Don’t Watch It, John: Waterworld

The idea behind the “Don’t Watch It, John!” series is to find cinema that’s so rotten, so foul, so incredibly fetid that no other human being would dare recommend it to another human being. For this entry in the series, I’ve shaken things up a bit. I chose a film that I’ve already seen, albeit not since 1996- Waterworld (1995).

What is Waterworld? 
The IMDb plot description: In a future where the polar ice caps have melted and most of Earth is underwater, a mutated mariner fights starvation and outlaw “smokers,” and reluctantly helps a woman and a young girl try to find dry land.

I don’t remember too much from the first time I saw it in 1996. I remember Kevin Costner drinking his own urine. I remember thinking the movie was awful. I vaguely remember it bombing at the box office and some critics calling it “Fishtar”, a clever nod to fellow box office bomb Ishtar (1986).

Who stars in this cinematic monstrosity? There are three major names of note. Kevin Costner is the protag, Dennis Hopper is the villain, and Jeanne Tripplehorn (of HBO’s Big Love) is the female lead. Jack Black is also in it, although only very briefly.

The Stats: Surprisingly, IMDb users have given it an aggregate 5.8 out of 10. Rotten Tomatoes places it firmly as rotten with a score of 42% fresh. RT audience members are slightly more kind, giving it a still-rotten score of 46%. However, 7 of the 9 “Top Critics” reviews are fresh. Between the favorable reviews among top critics and the 5.8 out of 10 on IMDb, had I improperly judged Waterworld?

The Review: To put it as succinctly as I can, no- I had not improperly judged Waterworld and I don’t know what the hell 7 of those 9 critics were thinking. It aims very, very high, but misses in spectacular fashion. The concept itself is a good one. The seeds are there for a science fiction classic. I can understand why it was given such a humongous budget and I could even understand it if hardcore sci-fi fans still love the movie despite it turning out the way it did. The problem here wasn’t the concept but rather several other things that completely crushed the film.

It’s part sci-fi, part western, part pirate movie, all wrapped up in an environmentalist message. I can get down with any and all of that separately. I could even get down with all of those genres in one film if it was blended together in certain ways. Here, it was clunky and lessened the quality of the movie.

Look over there, Kevin- it's your career floating away.

More importantly, Waterworld fails because of some horrible writing. There are holes that you could drive a truck through and they show up all over the place. In one breath, Helen (Tripplehorn) is comparing Enola (the child) to a mirror. Five minutes later, she’s talking about a mirror that the Mariner (Costner) has as if she’d never seen one before. She even calls it “reflecting glass”. Earlier in the film, Enola is ruthlessly tossed in the water by the Mariner, and that’s the point in the film when we find out that she can’t swim. Really?!?! In a universe where there isn’t a spot of dry land, an 8 year old kid can’t swim? Admittedly, they later cover their tracks when Enola points out how she’s considered “a freak” because she can’t swim but it’s pretty ridiculous to begin with. 

And then there’s the whole universe, which is as primitive as it can be. Societies are akin to cavemen on water, using crude implements and the like. Yet, the major menace to the whole thing is The Deacon (Dennis Hopper) and his murderous gang of “Smokers”. They have cars, they have planes, they have jet skis for crying out loud. Where in the bloody hell did they amass the technology for that stuff? Where did they get the “go juice”- The Deacon’s word for gas- to make those machines work? I understand that there’s a certain suspension of disbelief required but it seemed to be asking too much.

The Mariner’s character arc is clunky and fast. It’s not even much of a character arc, as he was mostly quiet and heroic early in the film. It’s only through forced situations that he appears heartless- turning down having sex with a child not because it’s wrong but because they don’t have anything to trade; momentarily considering selling Enola into prostitution; constant threats that he’ll murder both Enola and Helen, even throwing Enola off the boat at one point to drown. Then magically, he becomes heroic again, as if a light switch had been flipped. It’s not like there’s any significant event to make it happen, nor is it done gradually. It’s just bad writing.

No. Just... no.

It finally devolves into a pile of chum in the last half hour, with at least a handful of instances in which I laughed. For instance, 90’s fun-time activity bungee jumping saved the day at one point. My favorite bit of schadenfreude came when The Deacon is seen reverently speaking/praying to a photo of Captain Joseph Hazelwood, who he refers to as “Saint Joe”. Hazelwood was the Captain of the Exxon Valdez. It was one of the hokiest, most ham-fisted moments I’ve ever seen on film. They compound the error by adding other references from The Deacon to Hazelwood.

I really can’t recommend this to anyone, not even in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way. It pains me to say that, too. Despite the clunkers on his resumé, I have a soft spot for Costner. This film was the precise moment I started having doubts, in 1996. I really wish I could recommend “the movie where Kevin Costner drinks his own piss and bungee jumps to save an 8 year old with a tramp stamp from Dennis Hopper, who worships Joseph Hazelwood”. That’s the most fun description of it that you’ll ever see and it makes it sound 100 times better than the reality.


24 Comments

Filed under Don't Watch It John!, Movies

24 responses to “Don’t Watch It, John: Waterworld

  1. I’ve never seen this movie. Every so often, I feel like I should, but having read this, no, I don’t think I will.

    Have you seen the film Down about a killer elevator? Pure terrible badness.

    • WHAT?!? There’s a movie about a killer elevator? You just made my day. I must track this thing down. I’ve heard about the killer bed- Death Bed: The Bed That Eats- but never the killer elevator movie.

  2. Eeeeahhh. I didn’t think anyone had a soft spot for Costner anymore. When I think of Costner as Robin Hood…I shudder inwardly and deeply.

    Completely agree with your “Just don’t watch it,” assessment. I’ve seen some pretty terrible movies, but even Mystery Science Theater couldn’t do this one justice.

    • For me and Costner, it’s all about his three baseball movies- Field of Dreams; Bull Durham; and For Love of the Game. You could put Sandra Bullock in three great baseball movies and I’d find a soft spot for her.

  3. The major failing of it is that it costs so damn much to make…and it’s stupid. Jeez, I watched about ten minutes of “Catwoman” the other night and dear god, what a train wreck.

  4. I’ve seen this like ten or twelve years ago and I still remember how it stinks! I’ve always hated Costner and especially his way overrated Dances With Wolves. I will stay away from Waterworld for the rest of my life!!!

  5. Dude

    I went to Imdb to check out Costners filmography, just to see what his post waterworld resume looked like. The only one I am a fan of is Tin Cup. And that’s because I’m biased.

  6. Watching it as a kid, I thought it was a pretty badass movie… Then I grew up.

    • Haha… that made me laugh. Because it’s so true. I guarantee everyone has at least one crappy movie that they thought was great when they were a kid. For me, it was Howard the Duck.

  7. For me it was either Howard the Duck or Polish Vampire in Burbank. However, I do admit to seeing Waterworld. I also admit to not only seeing it, but paying for the torment. Not even Dennis Hopper could save it. T’is truly horrendous when a world made of water sinks like a stone.

  8. I was worried we weren’t going to get another Don’t Watch It, John, but here we are and it’s finally tackling a film I’ve seen. I saw this in the theatre when I was nine. I didn’t know much about movies then but Dennis Hopper freaked me out and Kevin Costner sucked ass, I knew that much at that age. I don’t know if I even sat through the whole thing, I remember my parents didn’t want to take me. A tremendous, terrific, outrageous failure is putting it lightly.

    • It was a good weekend for “Don’t Watch It” and I had 2 or 3 options. One I decided not to watch and the other wound up being a decent movie. So “Waterworld” was the winner.

      Hopper was definitely freaky in that movie. Even with as crappy as that movie was, I love me some Hopper. Even bad Hopper.

  9. nimorphi

    I saw The Rock when it first come out when I was 12 and thought it was the greatest movie ever made. then i saw it a few years ago and saw how horribly wrong I was. I saw this movie about that same time and thought it was awesome, but i have a feeling my opinion will be the same asThe Rock’s.
    Also, little girl in the movie was side ponytail girl in Napoleon Dynamite.

    For your next Don’t Watch It, may I suggest ‘Birdemic: Shock and Terror’.
    It has the cinematography of a high school school project, the SFX budget of a bag of hair, and an environmental message that makes ‘An Inconvient Truth’ seem subtle.

    • Ha… I’ll definitely keep an eye out for Birdemic. I love that people give suggestions for the “Don’t Watch It” series. It saves me from having to figure out which crappy thing I have to watch.

      And yeah, you totally blew my mind with the Napoleon Dynamite thing.

  10. HAHA Love this. Although I must say I have never watched it. I may have seen snippets as I channel flicked, but not massively.

    I remember his ‘gils’. Love the point about the girl not being able to swim in a land completely covered in water…LOLOLOL

    Great job sir as ever!!

    C

    • The gills! Those stupid gills were the inciting incident that kicked the whole movie off… which is freakin’ hilarious when you get right down to it. “He’s a mutant! He has gills!”

  11. Darah

    Best part of the movie was the opening sequence of the Universal pictures spinning ‘Earth’ as it slowly becomes engulfed by the oceans.
    Brilliant sequence, that was just about matched by ‘Serenity’ who did a similar thing but with ships escaping the dying earth.

    Later in Waterworld theres a really quite beautiful sequence where fishman takes Jeane Tripplehorn down in a diving bell to see the fllooded New York (I think). That was nicely done.
    The rest was a shocking mess.

    Interestingly, or not, the costs of the movie spiralled horribly out of control as the giant floating set was wrecked by a storm and sank.

    • The cost overruns did a lot of damage to that movie, I’m sure. Because the more it cost, the more the studio was gonna push it on people, meaning the more people were going to be exposed to a bad movie. And also, the larger the budget, the higher the expectation.

  12. Thanks for pointing out all of the flaws that I never noticed before. This was, at one point in time, a guilty pleasure of mine (and still is for my wife), but I never noticed those things that should have been oh-so-glaring. I don’t think I’ll be able to stomach this movie ever again.

    Also, this is awesome:

    “the movie where Kevin Costner drinks his own piss and bungee jumps to save an 8 year old with a tramp stamp from Dennis Hopper, who worships Joseph Hazelwood”

    Cheers!

  13. rtm

    My friend Ted already warned me about this one so yeah, I’ll skip it, thank you.

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