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Movie Review: "Waterworld" (1995)


DISCLAIMER: This review may contain some spoilers.

As far as movie history goes, 1995 was a great year for many stinkers, two of the biggest ones being "Showgirls" and "Waterworld"; the latter being an over-budgeted post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick. Set in the distant future (reportedly the year 2500 A.D., even though it's not mentioned in the film), the polar ice caps have melted and every continent on the face of the Earth has been submerged, covering the planet in an endless ocean.

The survivors live on manmade islands, boats, and water-crafts. There's drifters, slave traders, and even pirates led by a loony Dennis Hopper. Last but not least, we have our nameless main character known as the Mariner (played by Kevin Costner), a mutated human who possesses gills and many advanced swimming capabilities.

In Waterworld, there's a myth known as Dryland which is supposedly the last stretch of land left on the planet. But nobody knows where to find it or if it's even real. It must be real since one of the main characters, a little girl named Enola, has a map tattooed on her back. Enola is looked after by Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn). And the pirates are after that map which the little girl possesses.

Basically, what we have here is "Mad Max" on water. While the set up behind the film's plot is very flawed, it's actually a scary concept when you think about it. Unfortunately, the filmmakers didn't want to present it from that angle.

The real Waterworld -- Here's how the Earth would really look if all the ice caps were to melt.

The real Waterworld -- Here's how the Earth would really look if all the ice caps were to melt.

The "Waterworld" screenplay as it appears under a microscope.

The "Waterworld" screenplay as it appears under a microscope.

Plot Hole World

The most obvious plot hole in "Waterworld" is the plot itself: Melted ice caps manage to cover every strip of land on Earth. In fact, we find out by the end of the movie (at least in the extended cut version) that Dryland is in fact the top of Mount Everest. Now, let's take into consideration that Mount Everest stands at roughly 30,000 feet. This would indicate that melted ice caps have flooded the Earth in 28-29,000 feet of water.

But fear not, because the filmmakers were thinking out of that place where the sun don't shine when they wrote this. See, if the ice caps were to melt, it would only flood the Earth up to roughly 330 feet, meaning that many coastal areas will be flooded. If anything, Steven Spielberg's "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" is the real 'Waterworld'. Speaking of Mount Everest, I find it strange that the characters were able to travel from the submerged city of Denver, Colorado to Mount Everest in such a short time span.

Let's also take into consideration that this worldwide catastrophe obviously didn't occur overnight, thus indicating that the human race had good enough time to prepare for what was going to unfold. After all, that must be why the ships and manmade islands are so big, right? So why the heck does everyone and everything seem so disorganized in this story?

One could argue that attempts to rebuild and continue society after the catastrophe had fell apart but there's no hint of this at all. On another note, the film's characters make it very clear to us that they had no idea whatsoever that polar ice caps had melted and flooded the world. That's odd, being that you would expect their ancestors (i.e. the initial survivors) to pass this historically significant knowledge down from generation to generation, but for some reason, they seem to possess no knowledge of the world that existed before the ocean covered it.

Last but not least, to make mankind look even more stupid, if the world were coming to an end this way and they had time to prepare for it, how would they not know where Dryland is? Here is where the movie "2012" comes in. The human race faced a slightly similar situation in that film (continental drift as opposed to melting ice caps), they also had time to prepare by making several high-tech arcs that could dwell on water. The kicker is this... despite, the massive global flood, they were able to calculate where and what exactly the new 'Dryland' would be (South Africa, I believe it was?).

Cartoonish Adventure Film vs. Dark Post-Apocalyptic Film

Let's put all of the plot holes in "Waterworld" aside for a second. The biggest problem with "Waterworld" is the direction they took with the story. On paper, the concept for "Waterworld" initially sounds like a very interesting and bleak post-apocalyptic film. I mean the remnants of mankind forced to live on nothing but endless ocean? How bleaker can you get?

But the issue is that the story is told from a cartoonish adventure film perspective. It's very strange, because "Waterworld" keeps switching from the "dark film" to the "family film" almost every 2-3 scenes. One moment, a guy gets shot in the foot with a spear gun, the next see some goofy old man with a long white beard and gigantic Mr. Magoo glasses -- How the hell does that match up?

During another moment, Mariner wants to throw little Enola out to sea, the next we see Dennis Hopper saying something stupid. Don't get me wrong, after the circumstances mankind is faced with in this film, I would expect them to act rather irrational, but almost everyone in this movie acts completely animated. From the retarded henchmen down to the lead villain himself.

Is this a post-apocalyptic science fiction movie or is it a comedic adventure film for the family? The latter is what this film strives to be for 90% of the running time, but then again, the movie opens with a guy peeing into a bottle so he can turn it into water and drink it. I'm so confused. The feel of "Waterworld" is closer to "Pirates of the Caribbean" more than anything else, from the humor right down to the evil pirates and the action scenes. Oh wait, I forgot to throw the movie "Hook" in there as well -- Just take out Robin Williams' Peter Pan and throw in Kevin Costner's Mariner.

Where is the seriousness to be found in this ripe concept? The darkest moments of "Waterworld" are as follows:

  • The opening where the globe from the Universal logo is submerged in water. Very chilling and effective.
  • Just about all of the scenes with Mariner, Helen, and Enola alone on the boat after they escape the atoll. In these scenes, there is plenty of sexually inappropriate content and attempted child abuse. These elements helped the realism behind this post-apocalyptic catastrophe.
  • When Mariner takes Helen underwater to show her the submerged city, proving that the world wasn't created in a deluge but ended in one.

Everything else was akin to a kiddie adventure film, a bed time story. Allow me to contrast this with another end-of-the-world flick called "Day of the Dead" -- the third entry in George Romero's zombie series, depicting a world where the dead have outnumbered the living and one of the last few remnants have taken shelter in an underground bunker. That movie was filled to the brim with desperation and sadness -- Which is the opposite of what I feel when watching "Waterworld". The only vibe I get from the characters in "Waterworld" is The whole world is flooded? Cool, let's go jet-skiing and rape some women! Woo-hoo!

Another thing, I did mention that one of the most important characters in this movie is a little girl. Now, kids can be a kiss of death for your movie if you don't play your cards right (and usually, they're not played right). Enola was actually pretty fine up until Dennis Hopper and his idiots kidnapped her, then she just got extremely annoying. Every time I heard her ramble on about how Mariner is going to come to 'kick their butts and rescue her', I kept having to question whether or not I was still watching a movie about a bunch of people living on a planet that's been covered in endless ocean.

Villain or Comedian?

Speaking of Dennis Hopper, I really don't feel that he was the best choice as the lead villain. And believe me, this guy is literally a representation of almost everyone in Animated World, I mean Waterworld. Now, he actually did pretty well as the psychopath in "Speed", but he just seems too goofy and over-the-top for an idea like "Waterworld".

Let me compare the futuristic pirates of "Waterworld" with the futuristic pirates of "Cyborg", the dark post-apocalyptic action flick starring Jean Claude Van-Damme. The lead villain just gave you the creeps and those guys were nothing less than barbaric, unforgiving, and evil. It would have been more realistic if the bad guys of "Waterworld" were a bit closer to something like that.

Remedies for "Waterworld"

  • Axe every PG-13 element in this movie, there shouldn't be one ounce of "Peter Pan" or "Pirates of the Caribbean" anywhere to be found in "Waterworld".
  • The Mariner shouldn't be humanized as much as he was by the end of the movie.
  • Get a real villain, not Dr. Evil.
  • A bleak and saddening soundtrack.
  • Axe the ice caps explanation. Instead, try something along the lines of the subterranean oceans theory (it worked for Stephen Baxter's novel, "Flood"). Now that would make a lot more sense.

What did you think of "Waterworld"?

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© 2011 SPomposello


Jeremiah from Thornton, Colorado on October 29, 2013:

What's worse then WaterWorld the movie? Well, the sequel of course.

David from London on August 26, 2012:

I believe Waterworld had a massive budget and pulled in almost nothing in revenue making it one of, if not the largest loses of any movie made to date. Personally I quite like it though. That may just be because it was a childhood film of mine so come with some sentimental viewing pleasure.

Bill Russo from Cape Cod on November 05, 2011:

just dvrd Waterworld from HBO. It's in my cue. Hope to get to it during the weekend.

Bill Russo from Cape Cod on November 02, 2011:

Joss Whedon seemed like a genius until the 'Dollhouse' fiasco. I can't remember if I actually watched 'Waterworld'. I'm going to check and see if I can put it in my Netflix instant cue.

Vanessa Martinez from Vancouver, WA on November 01, 2011:

This is an excellent review and I really have to agree with you. The idea is there, but the execution was really subpar. One thing you forgot to mention is Kevin Costner. I know a lot of people like him, but I find his acting very limited. When he's forced beyond his 'straight laced man' persona, the flaws in his range show. He should stay far away from movies that are in the realm of the fantastic.

Great job and voted up!

Nick from MD on November 01, 2011:

Joss Whedon i believe was the first to write the script and then because he was a relative no name at the time they butchered his script into what it is fact for the day

Stevennix2001 on November 01, 2011:

Once again, well done. I have to say that I don't disagree with anything you said here about this movie. I think that if the writers and director of this film would've focused more on the story content, and direction of where they wanted this film to go, then it would've turned out better. Instead, I remember hearing that the director of this film (I forget his name), said that he predominently had this movie filmed in various parts of the oceans across the world because, in his opinion, that a real sea expert could tell the difference in how the Atlantic Ocean moves versus the Pacific. Of course, I'm not an expert, so maybe he's onto something about that. However, that was the main reason why this film had such an inflated budget; when they should've just shot this film in one place to get the same results, but with less money spent on travel expenses, as I doubt most main stream audiences would've been able to tell anyway. Of course, that's just my opinion.

Anyway, thanks again for another great review. By the way, I had two more requests to add to the ones that i mentioned in the "Shark Night 3-D" review you did. I hope that's okay. Don't worry, I won't add anymore until you've reviewed all the films that I asked about. Thanks. lol

Here's the ones that I was going to ask about:

DOA: Dead or Alive

Star Wars: Holiday Special

ruffridyer from Dayton, ohio on November 01, 2011:

The movie was 45 min too long.

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