Waterworld: gills, thrills, and budget spills (scifi movie retrospective).

C.D. here is for his take of the scifi movie Waterworld. A film that set out to make waves but mostly ended up being the punchline of a hundred late-night talk show jokes. Despite its lofty aspirations and abyssal budget, the movie ultimately floats somewhere between being a Hollywood oddity and a cautionary tale of unchecked ambition and poor execution.

First of all, let’s talk about the world that is almost entirely water, where Kevin Costner sports gills like some human-fish hybrid. If nothing else, Waterworld deserves credit for the ambitious setting it attempted to bring to life. The film seems to take place in an alternate universe where Noah’s Ark was not a story of survival but a how-to manual for future civilizations. As our protagonist, The Mariner, sails through a vast and relentless ocean, one can’t help but be reminded of something profound: the bar for what counts as beachfront property has significantly dropped.

The movie introduced us to a future where polar ice caps have gone the way of the dodo, land is a myth, and for some reason, jet skis are still a thing. Which brings us to the Smokers, a gang of wet marauding pirates who took their love for nicotine to a level only feasible in post-apocalyptic fiction. Led by Dennis Hopper’s Deacon, who hams it up as though he mistook the set for a stage production of Peter Pan, the Smokers give us villains who appear as soaked in irony as they are in seawater.

Of course, we have to discuss the endless quest for “Dryland,” a place that exists only in myths and back tattoos. Enola, a young girl, has this mythical map etched on her back. Why? We don’t really know. Maybe it’s the post-apocalyptic version of keeping your grocery list handy, but it does give our heroes and villains something to obsess over as they navigate waters that seem as endless as the film’s shooting schedule.

In this epic journey, not much is left to subtlety. When the Mariner takes Helen down to the sunken city of Denver in a homemade diving bell, it’s a dive that can only be surpassed by the film’s box office performance. It’s as if the film tries to tell us, “Look, the old world was indeed complex and beautiful, and—oops, we forgot to make this new one as engaging.”

Ah, but then we get to the climax. Kevin Costner, looking like a man who’s just realized he’s left the oven on, decides to blow up the oil tanker captained by the Deacon. The ensuing explosion could almost serve as a metaphor for the film’s own high-stakes gamble and explosive fallout. In a world so thoroughly soaked, the idea that an enormous explosion could be the solution to the protagonist’s problems brings a whole new meaning to the term “fight fire with water.”

The ending brings us to the big reveal: Dryland turns out to be the peak of Mount Everest. But fear not, it’s lush and beautiful, not the icy barren land you might expect. Perhaps the film should have been called “Waterworld: Where Logic Takes a Dive.” But we get our happy ending of sorts, and Costner’s Mariner sails away, leaving us to wonder what other post-apocalyptic mutations await him out at sea.

Waterworld is a film that, like its protagonist, drifts along without a clear sense of identity. It’s not quite an action movie, not quite a science fiction epic, and definitely not a documentary on climate change, although it sometimes appears as confused as one. So why does it still capture our imagination? Perhaps because it’s an audacious mess; it’s Hollywood hubris and extravagance wrapped up in one soggy package. Whether it’s a “robust” movie, as Kevin Costner claims, is up for debate. But one thing is certain: Waterworld is anything but dry.

Can you see how bad the script is yet?


Colonel Frog is a long time science fiction and fantasy fan. He loves reading novels in the field, and he also enjoys watching movies (as well as reading lots of other genre books).

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