Hollywood has figured something out, which is that even if you spend a shit-ton of money on a film, that in and of itself can attract an audience. It’s hard to look at the relative success of Waterworld at the box office as anything more than rubbernecking on the freeway, and it was worthwhile for many who had grown tired of Kevin Costner. My review of Waterworld after the jump.
Though somewhat stiff at times, Costner was the leading man of the late 80′s, even more so than Tom Cruise, with his sexual charisma and aw-shucks charm. No Way Out, The Untouchables, Bull Durham, and Field of Dreams said “hey world, check me out.” Then came Dances with Wolves, which won him a couple of Oscars, defeating the (now seen as obviously superior) Goodfellas. Some resentment sets in with success and the oddball A Perfect World, and the terrible Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves did him no favors. Then came Waterworld, one of the most expensive films ever made. As it turns out (as Steven Spielberg would attest), shooting on water is a demanding process, and the film had the bad fortune to be made during hurricane season, mean sets were lost and construction had to begin again. The film was called Fishtar by the meanest of the press, but people went anyway (it was also a less-than summer).
Kevin Costner stars as The Mariner, who is introduced in a sequence where he drinks his own (purified) urine. He’s a loner, and doesn’t like people, only does business with them by trading. But he has a reason for keeping away because he’s a mutant (he has gills), and people don’t truck with that. There are bad guys in “the smokers” which are headed up by Dennis Hopper’s Deacon, a nasty guy who likes to smoke and uses oil. In the mid-90′s environmentalism wasn’t in full swing but it would make appearances in films like this. It turns out that regular humans Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and her not-daughter Enola (Tina Majorino) may have a map to dry land. The Smokers catch wind of this, and the chase is on.
Shooting on water surely limits one’s choices for filmmaking, and it’s fair to say occasionally you get the sense of the rousing swashbuckling adventure Waterworld is meant to be, but as Nathan Rabin noted in his entry on this in My Year of the Flops, Costner’s sullen character drains way too much fun out of what is meant to be a fun adventure yarn. Costner fairs better in The Postman, the film that Waterworld should have been. But here he’s a lead weight, and the comic flair of such moments where Costner sells off Tripplehorn’s body for stuff is not redeemed by her not actually being raped. Director Kevin Reynolds had a hell of a time on the picture, and Costner – the Academy award winning director – was surely a nuisance.
This is Costner in the bad time, but I like who Costner has become in the interim. He’s mellowed and likeable now; even if Swing Vote was a misfire from word go. But watching this, that sense of Costner’s hubris comes back like a sense memory.
Universal presents the film on Blu-ray in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS 5.1 HD. The transfer is excellent, as to be expected. The film looks its age, but there’s nothing wrong with the transfer, and the surround track could be described as aggressive. Extras are limited to the film’s theatrical trailer.