Monday, May 14, 2012

Waterworld (1995)

Title: Waterworld (1995)

Director: Kevin Reynolds, Kevin Costner

Cast: Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino, Michael Jeter                       


So I couldn’t end my ‘post apocalyptic blog-a-thon’ without reviewing Waterworld; the most expensive post apocalyptic movie EVER made. It’s right up there with other huge budget post apocalyptic films like I Am Legend (2007) and Costner’s own The Postman (1997), so in essence, Waterworld is actually king of all post apocalyptic movies, at least in terms of how much it cost to make. This was to be ‘Mad Max on Water’, in my book that’s a pretty exciting concept, best of all they perfectly achieved it! This was The Road Warrior at Sea!  In scale, Waterworld is bigger than any other post apocalyptic film out there to date. This was a film that cost 175 million dollars to make and it was the most expensive film that had ever been made at the time; period! Sadly, even though so much time, man power, money and efforts went into making this particular picture, it didn’t make as much money as expected, and so it was deemed a box office flop. It made its money back (255 million when all was said and done) but not enough to call it a winner. Kind of the same thing that happened to The Golden Compass (2007), huge budget, made its money back, but not enough; not what the studio was expecting. Waterworld was considered a failure upon release. But why? Was the film as bad as some of the press it was getting? Why was it getting so much bad press?

My professional opinion on Waterworld is that it in fact does not suck. In fact, I salute Kevin Reynolds for having shot this film, making this film was one hell of a task! I was re-watching it last night with some of my friends and we were having a blast with it. We all agreed, the millions spent on the film where up there on the screen, I mean you could see the nearly 200 million dollars it cost to make. There’s this extended action sequence where the villains known as The Smokers, attack the main atoll that is one exquisitly well orchestrated action sequence! It includes hundreds of extras, jet skis jumping in the air, explosions, boats, machine guns, they even had planes flying all over the place! They certainly pulled out all stops on that one. Normally, we as an audience just think “wow, cool stuff!” but sometimes we don’t even think about all the hard work and logistics that go into organizing a scene like that one. To complicate matters, everything was literally shot in the ocean; a mile off the coast of Hawaii. So we’re not talking about a fake CGI ocean in the background, this was the real ocean! Director Kevin Reynolds was to have an experience with nature while making this film, a la german director Werner Herzog, who also films most of his films in real locations under the most strenuos circumstances. Reynolds was going to make a tough movie, out in the wild, but it was going to be an experience! Making a movie out in the open sea was one of the main factors that made making this film such an arduous task.

When the time came to make this movie, Reynolds asked Steven Spielberg who’d shot most of Jaws (1975) in the open sea, about the pitfalls one might expect when shooting a film on open water. Spielberg’s answer? “I would never shoot another picture on water” But Reynolds went and did his picture in the ocean anyway, this wouldn’t be the first time Reynolds’s confronted problems while  making a film, but then again, making a good film is never an easy task. Problems are someting you simply have to overcome when making a movie. For example: catastrophe started from day one, when the two main actresses in the film (Jeanne Tripplehorn and Tina Majorino) almost drowned when a boat sank and dragged them down into the ocean with them! A major set actually sank into the ocean! They had to stop production on three occasions because of Hurricane warnings. There was also some on set hostility because crew members didn’t have comfortable accommodations. Rumors where running around that two stunt men had died while shooting an action scene, which was never true! In other words, this production was a genuine, true blue, cluster fuck of a production. The result? Kevin Reynolds abandoned the picture and Kevin Costner himself ended up directing part of it. The final cut of the film was not overseen by Kevin Reynolds, creative differences frustrated the director so much he left it in other peoples hands to finish the picture. Reportedly, Reynolds and Costner had differences on the way things should be done. According to IMDB, Reynolds felt that Kevin Costner “should only star in films he directs, that way he can work with his favorite actor and director” Since then, Costner and Reynolds have put all that animosity behind them, but during and after Waterworld things got ugly between them. 

But in spite of all these production woes, I’d say they got away with making an excellent post apocalyptic action adventure, one of the best ones out there when we come down to it. I need to go on right here and speak about this films production values, which are amazing. Great steps where taking to build the sets, the post apocalyptic vehicles and make all that post apocalyptic wardrobe for all those actors, I mean this was a huge production! They even had an army of jet skies! Everything on this film was made especially for it, this alone represents a gargantuan task. But aside from this films amazing production values, we also get a great cast and interesting (albeit not always likable) characters. Same as in Dances With Wolves (1990), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) and The Postman (1997), on Waterworld Kevin Costner plays a rebellious leader, only on this one he is a hero against his will, an anti-hero of sorts. I saw this character as representing the loner, surviving in this cruel world, trying the best he can to look out for no one but himself. Can’t say I blame him considering the kind of world he lives in: one completely engulfed by water! No dry land to be seen! This guy is so tough that he doesn’t even have a name; through out the film he is simply called ‘The Mariner’. He hates kids, and doesn’t want the responsibility of having one. Basically, he comes off as a major butthole through the whole film, but of course, as any true hero would, he soon learns to show his tender side. Deep down inside, in spite of his apparent selfishness, he cares. So we get the true definition of the anti-hero. Like Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China (1986), The Mariner is a loner, and remains one through out the entire picture. He loves ‘em and leaves ‘em; he’s true love is really the ocean.  

Speaking of the ocean, the waters are dominated by a group of villains called the smokers, lead by a dictator called ‘The Deacon’ a man who believes that everything should be run on oil, that humanities problems are solved through war and devastation.;  he believes in ruling over the masses as if they were cattle. His modus operandi is lies and manipulation. All he cares about is finding the mythical dry land, so he can exploit it! He tells the people he receives visions so great, that when he sees them he cries, which is all bullcrap of course. So we get a great villain with The Deacon, as played by the always amusing Dennis Hopper. On this one Hopper is in crazy mode, being evil even to little girls! This is something that’s kind of amusing about this movie, the little girl in the film called Enola (Alone backwards), has a map tattooed to her back, and she’s kind of like the prophesized child or whatever, but everyone treats her like crap! Especially The Deacon who tells her things like “He’ll see what’s left of you in a goddamn jar!” and “How about a cigarette? Nothing like a good smoke when you miss your mom, it’s never too late to start” So we get an amusing villain, one that represents the worst in government. And yeah, this is a film that hits on dictatorships and the dirty nature of politics. The Deacon is a leader who puts on a show, as if he was the peoples savior, but deep down inside all he cares about is using the people to achieve his twisted purposes. He sees dry land as something to be exploited to the max, so at the end of the day, Waterworld is a very environmentalist picture. The villains on this film sail around on an oil tanker called ‘The Exxon Valdez’, an allusion to the Exxon Valdez environmental catastrophe. It seemed to me that the filmmakers behind Waterworld see these oil hungry companies as villains; enemies to the environment who should sink to the darkest levels of hell. The villains in the picture represent a society (much like ours) that’s completely reliant on the black blood of the earth. So Waterworld can be added to this batch of films that begs the powers that be to find and develop a new, cleaner form of energy; one that doesn’t place so much stress on our planet.

So what we got here ladies and gentlemen is a film that got a lot of bad press before it even got out. Not sure exactly why this happened, could it be that both films speak about environmental issues and bash on the way the governments of the world are running things? Could it be that fictional bad press is created to bring these types of movies down? This kind of situation kind of reminds me of what happened to John Carter (2012), another environmentally friendly film, that spoke about a new form of cleaner energy, and that also criticized governments and society. It also got bad press even before release and it wasnt even a bad film. Maybe the powers that be want films of this nature to flop so the create bad press around them? Things to think about, it wouldnt be the first time that the publics opinion is manipulated by the powers that be. Ultimately, sometimes people like to see the big guy go down, in fact, they love seeing it happen. Just look at Britney Spears, she was big for a while, then she was shot down by the very same people who made her. People love bad news more than good news. Reynolds himself said in an interview he did for Den of “People were so hungry for bad news, because it was so much more exciting. They just said it, and it hurt us” Reynolds own take on Waterworld? “I don’t think it’s any better or worse than most summer blockbusters, it’s somewhere in the middle. I think yeah, it’s certainly got its faults, but I think, you know, on another level it works quite well compared to some of the other big films. By the end, people, they wanted it to be a disaster. And in fact, Lou Wasserman, who was head of MCA at the time, he said that he thought the bad press on the picture cost us 50 million at the box office.” So folks, after all is said and done, the evidence tells us that Waterworld was unfortunately a film that for some reason the press chose to kill, same as many celebrities they zero in on and whose careers and lives they destroy. I say this film needs to be given a second chance and seen for what it was never seen as upon its original release: an enjoyable action adventure flick, and one of the most impressive post apocalyptic films ever made. By the way, I recommend checking out the director's cut, it makes for a more epic and complete viewing experience. 

Rating: 4 out of 5   



Alex Jowski said...

Good job giving this film some of the positive attention it deserves. It's a decent movie but most people just brush it off because of how notorious a flop it was at the box office. I suppose "Road Warrior" on water was just too high concept for audiences at the time.

Franco Macabro said...

Thing is that it wasnt even that big of a flop because it actually made its money back, it just didnt make as many millions as they expected when everything was taken into account.

I dont know, I saw it again last night and had a blast with it, made me miss the good old days when things where done practically; on camera, know what I mean? That's one of the things I loved most about this movie, how much of it was done right there on the set.

Unknown said...

Oh my god, finally someone else out there likes Waterworld! I thought I was the only one!

Franco Macabro said...

You aint alone JP, Waterworld is fun times, epic, loud, bombastic, and funny, I mean, The Deacon had me howling every time he spoke. "Dont just stand there...KILL SOMETHING!"

Jack Thursby said...

Yeah, I have a lot of nostalgia for Waterworld. It was fun 90s blockbuster. Very reminiscent of Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior though.

I don't think it was entirely necessary to make Costner's character such an a$$hole to everyone but I guess he just wanted to try something new.

You're right, critics just picked on it because of the huge budget and lengthy running time. They did the same thing with Green Lantern and Avatar and John Carter recently.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, but Green Lantern deserved it in my book, to me that one was terrible.

I'm not sure why they went with the whole asshole mode thing, but I think it was to show how long he'd been living on his own. I guess the point they were trying to make was that after someones been living alone for so long, they tend to hate changes, they tend to hate people suddenly invading their lives because they are so used to their loneliness. Or maybe they really wanted to go with the whole anti-hero thing?

Jack Thursby said...

Yeah, I haven't seen Green Lantern yet, I just know critics rarely like a film that has had difficulties behind the scenes or large budgets. They feel the need to bring the film down regardless of its quality.

You're probably right. It does make sense that the Mariner would be anti-social after being on his own for so long. It a nice place to start a character arc but it's also quite jarring after watching Costner play such a decent guy in Dances with Wolves and Prince of Thieves.

Definitely putting this on the re-watch pile after reading this review.

Franco Macabro said...

Green Lanterns pretty disastrous, I didnt even muster the strengths to write about be the judge!


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