FILM (1995)

American films

Flashback: 'Waterworld', colossal flop directed by Kevin Reynolds

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, 11:56am

Waterworld Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino Director: Kevin Reynolds

It's hard to overstate how big a star Kevin Costner was in the mid-1990s. He built it and they came, danced with wolves, robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, investigated a president's assassination and protected Whitney Houston. Then came a post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick with a zeitgeisty eco-friendly premise. What could go wrong? Pretty much everything.

Waterworld has become a byword for mega-flop. Reviews called it "Fishtar" and "Kevin's Gate", punning on previous disasters, and Costner's career is only now recovering.

In Waterworld, the ice caps have melted, and the Earth is now covered in water. Costner roams in a gadget-packed trimaran, trading at the artificial atolls the remnants of what mankind has cobbled together. On one of these comes the first of many unintentionally hilarious lines: "Gills!" shouts someone as it's revealed that there's something fishy about Costner.

Let's not spend time on the plot. Nobody else did. There's a moppet with a tattoo map to the "Dryland", and Dennis Hopper is leader of the baddies, called Smokers because they, er, smoke cigarettes.

A budget of US$100 million ballooned to US$235 million (including marketing and distribution), a record until Titanic showed how to make money with water two years later. The multi-million-dollar artificial sea set collapsed in a hurricane, Costner nearly died while tied to the mast of his boat, his stunt double got lost at sea. Costner directed the last few scenes himself after director Kevin Reynolds either walked or was fired.

It grossed US$88 million domestically, but did better overseas and moved into the black with video sales. So the reputation as "biggest box-office bomb ever" and "one of the worst films ever" is unfair.

Clearly, it is not a good film. Yet there is a kernel of a good idea, and some action is acceptable - if your brain is disengaged. It's no worse than much of Hollywood's output.

James Porteous