Science fiction and fantasy

Waterworld poster


directed by Kevin Reynolds

Waterworld is the sort of movie that sets out to make a bold statement about the potential for environmental catastrophe, but doesn't let the technical details get in the way of a good adventure. It's the distant future and the polar icecaps have melted, leaving the Earth covered in water. Survival is a matter of adapting to life on the open sea and scavenging what's left of a former civilisation.

The Mariner (Kevin Costner) is better adapted than most. Not only does he have gills and webbed feet, he has also developed a hard, cynical attitude and a drive to put his own survival above all else. However it's not always enough to keep him out of trouble. When he arrives at a dilapidated atoll looking to trade he finds a floating shanty town on its last legs, with little of value for him to buy. The only hope people have is the promise of Dryland, which no-one has ever seen.

A group of raiding pirates known as the Smokers has been terrorising everyone. These grungy maniacs go about on jet-skis and rusted boats, led by the chain-smoking Deacon (Dennis Hopper). They seem to be just about the only people with access to oil. And here we come to one of the most obvious inconsistencies: how did they get hold of so much fuel, so many years after the fall of civilisation? And why do they use it so recklessly? They have the same disregard for other manufactured products, like bullets and cigarettes, which surely aren't being made any more.

Other things are amiss. One of the most highly prized substances is dirt. Yet the salt-contaminated earth that the Mariner sells would be useless for growing most things. Waterworld is all about the adventure and spectacle, and you're not meant to pay attention to the small details that would make it a realistic depiction of what would really happen if global sea levels rose.

The Mariner escapes from a Smoker attack with the help of Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and her adoptive child Enola (Tina Majorino). But Enola has an unusual tattoo on her back, which some people believe is a map that points to the legendary Dryland. This map puts the Smokers on their trail. Unfortunately the Mariner is unhappy about sharing his boat with a couple of people who slow him down and attract trouble. He's half inclined to pitch them both overboard.

The expense of filming Waterworld was enormous, and a lot of this was down to the fact that most of it was filmed in the open water. There are a few computer-generated effects, but for the most part the sets were actually built and many of the stunts were performed live. One of the best features of this movie is the Mariner's trimaran. It's souped-up and full of surprises, in spite of its ramshackle appearance. If the film makers had waited only a few years they might have been able to create this movie for a fraction of the cost using CGI, but in its relatively low-tech form it's nevertheless an impressive sight. It may have been costly to produce, but the money wasn't wasted.

Waterworld has quite an absorbing story, spiced up with plenty of eyecatching stunts and a recycled-trash-heap look. Dennis Hopper plays Deacon with over-the-top relish, almost a caricature of the evil pirate captain, but that's just part of this movie's faintly ridiculous charm. Strong characters, snappy dialogue, a few slushy moments and heaps of big-budget action make this film a lot of fun to watch.

4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

Film Details

Decade: 1990s

Categories: Films
Science fiction

Classification: 12

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