THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!
Directed by Kevin Reynolds (and Kevin Costner)
I’m not sure there’s too many actors who’ve had a career like Kevin Costner. Dude made something so massive, so epic, so rewarded that he peaked. Nothing he created after could ever match the heights of Dances with Wolves, which sucks balls for him though he never has had trouble finding work. He’s made plenty of quality work here and there, but his era as a box office draw flat lined with what was at the time the most expensive movie ever made (and his hopeful second masterpiece): Waterworld.
Unfortunately, I’m old enough to remember the absolute media hatred of Waterworld…before, during, and after its release. It became obvious Costner’s run was over as it ended up as the punching bag that everyone loved to hate, and no one seemed to hesitate to add to the shit pile. The poor thing was doomed nearly from the second it received the green light. Over budget, over produced, over acted. It didn’t help that the end product stunk of an eco message to save the world. Even worse? It blatantly ripped off the movie it inspired to be: Mad Max.
Ok, let’s get all the douche things about Waterworld over with right away. It starts with a horrendous “action” moment, the Mariner’s (Costner) big somersault onto his boat after making a dive. It’s the most simple, terrible action moment ever. The music stinks too. Not that James Newton Howard does bad work, but here the score sounds too Jurassic Park-like…not dirty enough for the world we see. Or when Costner throws the little girl overboard (because she drew pictures with crayons on his boat) and it’s revealed that she can’t swim…in a world with only water.
Even worse, why the hell do people shave? Or how are Deacon’s teeth so white? Normally, I can suspend my disbelief with the best of them, but there’s something incredibly stupid about a world without land yet the villains burn gas and bullets without question. I think the most painful moment comes when Costner teaches the little girl with the map on her back how to swim in slow motion. Mad Max worked because that character's past reeked of darkness and disappear, the opposite of this guy. Anyway…that’s mostly the bad. On with the good.
Obviously, the best part about Waterworld comes from Dennis Hopper, who seems at his nutty peak as Deacon. He’s the leader of the Smokers who ride around the sea on jet skis, burning a lot of gas, shooting a stupid amount of bullets, and sporting way too much leather. The man chews the scenery like a starving child in some horrible place with great lines like: “Maybe he doesn’t answer to Chuck. Call him Charles.” Or "Don't just stand there, kill something!" He could be one of the worst leaders ever, leading people around with no purpose or reason. Usually even the worst villains offer something, but not this crazed bastard. He just loves chaos and death though he promises his followers the false hope of finding land.
As for the producer, star (and reported co-director after Kevin Reynolds walked off set) I’ve always dug Costner, and he’s good as a lead hero. Here, he plays the Mariner, a solo scavenger captain who drinks his own piss, has gills behind his ears, and some really webbed feet. He's not the most interesting character as we learn absolutely nothing about him or his purpose, but he’s still entertaining enough in his actions. It’s too bad the writers didn’t add some depth to him. Probably the most badass thing about him comes from his boat, which always has a few tricks ready to escape, kinda like Mad Max and his turbo boosters. The Mariner has all sorts of sails and hidden compartments.
Overall, Waterworld has taken a lot of hits over the years. In some respects it deserves it as reportedly Costner was a major asshole on set. Regardless, the final product is an interestingly flawed one. Epic in scope, beautifully shot, great sets, and great villains. It meant well and still looks great today. It's too bad things weren't a little better (like the script) because this really could've been something.