Episode 27: Waterworld (1995)

Waterworld cover site.jpg

After our previous discussion of the life and times of Kevin Costner back in our chat about the epic Dances With Wolves, we visit Our Kev just 5 years later, still riding the crest of a wave of hits that came to an abrupt wipeout when he took to the high seas for the eye-wateringly expensive Mad Max-on-a-boat actioner Waterworld.

Costner’s appeal, that stern, somewhat stodgy Midwestern (despite being a thoroughbred Californian) everyman stoicism with a glimmer in his eye, had served him extremely well since his breakout in the latter part of the 1980s. But an artist yearns to push boundaries, and thus, this film stars Costner as a piss-drinking mutant who almost drowns a little girl. And he’s STILL the hero. There were a number of factors which contributed to the pre-release kicking this film received in the press, some deserved, some overblown, and we discuss those in this episode which sees our good friend Matt join us once again from his home in South Korea. He tells us of his rekindled fascination with the film owing to finding the hefty Ulysses cut, a fan edit which seeks to somewhat restore the film’s severely dented reputation by reinstating scenes which were cut during the tumultuous post-production to an already fraught shoot.

While we discuss the accuracy or otherwise of Waterworld‘s reputation as a financial flop, this film marked the turning point where the law of averages kicked in and Costner’s reign atop the box office came to an abrupt halt. The hubris on display in the monumental Dances With Wolves that turned that movie in to a major hit had since curdled and audiences and especially industry press turned on the star in droves. Follow-up The Postman became a shorthand for ill-advised post-apocalyptic slop, and despite reuniting with Tin Cup director Ron Shelton for the golf comedy Bull Durham to positive notices in the interim, two costly high-profile failures in quick succession were enough to signal a new phase in his career. Well regarded turns in the likes of Thirteen Days and The Upside of Anger mixed with little-loved filler like Rumour Has It and Ashton Kutcher-led lifeguard nonsense The Guardian. He directed and starred in a quality old school western in Open Range. He hawked tuna to Italians. He starred as Superman’s adoptive dad, turning in a good performance in a bad film. In short, he was no longer A Big Deal.

Gali, Matt and myself, in talking about this almost-last hurrah of Costner’s career pinnacle got us thinking that, despite the odd well-received supporting turn in the likes of Molly’s Game and some lead roles in films like Draft Day and the attempted geriactioner 3 Days to Kill which didn’t leave much of a dent, we’ve missed having him around and are all in for a big ol’ career comeback. A Kevival. A vanity-laced, swing-for-the-fences, heavy-handed message movie where the polar ice caps apparently hold enough water to flood the entire Earth; where human evolution takes place in a couple of centuries; where paper is a rarefied commodity but cigarettes can be tossed around like confetti. If there’s one thing we do love talking about on the podcast, it’s an admirable mess. While I won’t spoil our final assessments of the film here, I’ll just say that we definitely had plenty to talk about.

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