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Entry updated 7 October 2019. Tagged: Film.

Film (1995). Universal Pictures and Lawrence Gordon present a Gordon Company/Davis Entertainment/Licht-Mueller Film Corp. production. Directed by Kevin Reynolds. Written by Peter Rader and David Twohy. Cast includes Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Tina Majorino and Jeanne Tripplehorn. Theatrical version 135 minutes; extended version 177 minutes. Colour.

An indefinite time in the future, after the icecaps have melted and humanity's remnants have adapted perforce to an ocean planet, a ruthless gang lord (Hopper) with access to the last stocks of petroleum and weapons pursues a child (Majorino) originating from the fabled Dryland; he is opposed by a laconic solo Mariner (Costner), a begilled mutant whose attempted autarky is undone by the child and her foster mother (Tripplehorn).

Originally written by Rader for Roger Corman's company New Horizons, the project sold to Gordon in a studio bidding war and passed through a number of uncredited hands on its subsequent odyssey up the budgetary scale, including Xena showrunner R J Stewart, Shakespeare in Love writer Marc Norman, and Joss Whedon – who spent seven weeks as Costner's on-set rewrite man, to little avail. During the notoriously troubled shoot, sets were washed away in a hurricane; star and director feuded, with Costner replacing Reynolds in the final weeks of shooting; and the budgetary waters rose to cataclysmic heights. The end product is a piquantly incongruous, often surprisingly effective mixture of eighties-style survivalist action with the lavish brand of environmental epic Costner and Reynolds explored, with varying success, in Dances with Wolves (1990), Rapa Nui (1994), and Costner's solo venture The Postman (1997). It pays sustained homage to, and shares its cinematographer Dean Semler with, George Miller's Mad Max films (see Mad Max), in a spectacularly beautiful fantasy space of unbounded ocean and Post-Holocaust bricolation, and windsurfs over its manifold scientific and logistical absurdities to valorize a romantic adaptive eco-individualism over the remnants of industrial guns-and-gasoline gangsterdom. Some, but not most, of the logic gaps are filled in the bowdlerized three-hour version assembled for US television and subsequently released to DVD, and in the novelization Waterworld (1995) by Max Allan Collins; these reveal, inter alia, that Dryland is the Everest massif. At the time the most expensive film ever made, it now reads as a Janus-faced work which straddles a transitional moment in sf filmmaking, looking back to the narrative values and grand analogue spectacle of the survivalist blockbusters of the eighties, but also ahead to the post-millennial marketscape of globalized superbudgets a decade later: defying projections, the film turned a modest paper profit thanks to strong overseas box-office and subsequent video sales. [NL]


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