The future according to Hollywood


Starring Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino and Michael Jetner
Directed by Kevin Reynolds
Reviewed by Barry Healy
By now everybody knows the publicity albatross Waterworld carries around its neck: that it's the most expensive film ever made, having cost somewhere around $240 million, and an enormous flop. Film goers will part with their money either in the expectation of witnessing an over-the-top technological extravaganza or getting the chance to laugh up their sleeves at Kevin Costner's expense.
The truth is that Waterworld is nowhere near as bad as its detractors are saying, but it also falls far short of Kevin Costner's declared aim of making a film that "advanced the action film genre". It is a silly Hollywood action film in which the requisite number of amazing stunts get performed and the right people get blown up at the end.
It's better than other samples of the genre that are filling screens these days like the Die Hard series or Bad Boys. That isn't so hard because, as Costner told his Sydney press conference, in such films "a building gets blown up and one of the characters cracks a one-line gag".
Waterworld's scenario is of a future in which the seas have risen due to global warming and small numbers of humans are surviving as sea nomads or inhabitants of floating towns. Is this a world in which people have learned to live harmoniously in order to survive collectively? No way!
This world is dominated by savagery and a kind of Hells Angels code of ethics. Not much of civilisation has survived into this future except the basic values of capitalism and the attitudes of US "survivalists".
Kevin Costner's web-footed mutant Mariner character bears a striking resemblance to Mad Max. But where the road warrior's indifference to morality was played with an undercurrent of absurdity, the Mariner, while heroic, is humourless and capable of gratuitous acts of violence, including against women and children.
In Sydney, Costner defended the character's sexist violence by saying that it was important to establish the Mariner's "survivalist" values. Given that the film revolves around those values, his point is valid.
But it avoids the question of why the film makers didn't try to create an alternative vision, one that really would have "advanced the genre".
Dennis Hopper has enormous fun as the ultra-nasty Deacon, leader of the baddies, and 10-year-old Tina Majorino displays some excellent acting talent as the child with a mysterious map tattooed on her back who becomes the centre of the action.
Costner performs most of his stunts himself — which must have given his insurance company palpitations.
Such a pity so much talent and money went on so slight a story. But that's another of the values of the Hollywood action-flick genre.