Director: Kevin Reynolds
Screenplay: Peter Rader and David Twohy

I always wondered why this film was mocked off the screens in 1995 and I think I can see why, although I admit that I am a sucker for absurd but consistent post-apocalyptic visions and maverick characters, so Kevin Costner as The Mariner in the oceanic thriller “Waterworld” is right up my wake. It’s got everything: a fairly consistent and intriguing premise of a culture that can only live on the water; great villains, including Dennis Hopper playing Dennis Hopper as the chain-smoking leader of, who else, The Smokers, baaadass renegades who have commandeered the derelict tanker, the Exxon Valdez (which I thought had spilled all its guts off the coats of Alaska, but never mind) and are sucking its oil dry to run the gang’s attack jet skies; and various other post-apoc types who alternately trade with and attack the Mariner who pilots the coolest trimaran in future history. In keeping with the retro look characteristic of post-apocalyptic films of the megalopolis, the Mariner’s trimaran is a descendant of the multihull sailboats used by Polynesian peoples 4,000 years ago, although its mechanisms and gadgetry look like they were modified by Rube Goldberg. (Waterpunk, anyone?)

There are more chase scenes and battles than fish in the sea, but some of the best moments of the film come when the Mariner is showing off his evolved fishy self: he takes the Girl (who is protecting the Child with the dorsal Tattooed Map of what many hope is the location of actual dry land) underwater to visit what is left of the megalopolis: at the bottom of the sea they visit towering wrecks of skyscrapers (I couldn’t believe that we didn’t get to see the Statue of Liberty, but never mind).

Despite its reputation as a critical and box office bomb, a number of commentators explain that this is an unacceptable view as the film not only made money but that Roger Ebert begrudgingly liked it: “The cost controversy aside, ‘Waterworld’ is a decent futuristic action picture with some great sets, some intriguing ideas, and a few images that will stay with me. It could have been more, it could have been better, and it could have made me care about the characters.”

A recurring image of megalopolis is the self-sufficient island-city, sometimes as an appendage of a land-based urban core sometimes as its substitute. “Waterworld,” from an original screenplay, joins the small but fascinating group of fictions and films about island cities (subject of a later entry on “walking cities and floating islands.”)

Of course the imitation of the “Mad Max” films is too close for comfort: substitute motorcycles for jet skies and change the body ornaments from sea shells to human bones, and the tricked out villains can move from film to film. Even the premise of moving a handful of survivors out of the lawless land to sanctuary–in this case an island–is the same in both films. Plus the defeat of the renegades who seek the Child with the Map too: “A child shall lead you,” intones Dennis Hopper, Chief Smoker, who knows better. The unromantic ending is nonetheless faithful to the Mariner’s mutant self: he belongs on the sea, no island utopia for him, and he leaves the Girl and the Child behind.

One Response to “Waterworld”

  1. Barry Obama Says:

    That underwater tour is absurd. Try building a raft out of garbage that will make it 2000 feet down. Never mind the bends.

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