I will dare to say that the 6.1 IMDb rating for this type of film made in 1995 is not entirely accurate. I rewatched it this week, previously having seen it many years ago, and I really liked it. But it does have many flaws, notably very simplistic/straightforward plot, some plot holes and a sort-of feeling that there was something missing to make this story complete (more on this below).
It seems that IMDb was the most generous to the movie as Waterworld earned lower ratings of 41% tomatometer and 56 metascore. But in its own way and style, the film is far superior than the ratings detail. The visual elements of the film were amazing, from the long shots, to costumes, smallest props and to the sets. I enjoyed the creation of this futuristic world and its societies, laws etc. CGI was not entirely realistic (especially of the underwater city) but keep in mind that the film was released in 1995, so no further comment there. I do, however, want to commend the dark humour elements in this movie, which despite being ridiculous and absurd, were still funny and blended seamlessly with the style of production. The film was written by Peter Rader and David Twohy, and while the director Kevin Reynolds did a superb job, the writers deserve their full praise too. John Bloomfield (costume design) and Nancy Haigh (set decoration) also deserve the recognition.
Performances from the cast were competent. I say competent because the film did not require terrific acting skills nor it would have benefited from them either. The overall tone of the film was somewhere between comical and absurd, especially the role of Deacon – the scenes with him reminded me of the Tom&Jerry feuds. And it turned out be the right decision not to make this a serious film. Interesting that Gary Busey, Laurence Fishburne, Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, James Caan, Samuel L. Jackson and Gary Oldman – were the names considered for playing the role of Deacon, eventually played by Dennis Hopper. Dennis was a good casting choice but I have a feeling Samuel L. Jackson would have been great in this role. The quirky, eccentric, foolish nature of Deacon would have been perfect for S. L. Jackson.
Researching this film, however, one learns of the feuds that haunted the production and the series of unfortunate circumstances that the film had to go through… There were numerous reports that director Kevin Reynolds and Kevin Costner “had a huge squabble over the film, resulting in Reynolds walking off the project and left Costner to finish it” (IMDb Trivia). To make matters worse, the script “underwent 36 different drafts which involved six different writers” (IMDb Trivia) – no wonder the movie lacked ‘fullness’.
I was surprised to find that the film had an estimated budget of $175,000,000. Although, thinking about the costumes, set designs, filming location etc. it makes sense that it was not cheap to produce the film. Prior to Titanic (1997), this was the most expensive movie ever produced and Kevin Costner personally invested $22 million of his own money into the film (IMDb Trivia). However, and this is where it gets really interesting, having read all the trivia about the film on IMDb, it is clear the production efforts were quite poor and wasteful. The details that struck me most are these (all taken from IMDb Trivia):
- “Kevin Costner was put up, at a cost of $4,500 a night, in an oceanfront villa with a butler, chef, and his own private swimming pool. In contrast, crew members were forced to live in uninsulated condominiums that were subject to temperature swings of up to 50 degrees”. No wonder, the morale was low among the crew, especially if you learn that “neither the 1,000 metric ton floating set nor any of the 30 boats used by the cast and crew had bathrooms”. The crew had to be ferried to portable toilets on the shore. (To Kevin’s defense, he did contribute $22 million to the film, possibly to finance these luxuries).
- “For the Japanese premiere, Kevin Costner had his private plane flown to Tokyo. However, he failed to get permission to store his plane at the airport for the duration of his trip. He asked the Navy if he could use their airport at Atsugi. They agreed, but only if Costner showed the movie there, and made a personal appearance”. This is all great, but maybe someone in the movie/entertainment business (with so much wealth and resources) would be willing to research the laws/regulations/permits required for these foreign visits… It is similar to the case of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard breaking the Australian bio-security laws and sarcastically laughing the matter off. Still, however absurd the case may have appeared to them, their behaviour was wrong/illegal. The thing that I don’t understand is how you can have so much money/resources and not be aware of all these rules (What happened to hiring interns to do all this research for you? What about personal assistants etc.?). I’m not hating on anyone, I genuinely do not understand how these ‘mistakes’ are allowed to happen.
- “The studio didn’t spend any money researching weather patterns off Hawaii’s Kona coast, where the film was shot. If they had, they would have learned that the area was subject to 45 mph winds, which constantly blew the set out of position and ruined shots”. As a result, filming shut down “3 times due to hurricane alerts” and the “entire slaver faction was written out when the set was destroyed”. Again, what happened to research… Do you not conduct actual/proper location scouting before spending nearly $200 million dollars on a film? Again, I am genuinely not being hostile to anyone, I really really do not understand how the production efforts were so sloppy and, as a result, wasteful. Some people probably do more research when planning their holidays abroad… I believe the film deserves the harsh critique, keeping in mind how much they actually spent and how much they may have saved if proper research was conducted. In addition, it was clear that the film was missing completeness – Slavers were mentioned once or twice at the beginning of the film, but were never introduced, developed – now we know why.
Initially, I was going to mention that the film was a success, financially speaking, as it achieved the cumulative worldwide gross of $264,218,220. But, as per IMDb Trivia “The film cost $235 million to produce and market, and grossed $264 million worldwide in 1995, of which approximately 55% ($145 million) went to the studio and the remainder to theaters. As of 2013 the film had actually earned a profit of $8 million from video sales and television licensing”. So, the earnings barely covered the production costs…
The film had a terrific idea, but due to the reasons mentioned above, it suffered greatly. It could have been an amazing film, but it created too much of a mess for itself to reach an instant classic status. Still, it is surprisingly good, despite all the criticisms. It’s not a bad or a great film. It’s quite decent and is worth watching. But it could have been so much better….
More interesting IMDb Trivia (direct quotes):
- In an interview with David Letterman shortly before the film was released, Kevin Costner said that one of the worst aspects of the production was that his character had to look “wet” during the shoot. To achieve the effect, Costner was required to be doused with buckets of water between takes while wearing the Mariner’s costume. Costner said that while he recognized that the crew were only doing their job and they were friends of his, getting hit with water every few minutes really tried his patience with them.
- The original screenplay by Peter Rader was pitched as an children’s adventure film. In Rader’s screenplay the Mariner was a human and the chief defender of the Atoll, whose embarrassing secret was that he enjoyed painting pictures of seahorses; Helen had two of her own children along with the adopted Enola, and the Deacon was a campy, silly villain who dressed up like King Trident, sat atop a throne on the Exxon Valdez, and punished his subordinates by slapping them around the face with a wet fish. Subsequent rewrites by David Twohy and Joss Whedon turned the original script into a much more serious action-adventure film
- Kevin Costner insisted that his friend Kevin Reynolds be given the director’s position, or he would quit. Later, Costner had a falling out with Reynolds over the film’s direction.
- The map tattoo on Enola’s back is in Chinese traditional characters (or Japanese Kanji). The characters in the middle surrounding the arrow are actual coordinates for longitude and latitude. While one number is not quite readable, the others give almost exact coordinates for Mount Everest, which is Latitude 27° 59′ N Longitude 86° 56′ E. The movie coordinates give: Latitude 27 or 28° 58′ N Longitude 86° 56′ E.