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Black Lamb


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Wet is beautiful

September 1st, 2003


I watch it every time it’s on TV. Every time. Every single time. The water. The grunge. The laconic, scowling protagonist. The long, dreary silences. THE WATER! It was nominated for a Raspberry Award as 1997’s worst film of the year (Showgirls won; pole dancing beat out water ballet) and was the subject of international ridicule, sometimes touted as “the most awful movie in history.” (Excuse me, but that distinction, indisputably, goes to Disney’s Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend.) It stars an actor for whom I have not a scintilla of respect. But it’s one of my favorite films.


I was a science fiction fan when “real” science fiction was in its heyday. I read the grand old gentlemen of the genre: Clark, Heinlein, Asimov, Herbert, Zelazny, Dick. For me, science fiction was paper, not celluloid; the only sci-fi films I cared for as a child were the horror ones: The Blob, The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I did stand in line with half-a-dozen friends for more than two hours the night Star Wars opened, and I’d have better spent that 120 minutes learning to juggle. I thought Star Wars was utter bilge. Worst acting I had never seen, and the wookie reminded me (not in a good way) of Soupy Sales’ pal White Fang. I saw Alien (zzzz) and was never frightened, only irritated (gee, the hero is going down a long tunnel and doesn’t look behind, I wonder if there’s something back there? And why can’t we see the damned creature, what’s to fear?). I wanted to walk out but my co-viewer wouldn’t budge, so I pondered the popcorn particles on the floor and hummed Doobie Brothers songs in my head.

Script doctor!!

But I really love Waterworld. I love it. Without apology. When producer/star Kevin Costner first started work on it in 1995, skeptics howled (and this was even before The Postman), and as the months went by and the budget exploded, ridicule swelled like a killer wave off the coast of Oahu. By the time it was released, at a cost of $175 million, it was the most expensive movie ever made. Not since Heaven’s Gate had reviewers done so much with nasty wordplay. “Waterlogged.” “Dunked.” “Ocean’s Gate.” “Swamped Thing” and “CostnerWorld.”

The movie, like all Costner endeavors, is protracted and self-absorbed. Lord Costner himself is on screen quite a bit, but because he doesn’t say much or film himself in reverential love scenes, he is bearable. In fact, his utter lack of appeal is daring. He’s homely and so is the scowling child star around whom the plot revolves. The movie itself dares to be dark, slow, and flat between the amusing “action” scenes featuring extras on jet skis and Dennis Hopper raging behind an eyepatch.

Until its indefensibly cheesy finale, Waterworld features a “hero” who is expressionless, hermitic, and (no Gary Cooper he) really, really icky. He hates everyone, he has webbed feet and gills, and you can just smell the seaweed on his skin.


The cast, reportedly, was miserable, and no one wanted to promote the thing, but Waterworld kicked butt in overseas (wink, wink) business, and it’s done fine in video sales. I’m happy just to see a movie that floats. I do (I said, and will say again) love water. Aqua vistas wouldn’t have carried Blue Lagoon for me; but in Waterworld the vast expanse of endless ocean is intoxicating. Costner is, fortunately, not the star of this movie; the ocean is the centerpiece, and I can feel myself pulling breath into my lungs each time the camera pans out over the reflective surface. Afloat or submerged, the movie keeps you wet! The very idea of a planet without land masses? Heaven.

Even when the screen features a human face, it ripples with the virtual current beyond. And one of the faces belongs to Jeanne Tripplehorn, who looks delectable and serene even trapped in this unrelentingly grim, annoying narrative. (She co-starred with Tom Cruise in The Firm; given the choice, I’d take second billing to the Pacific anytime.) She gets to swim with the reptilian Costner Cod Creature: where do I rent my fins?

I’ve loved other movies that took critical beatings, and I’ve walked out on films that were darlings of the medium and the masses. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Huhhhh? sent me scurrying for the exit, as did Lord of the Ringing Cash Registers. I thought Dances with Wolves was profoundly overrated. I didn’t even buy a ticket when Waterworld was released and caught it quite by accident when it aired on television. I was hooked like a flapping, breathless trout, and now I’m outed.

The love that dare not gasp its name: Waterworld. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Movie Issue, Browning | Link to this Entry


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