Plagued by the loss of a very expensive set because of the weather and responsible for the falling out between the Kevins Costner and Reynolds to the extent the latter was apparently fired, I’ve always thought this film was very unfairly maligned.
The criticism I remember the most was of it being ‘ Mad Max on the water’, and I still don’t think it’s a valid criticism – how many truly original movies are there? In the wake of the Die Hard -inspired ‘terrorists overtake a…’ we had lone heroes defeating bands of suave Eurotrash killers on everything from trains (Under Siege 2) to airports (Die Hard 2: Die Harder).
It’s an unashamedly commercial movie, and no less enjoyable for it. Part of the continual ribbing is the spiraling budget that made the film infamous before it had even been released, the massive rewrites and creative direction changes and the assumption to this day that it underperformed badly (in fact a check of the figures reveals it fell just short of a profit, almost doubling its money).
Riffing on the fear of global warming long before Al Gore stepped up with An Inconvenient Truth, Waterworld is – as the iconic Universal ident shows us – a drowned Earth, rising seawater having covered the land.
The survivors eke out a nomadic, lawless existence in ships, occasionally meeting to trade, fight and steal from each other. One of them is the strong, silent Mariner (Costner), who comes across a floating township intending nothing more than to stock up his provisions and move on.
But it’s easy to make enemies, and when he provides one of the most valuable commodities (dirt) to trade, he attracts too much attention and is taken prisoner. When they discover the mutated gills that allow him to survive underwater, they decide to execute him.
But when the pretty Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and her young charge Enola see him as their ticket out, they spring him in return for passage aboard his ship.
As they’re making good their escape, the dreaded smokers turn up, a band of thieves and rogues not unlike the villains in the latter Mad Max films. They attack the town searching for Enola because of the tattoo on her back, which is reputed to be a map to Dryland, the last land that exists but which many believe a myth.
The race to find Dryland before the Smokers catch up is on, and it’s as exciting an action movie as you’ll see from Hollywood, so you shouldn’t expect anything more. Even then however, there’s more to offer – from the myriad nautical in jokes (the smokers base turns out to be the rusting hulk of the Exxon Valdez) to the occasionally beautiful shots and haunting soundtrack.
I also really liked the character of Costner’s mariner. Yes the cute kids turns out to melt his heart, but until then he’s truly self-interested and despite his skill, no hero. He resents being roped into taking Helen and Enola with him, even to the extent of almost trading Helen’s sexual favours for provisions against her will and throwing Enola overboard at one stage when she irritates him a little too much.
Reynolds (and Costner directing the last two weeks of the shoot if you believe the rumours) isn’t afraid to dream big, and even slightly ridiculous sequences like the climatic bungee jump and the scientifically dubious mutated gills do little to spoil the movie.
If you haven’t seen it, it’s a classic example of not believe what you hear about it.
The 4K offers squat all – trailers and some previously-seen featurettes – in terms of extras but the quality of the disc alone makes it well worth picking up