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Overall Rating

Awesome: 12.77%
Worth A Look27.66%
Average: 26.6%
Pretty Bad: 23.4%
Total Crap: 9.57%

3 reviews, 76 user ratings

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by Rob Gonsalves

"Imperfect, but underappreciated."
4 stars

In the future of 'Waterworld,' everyone looks both wet and dry -- soaked by their constant exposure to the water that has covered the planet, their skin red and wrinkled by the sun reflecting off the ocean.

The polar ice caps have melted, and dirt is a prized commodity, like petrol in the Mad Max trilogy. In fact, almost everything in Waterworld is like the Mad Max trilogy (the movie could be called Wet Max), except for its pace. The director, Kevin Reynolds, doesn't give us the cartoon-kinetic jolts of George Miller; he gives us exhausting physical realism. The relentless forward journey, over water instead of scorching desert, progresses against harsh and unforgiving backdrops, like the cattle drives in Anthony Mann's westerns. Yet, for all the motion, we get no real sense of progression: The damned vast expanse of ocean always looks the same as it did two scenes ago. Reynolds wants us to experience the endless sea as the characters do: both wide open and smothering -- the way you felt as a kid, looking up at the stars in the night sky and feeling infinity come over you in a frightening rush. Some of the images have a suffocating grandeur. Water, water everywhere.

The anti-hero, Mariner (Kevin Costner), is the latest in a long line of callous loners that include not only Mad Max but Josey Wales, James Stewart's hard-asses in the Mann westerns, and probably all the way back to Beowulf. The basic function of these personality-challenged slabs of beef is to be the steady rock at the center of the action -- the rock that various weaker, more human, and generally more lively characters cling to. And gradually some of their humanity rubs off on the loner, while some of his self-reliance rubs off on them. The difference in Waterworld is that those subsidiary characters are in short supply. Everyone we see (mostly men) is grubby, stressing over survival. Only the villains seem to have any form of recreation, and even they're a ragged, indistinct bunch. Mariner has been out on the water alone so long that he's lost any pretense of compassion or patience. About all that sets him apart from everyone else on the screen is that we see more of him -- that, and his webbed toes and gills.

More than once, the camera pulls back and back until Mariner's huge boat is just a speck in the ocean. The people are specks, too. Kevin Reynolds actually can do people, as he showed in his amiable feature debut, Fandango (also starring Costner). In his haplessly misconceived Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Reynolds gave himself over to the mud and cold and physical discomfort of medieval times -- apparently not caring that, for many of us, the magic of Robin Hood had been forever embodied by the athletic, boisterous Errol Flynn. That project wasn't right for Reynolds; if he wanted to make a realistic movie about the Dark Ages, he should have done it some other way. Reynolds' great talent (you heard me) lies in making us feel, actually feel, whatever atmosphere or climate he chooses to evoke. Waterworld is an anti-summer movie -- it's as tiring and headachy as a long day at the beach. Is it fun? Not really. Is that the point? Not really. The futuristic milieu is oppressively convincing; Reynolds' obsession with the elements, at the risk of alienating an audience that wants only escapism, makes him perhaps the most radical big-movie director since Kubrick. All the effort pays off: Waterworld has my respect. I had no idea what the characters were thinking half the time, but I had an excellent idea what they were feeling, physically. This may be the only water-filled movie in history that makes you thirsty. You can almost smell the salt on Mariner's sunburned skin.

Kevin Costner has taken some lumps for his one-note performance as Mariner, but I thought he was funny -- more so, even, than Dennis Hopper, who turns up as the Deacon, the maniacal one-eyed leader of the villainous Smokers. Costner spends most of the movie acting like a grumpy bear with a migraine (which may not have been acting). Mariner takes two survivors onto his ship -- a little girl, Enola (Tina Majorino), who has a map tattooed onto her back, and her companion-protector Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn). He sees them both entirely as obstructions. "Hi," Enola says cheerfully to Mariner. "Move," he replies. Helen offers Mariner her body; he looks her over and grunts, "You got nothin' I need." (Later, he tells her he didn't seize the moment because "I knew you didn't really want me." Okay, so there's something that sets him apart from most guys on Waterworld, and on our world too.) Mariner eventually thaws a little, but in the meantime his very humorlessness is amusing. When Enola gives a friendly, innocent wave to the Smokers, Mariner slaps her upside the head: "What are you thinkin' about?" Costner's relentlessly antagonistic performance at the center of this big movie is another risk that pays off.

Costner is doing something daring; Dennis Hopper isn't. He's funny, but he's funny in exactly the same way he was in Speed, which is a polite way of saying he's in a rut. His Deacon has no menace. As entertaining as Hopper can be, he's never grasped the great secret of playing a villain, which is to act as if the movie is really about the villain -- an ambitious guy who keeps getting thwarted by some tiresome hero. (Contemporaneous example: Tim Roth in the otherwise pathetic Rob Roy.) Audiences laugh fondly at Hopper now, and he's stunted by that fondness. Like Jack Nicholson, Hopper has learned precisely which bits of business will go over big -- these once-dangerous actors have turned into sitcom crazies. Their timing has become immaculate and disheartening; their wildness arrives right on schedule, like Kramer bursting through the door on Seinfeld. Hopper may have another ferocious Blue Velvet performance (or touching Hoosiers performance) in him, but the evidence against it gets more depressing every summer. He seems to have handed his career over to goofing around in movies for teenagers.

Reynolds may have thought that if the Deacon were as grim and resourceful as Mariner, Waterworld would have been unwatchable. (Would it have been unwatchable if Mariner had been as loud and high-spirited as the Deacon?) This director isn't interested in the eternal good-evil throwdown. His heart is in the scenes of Mariner leapfrogging around his boat like an organic cog in the machinery. The conflict in Reynolds' movies is between man and nature -- or, most often, between Kevin Costner and nature: Costner in the desert looking for Dom, Costner brooding in the fog of Sherwood Forest, Costner on the water. Watching Costner live it up in Fandango before going to see Waterworld is a vivid lesson in the difference ten years make. Assuming that these men want to work together again, what's left for them to conquer? The frozen tundra? Outer space? A lost city under the earth? Kevin Reynolds could become a major director, working his own private side of the street, but he needs better scripts. (The one here, credited to Peter Rader and David Twohy, is sometimes witty but also sketchy and derivative.)

'Waterworld' isn't anything great, but it's miles ahead of the usual summer fluff. It's the work of a talented director-star team who, at this point, probably want their next collaboration to be a quiet romantic comedy with Costner sitting in a nice restaurant talking to a beautiful woman for two hours.

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originally posted: 01/11/07 05:48:19
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User Comments

10/03/10 joszell ..i've watched it yesterday.. its good. awesome productions and effects.. nice.. 4 stars
1/16/10 Jurij Fedorov My favorite film ever. 5 stars
8/28/09 Jeff Wilder $170 million and none of it was spent hiring a decent screenwriter. 2 stars
11/17/08 Farnsy Not crap but not impressive 3 stars
10/24/08 Farnsy Not as bad as the critics say. 4 stars
10/22/08 Shaun Wallner Well made. 4 stars
9/29/08 gailly_2619 I like the movie so much,it is entertaining and the characters are great>>>>>>>> 5 stars
4/25/08 Karrie Millheim I liked this movie alot, the special effects were good, I have seen it over 25 times 5 stars
3/06/07 David Pollastrini a bit long but very underrated 4 stars
8/20/06 Sepi53 I liked this one, don't understand why critics hate it? 5 stars
7/14/06 David Cohen Science fiction without the science, when will Kevin Costner learn that he is second rate? 2 stars
4/06/06 Indrid Cold Unique and entertaining. Critics prejudged it based on the budget thing. 4 stars
12/22/05 Wiseman This movie was GREAT! I dont know what everyones talking about, 5 stars so much fun to see 5 stars
10/07/05 Klondo way too hated. many scenes have great action and it's one of Costner's best performances. 4 stars
9/13/05 Total Crap Trash. 1 stars
9/02/05 ES Wasn't bad, a little confusing here and there, but also has some fun and coolness to it 3 stars
8/04/05 woody exstra 5 stars
7/26/05 Tummi Super movie, one of my favourits 5 stars
6/19/05 boo-yaa kid fuckin a 5 stars
6/18/05 Indrid Cold Not even close to a disaster like everyone says. Actually a pretty good action/adventure. 4 stars
5/10/05 susee hey..wasnt a bad attempt after all 4 stars
2/03/05 Aaron Smith Not great, but ok sci-fi 3 stars
1/23/05 keithers.. underrated...i had fun...Coster is great... 3 stars
10/23/04 ODH This money cost how much to make? Where did it all go... 2 stars
8/15/04 jen it is good 3 stars
6/05/04 alien assassin The worst Sci-fi epic ever made (apart from "Battlefield Earth") !!! 1 stars
5/17/04 Dr. Lecter Surprisingly watchable garbage 3 stars
4/04/04 em complete and utter shit 1 stars
4/01/04 jaye its alright if you dont look to closely at what is going on. 3 stars
3/18/04 R.W. Welch A better title would have been "Waterloo." 2 stars
2/25/04 Thomas Not bad. Just that most reviewers fail to understand the concept of science FICTION. 4 stars
2/09/04 Whatevr Slightly overrated 3 stars
1/07/04 Pinkline Jones Best film since Gandhi 5 stars
11/29/03 john some impressive action sequences - good concept but lousy story and terrible ending 3 stars
5/12/03 Jack Bourbon A financial flop, but that's not our problem. Entertaining flick. 4 stars
4/19/03 Ubu the Ripper Whoever paid for this turd should be given a lobotomy without anethesia. 1 stars
4/13/03 Dave A $200+ production cost and we get THIS??? 2 stars
3/19/03 Jack Sommersby Acceptably delivered. But it's too familiar and overlong. 2 stars
12/22/02 Pigwidgeon The most underrated movie of the last three decades. 5 stars
10/26/02 Tar Mac What is it with Kevin Costner and his three hour epics? Does he jerk off watching them? 2 stars
10/22/02 Charles Tatum Believe me, worst has been done 4 stars
7/12/02 KMG KEVIN: PACK YOUR BAGS 2 stars
4/27/02 maximal01 I wanna know... where the hell did all the Smoker's cigs come from??yeah, this film blows.. 2 stars
3/20/02 Steve Mackey Superb action, photography, good humor, little Tina is great. 4 stars
3/17/02 FlaFan The movie and Costner are underrated. Neither deserved the media bashing they got. 4 stars
1/02/02 Andrew Carden It Can Be Good If You Can Overlook It's Dull and Meaningless Script. 4 stars
12/04/01 Shams Huque The show at Universal Studios in LA was far superior! 3 stars
12/02/01 The $1.98 Pyramid The only cool thing is the SFX Universal trademark. 3 stars
10/18/01 officer412/l a major guilty plesure of mine. I know it's dumb,just dont take it seriously 4 stars
9/23/01 Larry Smith Can society degenerate that far? 3 stars
9/06/01 spaceworm At last! Costner finds a film worthy of his talents... 2 stars
8/10/01 R.W. Welch Mad Max at sea. Unconvincing and barely watchable. 2 stars
7/30/01 Henry Ginsberg Good idea .Abit baoring . 3 stars
7/29/01 Jennifer Gaissert Tripplehorn stunk, kid's wig distracted, otherwise OK 3 stars
7/28/01 Henry Ginsberg disapointing 3 stars
7/15/01 Nazi dad Great chase scenes and Dennis Hopper is unforgettable as the despicable "Deacon of D's". 5 stars
6/20/01 Shawna I agree... someone is out to get Kevin. This is not my favorite movie, but worth seeing. 4 stars
6/19/01 Xx-Bull-xX Mad Max on the water, but I really liked it. 4 stars
5/07/01 Gracy Lionheart Ugh...wasted my money at the theater. 1 stars
3/18/01 Soggy Bottom Boy Bad script, bad direction. A shame, in the right hands, could've been pretty cool. 2 stars
12/06/00 AtlantaBill Fishtar. 1 stars
12/04/00 Cristopher Revilla good acting, good action sequences, the need a n editor to edit all the shit in the plot 2 stars
9/30/00 Terrie Smith Some good moments in this waterlogged entry; Dennis Hopper should have drowned. 3 stars
7/09/00 Andrew Freeman Costner is sexy with fins 1 stars
4/15/00 malcolm looks like time for another baseball movie for KC 2 stars
3/16/00 Richard Wright A decent enough film. Confusing and thin plot is lit up by some good action sequences. 3 stars
3/02/00 Kyle Broflovski Ahh, wasn't all bad. It ain't "Star Wars", but it ain't "Ringmaster", either! 4 stars
10/25/99 Lame-Oh Not good. Love your review, Oz. 2 stars
9/11/99 the Grinch I hate Costner, but this is an o.k. roadwarrior ripoff no-brainer 3 stars
8/20/99 Japtalian I think Costner sucks but for some reason I like this movie. Bitchslap me! 4 stars
7/24/99 Hagbard Celine OK, I know this was a box-office bomb, but it's worth renting on video. 4 stars
3/11/99 Ah Dooey Stupid. Yet it has 1 word: Costner. Blah. And disgraceful, too. 1 stars
2/09/99 Gary They should have gone 100% with the Escape from NY type gags. Very week SciFi. 1 stars
1/28/99 donkey_dew Not bad, not too bad at all. 5 stars
1/26/99 {{{OZ}}} Dumb. But somehow watchable. Stupid. Yet it has a message. Costner. Ew. 2 stars
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  28-Jul-1995 (PG-13)


  14-Sep-1995 (M)

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