Movie Article

Mysterious 'World'

''Waterworld'' hits theaters -- The Kevin Costner film left audiences asking questions

Pass the Dramamine, please. Waterworld is finally in theaters, yet questions about the most expensive movie keep breaking over the bow. Is it a success or a failure? Does the plot make sense? Does Kevin Costner's Mariner stink after three days? The film's opening-weekend receipts — $21.2 million, or less than one tenth of its estimated production and marketing cost — set the press sloshing to and fro. Daily Variety: ''It's a Big 'World' After All.'' The New York Times: ''Managed to stay afloat. But barely.'' USA Today: ''Waterworld floats to top of box office.'' Reviews were mixed, too, with the usually generous CinemaScore audience poll tallying a low grade of B. And while an answer to the ultimate question — Was it worth it? — lies beyond the horizon, so do answers to these head-scratchers:

How far in the future is Waterworld, anyway? Hundreds of years, as the film says?
The Mariner's mutations would lead one to think so. But Deacon Dennis Hopper's evil minions, who must have been puffing a while for everyone to know them as ''The Smokers,'' still have cigarettes. Where is the tobacco grown? And how long can an oil tanker remain at sea before it rusts and sinks? ''Decades,'' says Bob O'Neill of the American Waterways Shipyard Conference. ''I'll guess 25 to 30 years.'' At least that smaller time span would explain how survivors held on to their various accents.

Where's the story credit for The Road Warrior writer-director George Miller?
Loner hero in spartan future is paired with melon-headed kid against ruthless villain and his biker-punk henchmen, who give chase on jerry-rigged, petroleum-fueled vehicles. Sound familiar?

Did they save money by borrowing?
Where have we seen that balloon before? Was it The Adventures of Baron Munchausen?

Since when do airplanes and Jet Skis run on crude oil?
The script lacks — how shall we say — refinement. When this point was raised with uncredited screenwriter Joss Whedon last winter, he replied, ''You mean you can't make Jet Skis run with crude oil? Guess what. You can now!''

What's up with the food supply?
No seafood in Waterworld? How 'bout an albatross? The one fish that's caught is (we don't want to give anything away) really large. Shouldn't the trimaran have been draped thereafter in drying strips of monster meat?

If the Mariner's feet are webbed, why aren't his hands?
Mutants are so unpredictable. Will the sequel have him swim off in search of Patrick Duffy's The Man From Atlantis?

The Mariner is a loner who can breathe underwater. Why would he have built the diving bell that Jeanne Tripplehorn uses?
Don't say he was expecting company.

Who's got the sunscreen?
If everybody is exposed to the sun all day, how come only the Deacon has a savage tan? Did boatloads of Coppertone ride out the floods, like those cigarettes? And shouldn't there be a shot of Tripplehorn's Helen shaving her legs?

Why are posters for Virtuosity, The Net, and Waterworld so similar?
The stars' faces shine forth like moons, same size, different phases. Denzel Washington waxes full; Sandra Bullock fades at three quarters; Costner is a serious half. Coincidence? Publicity-soaked Universal declined to comment.

If there's no land, and dirt is such a scarce commodity, why's everyone so filthy?
Here's a tip — you're surrounded by water, use it.

Additional reporting by Dave Karger and Jeffrey Wells

Originally posted Aug 11, 1995 Published in issue #287 Aug 11, 1995 Order article reprints