THN’s Guilty Pleasures: Waterworld

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

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Craig was our great north east correspondent, proving that it’s so ‘grim up north’ that losing yourself in a world of film is a foregone prerequisite. He has been studying the best (and often worst) of both classic and modern cinema at the University of Life for as long as he can remember. Craig’s favorite films include THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, JFK, GOODFELLAS, SCARFACE, and most of John Carpenter’s early work, particularly THE THING and HALLOWEEN.


  1. Matt

    August 3, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Wicked article! I love Waterworld. It’s a lot of stupid fun. Just like prince of thieves. I even quite enjoyed The Postman.

    One comment though…the sequel to “The Road Warrior” would be Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome. Which was pants. The Road Warrior was the second Mad Max film…

  2. Craig Hunter

    August 3, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Much appreciated Matt, glad you liked my article and you were right about The Road Warrior, but was just typo, fixed now. Thanks again

  3. Luke Ryan Baldock

    August 3, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    This is why I couldn’t possibly contribute to Guilty Pleasures, I have no guilt for loving any of these films. I owned both the junior and adult novelizations of this film. I was in primary school and we would have to read outside by ourselves to the teacher once a week. I took in the adult novelization and the word “piss” came up. I quickly changed it to “peepee” as I read aloud. Quick thinking for a 10 year old.

    I also painted a portrait of Dennis Hopper as Deacon for art class, but my teacher through it out because I painted him after he loses his eye and my teacher thought I had just had a tantrum and ruined the painting. Dick.

    I haven’t watched it for years, and a few years ago I knew I recognised the Pilot in the classic episode of Father Ted ‘Flight Into Terror’. It was Gerard Murphy who plays Nord in Waterworld, and would later go on the play Judge Faden in Batman Begins.

    Also, look out for a brief early performance by Jack Black.

    Have I shared too much?

  4. John Sharp

    August 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    I recall Ms Triplehorn having quite the effect on me when I was younger. Then a one eye’d Dennis Hopper pops up. This was my first experience of Boner-Roulette.

  5. melonman

    August 27, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    Wasn’t there a soft focus shot of horses when they find dry land at the end a la Damnation Alley-style instant paradise? Cheese doesn’t get any smellier.

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