Friday Five: Nice Things
Fiction: 'The Conquest of America' by Cleveland Moffett

Films of High Adventure: Waterworld

WaterwoldThe Film: Waterworld (1995)

Responsibility Roundup: We usually start this section with the director and writer or writers, but real talk here, we all know there’s only one person to blame for this turkey of the sea, and that’s Kevin Costner. Not only does he “act” in the film, but he reportedly sunk millions of his own money into the film as producer and backseat-directed the whole damn thing. Tempting though it surely is to hold Costner fully accountable, we must nevertheless give credit where credit is due to the rest of the cast and crew—after all, there’s plenty of guilt to spread around.

Kevin Reynolds directed, though he really should have known better after working with Costner on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The script was apparently re-written three dozen times, but final credit went to David Twohy of the Chronicles of Riddick franchise and a dude named Peter Rader whose sole previous credit was a mid-nineties remake of Escape to Witch Mountain. Joss Whedon allegedly did some last minute rewrites, and the movie’s certainly bad enough to make this sound plausible. Supporting roles by Dennis Hopper (Blue Velvet, Easy Rider, and the Super Mario Bros. movie), Jeanne Tripplehorn (Basic Instinct, Big Love), a bunch of character actors, a youngish Jack Black, and Tina Majorino (Veronica Mars) as the kid.

Quote: “Nothing’s free in Waterworld.”

Alternate quote: “Well, I'll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy. You know, he’s like a turd that won’t flush.”

First viewing by Jesse: Last Sunday.

First viewing by Molly: In the theatre! So… 1995?

Most recent viewing by both: Last Sunday.

Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Nil. Even at thirteen years old I saw that trailer and was like, Kevin Costner in a wet and weedy Mad Max rip-off?

See, I knew better on account of the Cost. Like many an unfortunate kid of my age, I was subjected to some random adult returning from the video store, waving a clamshell VHS case and saying, “hey, I know how much you liked Beetlejuice, so I got something with ghosts in it! And baseball!” Fuck Field of Dreams, and fuck the Costner-faced horse it limped in on.

Impact on Molly’s childhood development: Impact? Pretty negligible… I mean, I saw it, I think in the theatre, and my friend Heather and I were highly entertained by things like “SMEAT” and Dennis Hopper raising his eyepatch rag and saying “I’LL KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR HIM” etc etc etc.

Also, I think I remember being impressed by the OMG IT WAS THE EXXON VALDEZ!! reveal? I was young. Don’t judge me.

Random YouTube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:


Jesse’s thoughts prior to watching: In the immortal words of Jon Polito in The Crow, “Oh, shit. Oh, shit on me… shit on me. Shit! On! Me!” 

I was less than enthused, is the idea here. There’s a reason I made it this long without watching Waterworld, but since I recently turned the same age as Jesus when he took that long walk to Golgatha I really should’ve been expecting something like this. And lo, I shall martyr myself on Fishtar aka Kevin’s Gate, so that you won’t have to. Flowers and restorative blu-rays of The Road Warrior can be forwarded to my cave. Founding a faith or two in my honor doesn’t seem to be over-reaching, given the magnitude of the sacrifice I’m about to make.

Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: “Muahahahahaha!! REVENGE!!”

Cruel? Maybe. Call the cops, I don’t give a [what!]. Yeah, see, courtesy my ignorance of post-Hitchcock to pre-90s cinema, Jesse has shown me a zillion horrible flicks over the years, including the execrable Ladyhawke, which we did for Films of High Adventure, and sub-par offerings like The Cannonball Run, The Curse, and House of 1000 Corpses (there were maybe—MAYBE—ten corpses in that movie) just for shits and giggles, so I figured it was high time for me to delight in being a consummate stinker.

Let this be a lesson to you all. I don’t strike hard, or often, but when I do… it’s deadly.

Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Blurgh. So this movie isn’t just as bad as its reputation. It may actually be worse. It’s got better production values, effects, and supporting performances than I anticipated, but these factors only served to make the film even less enjoyable—what could have been a so-bad-it’s-good cheese-fest is doomed by its own occasional, floundering semi-adequacy. If Krull was a metaphorical sausage, Waterworld is a clumsily assembled grocery store sushi roll, one that’s been disgraced with a heavy dollop of cream cheese and then rolled off the mat, landing in a puddle of rat urine on the unmopped kitchen floor. And then a cockroach throws up on it, because fuck this movie.

That said, it could’ve been worse. Dennis the Hopper is clearly having a good time as the villainous Deacon. Unlike most of the cast, he seems to have figured out early on exactly how shitty this movie was going to be and made the sound decision to camp it up—“Wait,” says the Hopper, chewing a peyote button, “Gary Busey passed on this role? Holy shitbats, it’s time to step up my game!” Because Costner is such an unbelievably awful actor himself, he probably never even noticed that Dennis wasn’t taking the assignment seriously.

Other than the Hopper, though, it’s just so damn boring. It’s almost impressive how dull the lengthy action sequences are; if anything, these epic battles and marine chase scenes are even drearier than the endless stretches of Costner being idly mean to the woman and young girl on his tricked-out boat. Vast as the Waterworld itself are the stretches of time when nothing happens, but whenever something does break the monotony you invariably wish it had not.

Normally I could at least take some small satisfaction in dismantling such a cinematic disaster, but even that pyrrhic victory is denied me here—the overwhelming banality of Waterworld has sapped everything from me, even my bile, leaving me little more than a man-shaped golem constructed entirely of soggy bread and hardboiled egg whites. Yes, I can make the easy crack about how impressive it is that the effects team managed to repeatedly submerge Costner when he is clearly made of balsa or some similarly buoyant wood, but I take no pleasure in the observation. I feel… nothing.

I give up. Not just on this review, but maybe on everything.

Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Wow, so actually Waterworld is not nearly as bad as I remember. Sure, it’s a terrible, bloated mess of joyless acting, limp plotting, and questionable worldbuilding, but it also has Dennis Hopper shouting at his posse of interchangeable “Smokers” (because oil but also because they smoke cigarettes, improbably) to do stuff like buzz around on Sea-Doos and water-ski off ramps. So, not a total loss. Time, and fondness for my memories of the hand-wringing over Waterworld’s budget that somehow made it into the 90s news cycle lends this disaster a certain charm, actually. Plus, limited CGI meant a bunch of the sets and props looked pretty great, if oddly uniform in their brownness.

I for one did not remember the surprisingly overt “Christians (specifically) are to blame for global warming and overpopulation” message of Waterworld, but man, between that and the movie’s beef with smoking makes it a consummate 90s flick. I’d retained but a few memories from my one and only viewing of Waterworld: the aforementioned SMEAT, the Smokers’ worship of Captain Joe Hazelwood, Kevin Costner peeing into a bottle and then drinking it, Kevin Costner in a crow cage, slowly sinking into a pit of yellow oatmeal that has some sort of debatable purpose for human survival, and the woman character offering her body to Kevin Costner ahem I mean “Mariner” as I suppose I should call him, in order to save the girl. And them finding land based on the map on Enola’s back. Also the trip beneath the sea. Yeah, that was about it.

As it turns out… that’s all that happens? I mean, these events are loosely tied together by something almost like a plot. The villain is taken down a full half hour before the end of the movie, for goodness’ sake. Roger Ebert’s quip, “I'll remember some of the sights in Waterworld for a long time. But I won't necessarily want to see them again,” rang pretty true as far as my experience, is what I’m saying.

In the end, both times I’ve watched Waterworld, making fun of it was at least (if not more) fun than the movie itself. The wracked face Jesse made when I remarked that “Waterworld was basically if Kurosawa made Pirates of the Caribbean” will stay with me for a long time. Longer than what actually happens over the course of Waterworld, which I have already forgotten. Again.

High Points: Dennis Hopper having a Caul Shivers moment with his new eye. Realizing Enola’s quest for Dryland ends with her becoming Napoleon Dynamite’s girlfriend. Jesse’s “dog at bathtime expression” as his wife Raechel unapologetically cheered through the entire thing—a veteran fan of such films as ConAir, Face/Off, Armageddon, and other 90s blockbuster schlock I (Molly) knew she’d love it. My husband making random comments about how sailors should be able to "judge the depth of water by its color" (?) and thus somehow impugning either Costner's shipmastery or the film, it's not clear.

Low points: Everything else.

Final Verdict:

Jesse sez: crap on a crap cracker. With a side of crap dipping sauce.

Molly sez: Huzzargh!

Next Time: Just in time for all you Hardy Boys, Hardy Girls, and Everybody Else Who Appreciates the Brilliance of Tom Hardy, we’re going back to the source of Fury Road… almost. Instead of covering the original Mad Max, we’ll be doing The Road Warrior, because wouldn’t you?