Directed by Kevin Reynolds and Kevin Costner (uncredited)
Produced by Kevin Costner, John Davis, Charles Gordon and Lawrence Gordon
Written by David Twohy
For those of you who don’t know me all that well you should know that I like to write a bit. And as a writer whenever I write a story I like to present the main character doing whatever it is they do best so that you as a reader know who they are and what they do right off. So if my main character is a teacher, the first scene they’re in is them teaching. If they’re a hotdog vendor the first scene they’re in is them serving a hotdog to a customer. If they’re a serial killer, the first scene they’re in is them…well, I think you get my meaning by now. So as a writer it didn’t instill me with a lot of confidence that the first scene of WATERWORLD has the main character peeing into a cup, recycling his own urine and then drinking it with lip-smacking gusto. I mean, that’s not exactly the best way to start off a post-apocalyptic action-adventure film. But that’s just me. And once you get past that scene, WATERWORLD is an okay time-waster. It’s no Academy Award winner but neither does it deserve the reputation it’s unfairly gotten as a terrible movie. It’s actually pretty good for what it is.
Sometime in the future the Earth is almost completely covered by water due to the polar ice caps melting. We’re never told why but we can assume that global warming is the culprit. Never mind that in order to so completely cover the entire planet with water would take more meting of ice that currently exists. Mankind lives on the water, in boats or on artificial islands called atolls. The Mariner (Kevin Costner) is a Trader, roaming the vast seas on his trimaran which as we see later on the movie is so tricked out with hidden weapons and gimmicks it qualifies as an aquatic version of The Batmobile.
He’s also an Ichthyosapien, a mutant with gills and webbed feet, able to breathe underwater. He shows up at an atoll with a bucket full of dry dirt. In this future time, dirt is more valuable and precious than gold (there’s a scene where a character eats a handful of dirt and apparently has an orgasm) His intention is just to trade but once he’s outed as a mutant he’s thrown into a cage and sentenced to death. Fortunately for him, The Deacon (Dennis Hopper) and his band of Smokers chose to attack the atoll. They’re called Smokers because they all constantly smoke cigarettes and they use vehicles that require fuel and give off clouds of black smoke. The Mariner is freed from his cage by Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and Enola (Tina Majorino) a little girl who has an odd tattoo on her back. It turns out that both Helen and The Deacon believe that the tattoo is a map that will lead to Dryland, which most inhabitants of Waterworld believe is a myth. Helen thinks that The Mariner has been to Dryland since nobody has ever seen anybody with so much dry dirt at one time.
The Mariner, Helen and Enola escape the attack on the atoll and set off to find Dryland for themselves with The Deacon and his band of Smokers in hot pursuit. And that’s about it. Considering the lengthy running time of the movie (136 minutes for the theatrical version and 176 minutes for The Director’s Cut) that’s not a lot of plot or story there. WATERWORLD could have been told in half that time with no problem. But it’s an okay action/adventure movie I think. I always tell people that they should use critic’s reviews as a guideline for what movies they want to see and if I went by what critics say I’d have never seen WATERWORLD. I saw it in the theater during its original theatrical run and I saw it again just the other day and my opinion of it is still the same: it’s an okay movie. I think way too much was made of its budget and it was unfairly regarded as a financial flop. But that’s for the accountants among you to salivate over. The rest of you want to hear about the movie itself.
I liked a lot of elements in WATERWORLD. It does a great job of convincing you that this story is taking place on a world covered by water. I myself love movies that show me a world I’ve never seen before and WATERWORLD succeeds on that level alone. Kevin Costner has done a better job of acting in other movies but he’s required to do nothing more here than be a stoic loner and he does it well. I loved his trimaran which for me qualifies as a character in its own right. There are several confrontations in the movie where The Mariner is up against The Smokers and it’s amazing how he handles his boat and the way it’s tricked out to enable him to fight them off or escape. I like Jeanne Tripplehorn a lot but I don’t like her character in this movie. I have constant arguments with people who say they hate Kate Capshaw as Willie Scott in “Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom” as they find her annoying but I say if you really want to see an annoying character then watch Jeanne Tripplehorn in this one. There’s several times when The Mariner threatens to throw her overboard and I was hoping he would do so.
Tina Majorino is a cute little package and its fun to watch her attempts to bond with The Mariner. And she has a great scene where she rattles one of the bad guys as she describes how The Mariner is going to rescue her and kill him. Dennis Hopper is always fun to watch and in this movie he does double duty: he’s not only the villain but he’s also the comedy relief as well and he’s more than up to the task of fulfilling both roles. His one-liners in this movie never fail to crack me up and I half suspect he ad-libbed most of them.
So should you see WATERWORLD? It’s usually dismissed as nothing more than an ocean-based remake of “The Road Warrior” and I can see that plainly. And for myself, I would have liked to have learned more about how people live on this world that’s covered by water where dirt and paper are treated the way we now treat gold and silver. But the whole concept of a world covered by water is simply there to hang on an action/adventure story that just as easily could have been told in The Old West or even in modern times. And the plot holes are big enough to make you scream: where do the Smokers get all their ammunition from? Their cigarettes? How do they process raw oil into gasoline to power their boats and jet skis? This isn’t a movie you watch if you expect answers to these questions. Instead, sit back and enjoy the spectacular action sequences. And they are spectacular. WATERWORLD is one of those movies where you watch and say; “how the hell did they film that?” It’s an okay action/adventure that doesn’t deserve the reputation it has. It’s not that it’s a bad movie so much as that it’s longer than it really needs to be.