Any critic with an integrity would put this film where it belongs - to the bottom of 1990s Hollywood production - and no sympathy towards Costner (who paid a heavy toll for taking part in this endeavour, losing family and friends) or fear for the future of Hollywood should cloud the objective judgement.
Flaws of Waterworld are caused less by the harsh conditions of the production and more by the concept that was bad from the beginning. Scriptwriters Peter Rader and David N. Twohy weren't sure whether they are making the serious environmentalist movie that paints the bleak future of mankind or simple post-apocalyptic action adventure. In the hands of director Reynolds (and his soon-to-be-ex friend Costner) this turned into unintentional parody of both sub-genres. The scientific credentials of the script are compromised at the start - the whole premise doesn't have much to do with a scientific facts; there simply isn't enough water in ice caps to raise sea to the levels that would wipe out entire civilisation. After that, the plot holes continue to pile – for example, in a world where a simple piece of dirt became the most precious commodity there is enough fuel, ammunition, automatic weapons and cigarettes to supply an entire army for decades. With scientific credentials gone, environmentalist message, which is given with a subtlety of an elephant in a glass store (good guys use sails and live in harmony with nature; bad guys poison our atmosphere with fossil fuel and have infamous "Exxon Valdez" supertanker as their base of operations), is compromised beyond repair. What we are left with is the series of action scenes that are somewhat entertaining at the beginning, only to become utterly boring and predictable long before the second hour of the film. Those scenes are even worse after being subjected to really poor editing that leaves huge plot holes and continuity problems.
The acting also leaves much to be desired. Costner is capable in his role of Mariner, but everyone else only fills the screen time as uninteresting or formulaic character (which is especially evident with Jeanne Tripplehorn, whose sex appeal doesn't particularly suit a PG-13 adventure film). Dennis Hopper is, on the other hand, definitely over the top as formulaic villain. Musical score by James Newton Howard is fine, but even those sounds can't help the bad impression given by Waterworld sights. Those who watch this film finally have a rare opportunity to watch Hollywood product that lived to its expectations. Unfortunately, the expectations for Waterworld were bad.
RATING: 2/10 (-)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies.reviews on October 18h 2001)
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Movie URL: https://www.themoviedb.org/movie/9804-waterworld?language=en-US