Howdy all you Supercultists out there on the interwebz! I’m Bad Movie Professor Cameron Coker (BS in “Kevin Costner” with a minor in “eye-patches”) and I’ll be posting my hype-tacular speeches every week along with some long lost speeches from past Supercult Shows!
This week Supercult buys a boat despite living several thousand miles from the nearest body of water after watching Waterworld!
In the distant future the polar ice caps have melted and the sea has engulfed the land. The remaining people travel the seas in floating cities called atoll’s searching for survival and dreaming of the mythological “Dryland.” When Deacon, the merciless leader of the local sea pirates known as Smokers, comes searching for a map to Dryland tattooed to a young orphan girl named Enola, Enola and her guardian Helen join forces with a mysterious gilled mutant drifter known only as the Mariner to escape their pursuers and find their promised land. Beyond the horizon lies the secret to a new beginning…in Waterworld!
Waterworld has long harbored a toxic reputation as a big, loud, waterlogged, box office bomb that spent too much time and money on world building and practical effects and not enough time or money on developing likable, much less comprehensible characters.
I am not here to refute that reputation.
The original screenplay by Peter Rader was pitched as a 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. Twohy cited Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior as a major inspiration for the new script. One script (later rejected) called for a second moon to appear in the sky, intimating that the cataclysm that created Waterworld was gravity-related, rather than warming. Waterworld would eventually undergo 36 different drafts and involve 6 different writers including Joss Whedon would later fly out to the set to do last minute rewrites. Whedon would later describe his experience as “seven weeks of hell.”
Waterworld stars Dennis Hopper, who previously played the over-the-top baddies from Speed and Supercult Classic Super Mario Brothers, as The Deacon, Tina Majorino, who would later play Deb in 2004’s Napoleon Dynamite, as the orphan girl Enola, Jeanne Tripplehorn, who you might know as Dr. Beth Garner from Basic Instinct, as Enola’s guardian Helen, and Kevin Costner as The Mariner.
Ignoring for the moment that if the icecaps did melt, the oceans would only rise a few hundred feet instead of covering every continent, Waterworld is actually a pretty cool idea. It’s Mad Mariner Max with Jet Ski’s, seaplanes, and the sci-fi equivalent of mermen. What’s not to love? The problem, it turns out has a name: Kevin Costner. Costner had just hit the peak of his success with “Dances with Wolves” which was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won seven including Best Picture, two for him personally (a nomination for Best Actor and a win for Best Director). The studio’s first choice for director of Waterworld was Robert Zemeckis, but when the great Kevin Constner threatened to quit if his friend Kevin Reynolds wasn’t given the director’s position, the studio had to give in. So instead of the genius behind Back to the Future and Who Frames Roger Rabbit, we are treated to the comparatively inexperienced director of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves who had worked with Costner on three previous occasions.
The film was plagued by a series of cost overruns and production setbacks. Universal originally authorized a budget of $100 million, but by the time of its release in 1995, Waterword was the most expensive films ever made with an estimated production cost of almost double its original budget. On top of all the practical effects, makeup, and various personal water craft (including 2 custom made 60-foot yachts), the floating atoll set was over ¼ mile in circumference, weighed 1,000 tons, and used up all the available steel in the Hawaiian Islands. When more was required it had to be flown in from California. The floating set also did not have any restrooms, nor were there restrooms on any of the 30 boats used by the cast and crew. The result was that filming had to halt so those in need could be ferried to a barge anchored near the shore which had several portable toilets on it. The studio also didn’t spend any time 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. The shoot was shut down 3 times due to weather alerts and at one point the whole set had to be rebuilt after a hurricane.
The elements took their toll in other ways as well. Several of the principal actors nearly drowned due to storm weather or vehicles sinking and dragging them under. One of the stunt coordinators had to be rushed to the hospital for decompression sickness after one of the underwater scenes and Tina Majorino earned the nickname “Jellyfish Candy” from Costner after jellyfish stung her on three occasions during production. Laird Hamilton, the well-known surfer, was Kevin Costner’s stunt double for many water scenes. Hamilton, who commuted to the set via jet ski, was temporarily lost at sea when his jet ski ran out of fuel between Maui and the Big Island. He drifted for hours before being spotted by a Coast Guard plane and rescued.
Costner himself cost the production hundreds of thousands of dollars. During filming 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. This inequity of accommodations contributed to on-set hostility and low morale. Budget issues and Costner’s prima donna attitude eventually caused a huge squabble between Costner and his hand-picked director Kevin Reynolds. resulting in Reynolds walking off the project with weeks of filming left leaving Costner to finish it. Reynolds was quoted as saying that “Kevin should only star in movies he directs. That way he can work with his favorite actor and favorite director”.
Even now Waterworld retains a spot on the list of the most expensive productions of all time. It comes in at #62 on the list of the most expensive films with a budget of $172 million dollars, but it reaches #9 when adjusted for inflation with a budget of $294million dollars, greater even than #11 Avatar (2009) and #24 The Avengers (2012). Due to the effects of inflation, Waterworld is also the oldest film on the list, one of only 3 films included that were produced before the turn of the century (the others being Wild Wild West (1999) and Titanic (1997)). The film grossed only $88 million a the North American Box Office and though it did better overseas and did well in home video sales and TV broadcasting rights the studio was only able to break even.
Waterworld had mixed reviews upon its release. Roger Ebert gave the film 2.5 out of 4 stars calling it, “one of those marginal pictures you’re not unhappy to have seen, but can’t quite recommend,” while James Berardinelli of Reelviews Movie Reviews wrote, “In the tradition of the old Westerns and Mel Gibson’s Mad Max flicks, this film provides good escapist fun.” Due to it’s massive production costs some critics dubbed it “Fishtar” and “Kevin’s Gate” alluding to Ishtar and Heavens Gate, two notorious box office flops in the 80’s, labels that probably didn’t help it at the box office. Waterworld also got mixed awards. It was nominated for Best Sound Mixing at the Oscars, nominated for Best Science Fiction Film and Best Costumes at the Saturn Awards, and nominated for Best Visual Effects at the BAFTA Film Awards while also earning 3 nominations at the Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Kevin Costner), and Worst Director (Kevin Reynolds), and a win for Worst Supporting Actor (Dennis Hopper). A Dennis Hopper who, on top of being able to pull off lines like “Don’t just stand there! Kill something!” seemed to have realized what type of movie he was in and just decided to go full Will Ferrell with it.
Despite financial defeat, critical failure, and down right name-calling, Waterworld’s legacy lives on. The film inspired several video game and comic book adaptations, a novel, and an enduring series of water shows at the Universal Studios theme parks. Waterworld had everything going for it: an academy award winning actor/director, an amazing concept, and a crap ton of money ($22 million of which reportedly came out of Costner’s own pocket). In the end, though all of those things turned out to work against it and we are left with a movie that opens with Kevin Coster drinking his own refined piss and wearing what appears to be a prosthetic vagina on the back of his neck.
With an IMDB score of 6.1 and a respectable 42% on Rotten Tomatoes Waterworld is an ambitious sci-fi extravaganza that shot for the stars and landed somewhere in the Sargasso. But with equal parts naval action and laugh-out-loud idiocy it’s a borderline, halfway, sort-a-kinda, GREAT cult film! So great in fact that Kevin Reynolds starkly remembers one critic walking out of a screening and saying, with disappointment in his voice, “Well…it didn’t suck.”
So, grab some dirt, put on your seashell earrings and sniff some paper supercultists! It’s time for a movie that’s so great that it doesn’t suck! The bar is really high tonight.
The Supercult show is proud to present Waterworld!