So last night was the first massive snowstorm of the year, and tonight I’m going to see Avatar, so obviously my mind was on eco-thrillers. And if I’m going to be snowed in all night, I want to be snowed in with something like Waterworld.
We open with the Universal logo, which seamlessly zooms in on its globe, demonstrating how the polar icecaps have melted and the Earth is now completely covered in water. Never mind that even if they did completely melt, there would still be large swaths of land left. Just go with it. A voice-over spells out the situation and ominously informs us that “Those who survived… have adapted… to a NEW WORLD!” Then the title Waterworld appears, as if to answer what that world might be. We zoom in on this big catamaran-type thing, that is the Batmobile of the lead character, played by Kevin Costner. I’m halfway through the movie and still don’t know his name [though actually I don’t think he has a name, I think he’s known as “the mariner”], so we’ll just call him Costner because, come on, we’re really watching Kevin Costner, not some character. We see a plastic cup that he’s peeing in, then tilt up to see some Costner ass in tight pants made out of fish skin. He takes his fresh urine, throws it in a contraption, gets it out the other end, and drinks it. Yes, our INTRODUCTION to this character is that he drinks his own urine.
We look around his ship and see that he has constructed all these little gadgets out of the detritus of a lost society. He goes diving for such gadgets, and when he’s returned, finds that a guy has stolen his fresh limes. They have some tense moments, during which Costner barks “Nothing is free in Waterworld,” when who should arrive, but smokers! These are bad bandits of the seas who maraud on Jet-Skis. Yes, it’s every bit as silly as it sounds. But Costner has rigged a mechanism that launches his sail at a moment’s notice, and he is able to escape the smokers and destroy the boat of the bad lime-stealer in the process, all while chomping on what appears to be a wet cigar. What a man!
He then arrives at this floating island city, where he is let in because he has a jar of supremely valuable dirt. This raises several questions, like what good is dirt if you don’t have a lot of it [though I suppose you could make little planters], and also, if Costner can dive any time he wants [as we will find out later], can’t he get dirt any ol’ time he wants and be the richest man in Waterworld? Anyway, once inside, he sees that the populus throws their dead bodies into a big compost pit to rot for “recycling,” which results in a big paste of goo that for some reason [i.e. because it would be too gross] is a sickly yellow, not red. And by now a central problem of this whole concept becomes apparent: Most successful sci-fi films that imagine new worlds imagine somewhat PLEASANT worlds, so that we can vicariously get into how awesome it would be to live there. Even in Mad Max, things are nasty, but they wear cool leathers and have big monster trucks. Here, everything is not just kind of gross, but EXTREMELY GROSS, what with all the drinking of urine and pits of rotting bodies [which we know are “used” again in some way] and it’s just all off-puttingly horrible.
Costner makes some trades and meets Jeanne Tripplehorn and the little girl in her charge, Enola, who is bright and clean and cute and has her hair braided into little cornrows. Costner is ready to leave when an Asian family approaches him, pushing their young teen daughter up ahead, begging Costner to inseminate her before he leaves. They say in an indirect way that they have been practicing inbreeding but recognize that they need some new DNA in the mix—remember what we were saying about the eww factor? Costner refuses and makes a run for his boat, but is overpowered and it is revealed that he has little gills behind his ears. I will merely reproduce the shot below and ask you to draw your own conclusions about what it looks like. The people then shout “He’s a MUTANT!” and they capture him and hang him in a cage, right above the rotting corpse pool. We see that little Enola is fascinated by him, and of course, because he’s KEVIN COSTNER.
There’s some grandpa scientist that is interested in Costner’s ears, and he’s friends with Jeanne and Enola. They decide that Costner is to be dumped in the corpse bin, and do it when—SMOKER ATTACK! They come on big boats, and Jet-Skis, and best of all, as teams of water-skiers pulled by a seaplane! Yes, you’re in the middle of this supposed-to-be-serious movie and you’re suddenly seeing a Sea World attraction [or the Go-Gos Vacation cover] played as terrifying marauders. The water-skiers even have little mobile ramps, from which they perform double-axles as they leap over the wall and into the floating city’s lagoon. If ONLY they had gone the final step and made the water-skiers form a floating pyramid of doom. I mean, why not, at this point? The smokers—who are, for some reason, awash in cigarettes that they are indeed CONSTANTLY smoking—are led by Dennis Hopper, bald and with a big shiny steel codpiece. At least he knows how to dress.
So Costner has fallen into the body bin and is floundering in the sickening muck. Jeanne is going to escape in the quick-deploy hot-air balloon the grandpa scientist has made, but she barely misses it. I suspect we’ll be seeing grandpa scientist again, at just some fortuitous moment. Jeanne rushes down to Costner and makes a deal that she’ll let him out of the cage if he agrees to take her an Enola with him. They have a ludicrously overblown escape—the whole scene has been going on way too long by this point and interest has flagged. During this melee we see that not only does Costner have a bunch of pulleys and postapocalyptic James Bond-style gizmos, but he can super-swim! There’s a smoker dude firing a gun, and Costner comes up behind him and turns his platform around [not quickly, btw] so he’s firing on Hopper’s ship, too insane with rage and the mental stresses of life on the high seas [I guess?] to simply remove his finger from the trigger, as he has considerable time and opportunity to do. It goes by pretty quickly, so you may not have time to think: “So wait a minute, Costner’s ENTIRE PLAN hinges on this guy he doesn’t know happening to go INSANE at this moment and continuing to fire on his own people?” And uh, YEAH, it does! That’s why Costner’s character is such an awesome hero. He’s got gills, postapocalyptic gizmos, can super-swim AND predict insanity in strangers!
So they escape. Somewhere in here Costner apparently caused Hopper to lose an eye, although I missed it and didn’t care enough to go back. Then Costner needs to lose some weight on his boat so he considers throwing the little girl overboard! Jeanne BEGS him to spare her life, and offers him the use of her poontang if that’ll make a difference. It doesn’t. Then, in a move that will have you writing out a check to the Restore Jeanne Tripplehorn’s Shattered Dignity Foundation, she clutches some cloth to her naked body and threatens Costner with a machine gun! Then he drops a heavy sail on her, takes the gun, and BASHES her over the head with it!
Okay, now it’s time to take a little break and discuss this film’s fucked-up theme. The theme is that Costner is a rude, selfish MAN who just wants to look out for himself—which seems to be an entirely sensible viewpoint, given the circumstances—but needs to be more sensitive, learn to care for others, and most of all, to be a DAD. But it comes out in this bizarre way where he is doing things like throwing the little girl overboard, threatening to shoot and kill them both, being offered the use of Jeanne’s body as a whore [which it seems as though he is all set to accept until she flinches], clubs her over the head with a metal gun, and is about to throw the two of them overboard to drown and also to CHOP off Jeanne’s hair! So it’s trying to approximate this Taming of the Shrew kind of thing, only it’s REALLY brutal and largely devoted to the SERIOUS HUMILIATION of Jeanne. Oh, and we haven’t even gotten to the large amount of content centered around adult men fucking 10-year-old girls!
But first, more action! More suspense! Costner tosses the type into the drink for sassing him, causing Jeanne to smack him one and leap in after her. Then Costner feels bad and goes back to save them. So poignant. Then they get a fly-by from a smoker seaplane [they have tons of airplane fuel, see], causing Jeanne to grab the harpoon and shoot it, hitting the plane and essentially tying the catamaran to the crashing plane, which is not a great idea. In here we have the best moment of this whole movie, which is just a simple, non-CGI stunt. Costner is at the top of his mast when the ship suddenly snaps back, and he gets thrown off and falls several stories back into the water. Hey, ya gotta take what you can get. This is what causes Costner to get pissed and chop Jeanne and Enola’s hair off.
So little Tina Majorino, who was 10 at the time of release, is clad in this midriff-baring, shoulder-baring fish-skin ensemble, and you might find yourself asking “Why is this CHILD dressed in such skimpy, tight, sexy attire?” Then they happen upon this merchant dude plying his trade upon the cruel postapocalyptic waters, and he wants to barter for some sexy time with Jeanne and Enola, then soon makes clear that he really wants Enola. “How much for 45 minutes with the wee one?” he asks. Now, one of the subtle and “blameless” ways a movie like this can titillate is to include content that, even while ostensibly against something [like this scummy adult man with this young girl] PLANTS THE IDEA IN THE VIEWER’S MIND, so the movie can tsk-tsk while actually getting titillation mileage out of the idea. Now recall that we’ve already had a family beg Costner to impregnate their young teen daughter. So the movie is kind of keeping this stuff on viewer’s minds, and it will continue to have resonance as the movie goes on. By the way, before they get rid of the guy, it looks quite likely that he will rape Jeanne. Yep, wholesome family entertainment starring America’s everyman.
Now might be a good time to mention that despite extreme hunger, and near-constant exposure to the harsh salt wind and direct sunlight, both Jeanne and Enola are plump as calves and their skin is a luscious, moisture-packed glowing bronze. I guess Kiehl’s products survived the global catastrophe. Jeanne is also just as cute as a button, despite having her hair chopped, in her cleavage-baring fish-skin attire and adorable little bangs peeking from beneath her little headwrap, making her look like a comely plains woman who wants her boobs to get special attention. You know, the melting of the polar icecaps and obliteration of 95.5% of humanity is no reason to let attention to your appearance slide.
Soon after this, Costner uses his whole body as bait to attract this giant mutant fish, which, okay, but only makes you wonder where these deadly fish are the rest of the time. Later, when Costner takes Jeanne on a tour of the cities below them, he’ll toss off a line about how the fish don’t hunt then, so I guess that will have to do as an explanation.
But let’s get back to creepy child sexuality! Turns out little Enola doesn’t know how to swim, which is a little silly, given the current situation, but whatever, I can go with it. So what we have is this long, slow-motion sequence in which Costner teaches her, which involves him having his hands all over her scantily-clad little body, creepy enough, but what really makes it a little skin-crawling is the numerous slow-motion shots of them swirling closely in the water, gazing at each other lovingly. Okay, maybe it’s intended to be just sweet and innocent, but it doesn’t come off that way coming after all the tyke’s skimpy attire and discussions we’ve had about adult men fucking young girls. Oh, AND the fact that it goes on for 80 straight seconds, which doesn’t sound like much when you read about it, but it somewhat of an eternity in movie time. While this is going on, Jeanne is staring at them with a look I think we’re supposed to read as amazement that this big tough dude is allowing himself to become a vulnerable dad [nights at home watching Marley & Me are surely next on the agenda], but poor Jeanne is only able to look rather mortified, and as well she might! Looks like if she wants to turns Costner’s head she’d have to be able to shave 20 years off!
Well I forget what happens, but Costner has a creepy feeling and he employs this down-periscope thing to see that there are a bunch of guys on Jet-Skis lurking underwater! Which, come now, that is just flat-out silly. He springs into action, as he is wont to do, and releases this insta-kite that pulls their ship quickly out of danger, as the music swells with admiration. He’s the postapocalyptic James Bond of the high seas!
So they’re not far away from the evil smokers when Costner finally reveals to Jeanne that there is no dry land. Have I even mentioned this yet? There is this myth of a place called “dryland,” and the tattoo on Enola’s back is supposedly a map there, which is why the smokers want her. Costner has been telling Jeanne he knows the way there, and now tells her he’s sailed all over this great big watery globe and he knows it doesn’t exist, which causes her to have a MAJOR FREAK OUT. Which is always amusing. Then Costner decides he’s going to have to show her, so he whips out this clear glass diving bell and takes her down for a tour. Now, do you know what a diving bell is? It’s an early submarine which operates on the same principle as holding a glass upside-down in water. Okay, so, where exactly did he get this contraption? And it sure is remarkable that it should happen to be made out of glass—that can withstand severe pressure, apparently. And since Costner can dive down any ol’ time he wants, apparently he maintains it on board for the sole purpose of giving his guests tours of the world below? But we’ve been told he’s a loner who exists only for himself. I think we’re just going to have to go with it.
Now, this couple have JUST narrowly evaded the smokers, and have NO evidence that they are any way in the clear, when they decide that they can just leave Enola—the one thing the smokers want—unattended on deck while they travel below. Jeanne tosses off a “It’ll be okay,” before she leaves, to which you wish Enola could respond “Hello? You clearly have no idea what you’re talking about!” THIS is our fiercely-protective surrogate mother? Clearly little Enola better shop around.
So Costner takes Jeanne down to view the curiously well-lit ruins of the city below. She sees large buildings and skyscrapers and a crashed submarine and ruined cars, but—if she was born long after the apocalypse, how would she recognize cities and buildings and cars anyway? By the way, how long HAS it been since the apocalypse? This movie doesn’t tell us. Anyway, they tool around for a while, then come back up and surprise—it’s the smokers! Why, who could have predicted this?
They are looking for Enola, and repeatedly demand of Costner “Where is she?!” Well dude, it’s a tiny ship, how about you LOOK? Jeez. Anyway, they find her, they take her, and burn Costner’s ship. While this is happening, he takes Jeanne beneath the surface where she breathes out of his mouth and they breathe-kiss for a while. At this point I have written in my notes “This is just the stupidest thing ever conceived.” When they return to the ship after the smokers have gone, Jeanne has GOT to HAVE IT. NOW!!! So she and Costner make the scrumpy on the burning remains of his boat. This is why I’m gay: because I could never understand that seeing the remains of one’s destroyed civilization then enduring an attack in which one’s surrogate child is abducted is something that might enflame a woman to sudden paroxysms of insatiable lust.
Meanwhile, Enola is held hostage by the smokers, and why am I not surprised to find her arranged in such a way that we’re looking up her crotch [above]? This scene is kind of funny because Hopper is comically mean to her. He asks her what the tattoo means, but she doesn’t know. Now, let’s talk for a second about this tattoo. It is literally nothing more than a circle with a mountain at the top, an arrow pointing at the mountain, and a few Chinese-looking symbols. Everyone in the movie acts like you have to have ENOLA to get the crucial map, but the thing is, the map is so simplistic you could just COPY IT DOWN in a few seconds! Incredible. Anyway, turns out Hopper has a whole army of followers, and he tells them all he knows the way to dry land. This is all happening on the remains of the Exxon Valdez, and there are several shots comparing Hopper to the captain of the Valdez, and… I GUESS this is all supposed to be some sort of statement? Like that our dependence of oil is what ultimately caused the icecaps to melt? But again we are forced to reflect on the fact that one’s hard-hitting political statements do not have all the impact they might when they arrive in the form of THE WORLD’S MOST IDIOTIC MOVIE.
Let’s get back to Costner, where he has just satisfied Jeanne as no man on Earth ever could, amidst the burning debris of their ruined catamaran. They are just laying in the afterglow when who should happen by overhead but—the nutty professor! He’s going to take Jeanne to the remains of the floating city while Costner goes and takes on the smokers! But—that’s SUICIDE! Still, a fish-man’s gotta do what a fish-man’s gotta do.
So somewhere Costner has procured a Jet-Ski and goes over to the Valdez. Now, earlier something has happened that is just so astonishingly stupid it sent me into apoplexy. All the smokers go down into the bowels of the Valdez and stick hundreds of giant OARS out through the side and start rowing it like—whatever those huge ancient ships with tons of oars were. It’s enough to make you start compulsively slapping yourself, just to FEEL SOMETHING. The smokers, of course, perform the arduous work of pulling the oars while SMOKING. Which is just… can someone tell me some way in which this is not just flat-out stupid? I’m willing to entertain theories. So Costner comes aboard and demands Enola back [we have had numerous scenes of her telling the smokers how her fish-man daddy is going to come by and kick their asses], and shoots a flare down to where we are to imagine all the oil is, and blows the whole ship up! But no worries, he’s FINE. Searing explosive gasses? Just a nuisance, really. Then, incredibly, they manage to work in a CAR CHASE, then Hopper takes Enola in a small plane and tries to escape. Costner shoots down the plane—with Enola in it, mind you—and it CRASHES on deck. Then he goes and gets Enola, who just survived the PLANE CRASH with nary a scratch! She really must lead a charmed life.
For a big finish, the movie goes into overdrive with what it does best: SHEER IDIOCY. The nutty professor and Jeanne come by in the balloon in a nick of time to save Costner and Enola from the sinking ship. Then Hopper leaps from the depths, as 90s villains are wont to do, grabs Enola, and pulls her down into the water, where three Jet-Skis are converging on her [you like how you’ve become so desensitized that postapocalyptic sea raiders on Jet-Skis doesn’t even seem silly anymore?]. Costner ties a conveniently-available bungee to himself and Bungee-jumps down, plucking Enola safely out of danger just as the Jet-Skis crash and explode, leading to the below shot of them rising to safety as the fiery explosion blossoms below them. Boy, and what were the chances that the first random bungee cord he picked just HAPPENED to be the precise length and tension he needed, why, down to the very inch? Fate just smiles on us sometimes.
So they float off, and the nutty professor realizes that, holy moley, he’s been reading the map UPSIDE-DOWN this whole time! They need merely sail south. Which would imply that they can sail south from ANY position on the globe, which implies that dry land is a warmed-up Antarctica, which implies that Antarctica is higher in elevation than, say, Mount Everest. For these and more reasons, please do not imply. Thank you.
Jeanne looks on beatifically as Costner rubs the last of the water on Enola’s lips rather than his own—he’s become a dad at last!—and a few seconds later, they reach a gorgeous tropical paradise complete with fresh water waterfall, a Target, Pizza Hut, and several Starbucks locations. And, glory be, they find the remains of Enola’s childhood home, desiccated parents still there, mere feet from where they happened to land! I tell you, these folks ought to play the lottery.
But, as I’m sure you know, a mariner’s gotta marinate[? Or something?] and he says a teary goodbye to Enola and “Later” to Jeanne, and heads on his lonely way. So then why the fuck all this stuff about how he’s got to come to love others and be a doting dad? The movie stops short of telling us that Jeanne is pregnant with his mankind-regeneratin’ ichthy-seed, just another example of the subtlety and restraint that is this film’s raison d’être.
The main thing about this movie is that it’s just monumentally idiotic. MONUMENTALLY. Everywhere you turn is something that is just SO DUMB, it becomes more a testament to how many people could blindly put so much effort into something without anyone stopping to say: “Isn’t this all just kind of… stupid?” You cannot suspend your disbelief enough for this movie and still remain conscious. Stupidity piles upon stupidity and it all just grows so high it becomes impossible to process. Which wouldn’t be so bad if the whole thing wasn’t two hours and fifteen minutes!
But get this: apparently the original cut was over three hours! So they cut it down to this, which may have resulted in some of the more egregiously awkward lapses in logic. You may also recall that this was the most expensive movie ever made at the time, was a massively troubled production [hurricanes destroyed their sets again and again], had 17 writers cycling through, and led to the end of the friendship between Costner and director Kevin Reynolds, who he had done Robin Hood with. There are rumors that Costner took over direction near the end when Reynolds finally abandoned the project, and there were rumors at the time that the production was slowed by Costner’s insistence that all his shots be flattering. He next returned with another three-hour postapocalyptic film that he directed himself, The Postman, which is essentially the same movie set in the dry plains, and is far too ghastly for me to EVER endure again, so please don’t look for a review in these pages. The one-two punch of these two films permanently knocked Costner off his Mister American Everyman perch and his career is still recovering.
Anyway, if you like really idiotic 90s action movies, especially ones trying to make a SERIOUS ENVIRONMENTAL POINT! Then this one is for you. I would recommend having some friends on hand for moral support if you want to watch this. By the way, fun can be had by reading the positive reviews of this film on the IMDb, from people who believe that not only is this a great action film with wonderful, vivid characterization, but in fact represents the very finest of speculative science fiction. Lord, help them find their way.
If armed with derisively-minded friends and the poison of your choice, this could be a good time.