In 1991, Kevin Costner walked away from his directorial debut DANCES WITH WOLVES with seven Academy Awards, and would soon to taste even more critical and commercial success in the very same year. JFK, in my eyes, features the single best 20 minutes of acting ever committed to celluloid. This comes during Costner’s powerful, one-shot speech in the closing stages of Oliver Stone’s conspiracy thriller. His other movie that year was ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, which made us all laugh at his American-accented hero. His take on the legendary outlaw was still pure popcorn fun, making the actor a fully-fledged superstar.
Fast forward four years and Costner was now a big box-office draw. However, WATERWORLD soon surfaced, bringing with it a whole lot of trouble. Reuniting with his ROBIN HOOD director and close friend Kevin Reynolds, Costner was about to headline the most expensive film (at that point) in cinematic history. With word of serious problems on-set between director and star, the project was plagued with one disaster after another (expensive sets lost in a storm, numerous script rewrites, Reynolds storming off half way through the project leaving Costner to complete the film on his own – to name only a few). WATERWORLD was sunk from the outset.
Tagged with the moniker ‘MAD MAX on water’ – which is pretty much spot on – the film is essentially a remake of George Miller’s classic sequel THE ROAD WARRIOR. The post-apocalyptic (waste)landscapes of Miller’s Aussie actioner are replaced by that of the dreamy blue ocean.
This being our ‘guilty pleasures’ month, the finished product was over-the-top brilliance, that you can’t help but revel in its incoherent absurdity. Epic in scale, state-of-the-art stunt work and special effects, and with a supporting cast seemingly giving us full-tilt fun. If you’re unable to enjoy the spectacle of this literal ‘fish-out-of-water-tale’, you’re more of a sour puss than Dr Seuss’ Grinch, or worse, a lead TWILIGHT actress (naming no names).
In a nifty set-up, the iconic Universal logo shows the globe’s icecaps melting and covering the planet in water. It’s a masterstroke. The opening scene even has the cheek to show its star drinking his own piss. Filtered of course – this is WATERWORLD after all, not WATER-SPORTS WORLD. ‘The search for dry land never tasted so good,’ should perhaps read the tagline.
Costner’s Mariner is a drifter who comes across more than a little fishy. Living day-to-day on his gadget-filled kayak, trading the most useless items for food and fresh water with the pirates of the ocean, dirt being as valuable as gold. The fact Mariner has a significant amount casts suspicion on those living on these floating cities. Has he been to the mythic dry land, and if so can he show others the way?
His selfish, ruthless streak soon gives way to goodhearted vengeance when his new ‘friend’, a little girl named Enola (Tina Majorino), is kidnapped by Dennis Hopper’s Deacon, who believes the tattoo on her back is a map showing the way to dry land. This occurs after Mariner pimps out her guardian, (played by Jeanne Triplehorn), to Kim Coates’ memorable psycho, whose been at sea far too long. Only coming to her aid when Coates’ fellow drifter starts getting a little too rough. A not-so-good role model is our Kev to begin with.
The finale is balls-to-the-wall brilliant, with Costner playing it straight while everyone else around him is practically giving us a nod and a wink with each line or stunt delivered. Also, the action is exactly what cinema was made for. I remember catching WATERWORLD on the big-screen back when I was 15 and loving every minute; being unaware of the problems behind-the-scenes, may have played a major part in my enjoyment. Still, for those that dis the film for being insanely over-budget and a mess, I’ll say this: every time I catch it, I find it brings back those memories, reinforcing why I spend so much time at the flicks – pure escapism. Even the guy tasked with digitally restoring Costner’s full head of hair deserves a mention. Yes, that really happened too.
I also got to live the dream by visiting Universal Studios’ WATERWORLD theme park live show in California. A truly awesome spectacle it is too!
To see our other guilty pleasures, click here