Omega 13– A weekly treatise in which we analyze publicly derided Box Office Failures using granular convection to piece out the good that might lie beneath.
With the internet taking great pleasure casting an askance view on even the minute of failures in all manner of creative endeavour I thought it might be nice to look at those famously bad films of the past and revealing all the moments where they made the right choice. All movies have them, and they are even easier to see in a bad movie than in a good movie (since good movies are brimming with goodness). Kind of a Devil’s Advocate, but with a Pollyanna attitude; This is Omega 13…
Episode 01- Waterworld (1995)
Release Date: July 28, 1995
Budget: 175 Million
1st Weekend Total: 21.2 Million (Domestic)
From the appearance of the Universal Globe Waterworld lets you in on what kind of film you are about to view. Akin to the Indiana Jones movies the company logo morphs- this time we see the Ice that covers the poles disappearing and with it so does all the land. A voice explains what you saw and we begin this modern day telling of a 50s sci-fi/adventure B-movie. At times it rises above the genre and other times it revels in it.
Our here: The Mariner. He has no name. A lonely drifter travelling the vast sea. He is Clint Eastwood in The Dollars trilogy, he is Nada in They Live. He is every protagonist in every 60s and 70s Exploitation movie, grunting single syllables out when he needs to speak and looking pensive when he does not. Because he is a mutant his distrust for all homo sapiens is understandable, his desperate want to save Helen & Enola, yet is weary of having them around speaks volumes between the silence. Being alone for The Mariner means not being accountable and, in turn, not holding anyone else accountable that may fail him.
He doesn’t have a name so death can’t find him. Doesn’t have a home or people to care for. He’s not afraid of anything, men least of all. He’s fast and strong like a big wind. He can hear a hundred miles and see a hundred miles underwater. He can hide in the shadow of the noon sun He could be right behind you, and you won’t even know it ’til you’re dead!
There are many people who hate on Kevin Costner these days and I argue that they have no idea what they are talking about. He all but saved Man of Steel, 3000 Miles to Graceland is a must own for any action-movie collection, A Perfect World: a tour de force. Dances with Wolves, The Untouchables, Bull Durham, Tin Cup– the list goes on and on. He is a movie star in the tradition of movie stars; He can act, he does act, but he is not a character actor. His job is the make the character believable that he himself is that character. Sure you could name movies he has been in that failed but I dare you to tell me he was the reason. Even The Postman- yes, even The Postman.
In 13 minutes we are given the whole storyline. The Mariner, the loner is a mutant who has gills. The most of society reviles him. We learn that there is a myth of a place called Dryland and a young girl has a tattoo of instructions to find it. Again, with a story this simple this film is not trying to reinvent the wheel, they are making a grand spectacle within the confines of the genre itself. Waterworld is Mad Max on the water, the wide open space of Australia is replaced with Water, but the glamour of the post apocalyptic, punk rock milieu is still abound. And! had they hired George Miller perhaps the public derision would not exist. Perhaps, perhaps.
And then… and then… we meet the antagonist. The Deacon. Dennis Hopper does not have much to work with here, but that is not the point. He is the bad guy, The Mariner is the good guy. Helen and Enola are the outsiders who melt the heart of the gruff good guy and at the end of the 2nd act one will be kidnapped by the antagonist causing the good guy to realize he cares and in the 3rd act will save them. The Deacon is corporate greed, he is anti-recylcing, he is fossil fuel and ignorance, and Dennis Hopper plays him with the relish that only he can deliver.
If you’ll notice the arterial nature of the blood coming from the hole in my head, you can assume that we’re all having a real lousy day.
The Myth of Dryland. Much like religion is hope that there is something more going on than just man crawling from the primordial ooze and we are the only ones responsibility for our action, the inhabitants of Waterworld need to believe that Dryland exists. As Jack Nicholson said, “What if this is as good as it gets?” These people living in abject poverty are desperate to believe that somewhere there is a land that they can spread out on, where food is in abundance, and pure hydro comes down from the mountains indefinitely. They need this because what is the point of getting up in the morning. Everyone needs a little faith, even the Deacon.
With The Deacon’s aptly named band of rebels The Smokers driving their oil-filled jet skis, boats, and sea planes plus their deliberate ingesting of all manner of food as if it will always appear it is obvious that they will begin to implode. Obviously no one here read, Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress else they would not be heading the way of Easter Island. We see the desperation The Deacon is experiencing as he frantically hunts down Enola and this mythical map to Dryland.
What Waterworld gets right is its heart. Most people gets lost in the supposed eco-political statements on society’s affect on the world. They feel as if the filmmakers are preaching that if we don’t fix ourselves soon that we might be living in Waterworld soon. Which is not the case, it is taking a conceit that is not remotely founded in fact and creating a fantastical tale within it. A scene that sticks out to me involves a minor character on The Deez, The Deacon’s base. The oil tanker, The Exxon Valdez. The Deacon has a comically skinny, pale old man who sits in a tiny rowboat in the dark of the oil-filled belly of the tanker. It is insinuated that he has been here for years that when The Mariner drops a flair in the tank that will invariably cause the entire ship to explode the man looks at the forthcoming flame and says, “Thank God.” A simple moment that says so much. On one hand it is comedic but upon closer look it is a tremendously sad character moment.
But, at its gooey centre this is a rollicking adventure film, a road film, and digging deeper, a film about ignorance, fear, and faith. If one removes themselves from their need to poke holes at the affectations of the the story and see it for what it is: Roller coaster of a Corman-like film with a budget. It is meaning for you to sit back and have fun.
The story itself is actually quite tight. What is introduced in Act One all comes back to in later acts. There is no dangling story points here. For 135 minutes or, if you watch the TV cut, 176 minutes, you are given the information you need to get by with very little extraneous scenes. Even the middle of Act 2 where the film slows down to develop the relationship between The Mariner, and Helen and Enola we enjoy the pause for, in a Summer Blockbuster (of sorts) film such as this we know that mid-way on it will be non-stop action. And Waterworld delivers on the action. The stunts are fun and extravagant- why they are so extravagant that the Universal Theme Park in Hollywood still has their Waterworld attraction still running 20 years later.
Let’s talk about the effects. All practical, hardly a green screen to be seen here. The sets, the boats, the fighting all real. If anything, that is worth the revisit. So many films rely on heavy VFX and had that been of the same quality then as we saw in Life of Pi this entire film would have been shot in a giant wave tank in Taichung, as well. From the skidoo stunts to the boat battles in the never tumultuous sea, to the hand to hand combat in The Deez we are privy to real people in harms’ way. Of course, it is a movie, of course each stunt is planned weeks in advance, but seeing it live with no VFX to break our perception is a joy.
In conclusion, Waterworld is a grand romp full with extravagant archetypes and flashy stunts. It works to give more than a simple good verses evil plot, but it doesn’t try to sell you on it. It is there if you look, and sometimes right in your face. Kevin Costner and Dennis Hopper trample through this modern day post apocalyptic take on an exploitation film with a weight that only two seasoned actors can afford. Worth a second look.
I want the girl.
You know, I thought you were stupid, friend. But I underestimated you. You are a total freaking retard! Ha-ha-ha…
I want the girl. That’s all.
Well, what on this screwed-up earth of ours makes you think you’re gonna get her?
[the Mariner takes a flare from his belt, and holds it over a hole leading down to the Deez’s fuel hold]
You know what this is. I drop it, you burn.
We all burn…
Now-now-now, let’s not do anything rash here. I mean, are you sure this kid is worth it? I mean, she never does stop talking, she never shuts up!
So what is it, then? It’s the map.
She’s my friend.
Golly gee, a single tear rolls down my cheek. You’re gonna die for your friend.
If it comes to that.
—— End episode 001
Stay tuned for next week’s episode of Omega 13 where we dig through mire to find the appreciable inside 1987’s Ishtar.