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Waterworld Movie Review

costner kevin mariner enola

1995 – Kevin Reynolds –

Plagued by a troubled shoot, an escalating budget, and creative differences between star and director, Waterworld became one of Hollywood's most expensive films—and one of its biggest disappointments in years. Still, were it not for the exaggerated sense of “failure” resulting from the widely reported stories of the production's problems, Waterworld would not rank much worse than many standard adventure films. The story, set in a futuristic world in which the polar ice caps have melted and the Earth is covered in water, has the potential to be original as well as thoughtful. However, shortly after the film begins, the potential quickly falls away as the story turns into an uneven narrative troubled by careless errors of logic, poor—or simply odd—performances by some of its major stars, weak dialogue, and an exaggerated and undeserved sense of self-importance.

The film has some strong points, though they are few. Waterworld boasts occasionally impressive imagery, a number of exciting stunts, and a few well-acted, character-driven scenes, mainly between the Mariner (Kevin Costner) and Enola (Tina Majorino). The few sequences involving the development of the friendship between the sea-man and the little girl as they find a common bond (both are considered “freaks”) are the most emotionally successful elements of the film and the most serious. Oddly, though, other elements that could have been serious—such as the environmental issues hinted at through the origins and background of this “waterworld”—are overlooked. The tone also seems to fluctuate between the dramatic, the comedic, and the action-oriented, exhibiting little unity of purpose and sending the movie to the boundary of camp, a dangerous place for a $175 million much-delayed production. Director Kevin Reynolds, who also directed Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Fandango, tries to achieve an epic, important tone, but he strays as well. The narrative frequently fails on that level because it relies far too much on comic relief from the villains, led by the strange, simple-minded, one-liner-spouting Deacon (Dennis Hopper), who seems to be in a different movie, much like Alan Rickman in Robin Hood. One can hardly take these villains or their threat seriously, even though they do cause a lot of destruction. Too many characters are played for laughs, and to make matters worse, many of them are not genuinely comic.

Costner's character, a human who has adapted to the world's environment through a mutation resulting in gills and webbed feet, is presented as something of a super-hero, wise about people but often unlikable (such as when he is unnecessarily cruel to Helen and Enola). His abilities and his prowess, however, are not well-explained, and the change in the nature of his relationship with Helen and Enola happens quickly. At times, the story appears almost to idolize the character, as when Enola assures her captors that the Mariner will come after her and that they will be sorry. Her statements about the Mariner are inter-cut with scenes of Costner's character making his way toward her, effortlessly taking down those in his way. At the end, when the heroes' quest is completed and dry land is found, the Mariner's decision to return to the sea is a somewhat puzzling one, for his evidently special connection to the ocean has not really been developed. Sure, the world has a lot of water, but so what?

Cast: Kevin Costner (Mariner), Jeanne Tripplehorn (Helen), Dennis Hopper (Deacon), Tina Majorino (Enola), R. D. Call (Enforcer), Zakes Mokae (Priam), Gerard Murphy (Nord), Jack Kehler (Banker), Michael Jeter (Old Gregor), Lanny Flaherty (Trader), David Finnegan (Toby), Sean Whalen (Bone), Robert LaSardo (Smitty), Lee Arenberg (Djeng) Screenwriter: Peter Rader, David Twohy Cinematographer: Dean Semler Composer: James Newton Howard Producer: Charles Gordon, Kevin Costner and John Davis for Universal MPAA Rating: PG-13 Running Time: 136 minutes Format: VHS, LV, DVD Awards: Academy Awards, 1995: Nominations: Sound Budget: $175M Box Office: $88.25M (domestic gross).

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