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Film / Waterworld

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"Dry land is not just our destination, it is our destiny!"

Set In a World... where the polar ice-caps have melted (due to havoc caused by a geomagnetic reversal) the world is covered by water. What's left of humanity is surviving on ramshackle crafts tied together to make Atolls (villages). The Mariner (Costner) enters one of these Atolls to trade, but is discovered to be a mutant and sentenced to death. A gang of raiders known as Smokers, led by Deacon (Dennis Hopper), attacks the Atoll. A woman named Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and her adopted daughter Enola (Tina Majorino) bribe the Mariner to take them to the mythical Dry Land, which no one has ever seen. Conveniently, Enola's back has been tattooed with a map indicating the way to Dry Land (allegedly). However, with The Smokers hot on their tail, their journey encounters more than a few bumps along the way. And the Mariner is not your traditional plucky hero. He's just looking out for himself.

Essentially, it's Mad Max with the opposite problem: too much water.

The movie starred Kevin Costner and was directed by Kevin Reynolds.

The film had a notorious Troubled Production that caused the film's $100 million budget to balloon at $175 million, making it the most expensive film ever made until Titanic two years later.

An extended edition of the movie was also released, adding roughly one hour of world building and background information, which was cut before the theatrical release. The general consensus is that this version is much better than the theatrical one.

Despite the film's financial failure, it ended up spawning a stunt show at the Universal Studios parks, called Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular, which over time became more popular and better-known than the movie itself.

Not to be confused with the type of Single-Biome Planet where the whole world is an ocean.

Contains examples of the following tropes:

  • After the End: The polar ice caps have melted and flooded the world. Most of humanity has not survived, and the remnants have been reduced to living in makeshift rafts and cities of flotsam.
  • All Hail the Great God Mickey!: The Deacon every so often mentions "Old Saint Joe" with the same reverence as an actual saint. Near the end of the movie it's revealed that the Smokers' base is the remains of the Exxon Valdez and "Old Saint Joe" is a portrait of the ship's disgraced captain, Joseph Hazelwood.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Don't like Kevin Costner's gills.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Smokers seem to fit this to a T.
  • Anti-Hero: In typical '90s fashion.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 2: Planetary Scale, Societal Collapse, with massive disruption to the biosphere thrown in for good measure.
  • The Apunkalypse: Civilization has collapsed, humans are adrift on the world-ocean, and the punkish, scavenging Smokers play the part of a large jet ski gang.
  • Artistic License – Biology:
    • Somehow, the Mariner can inhale water with his gills and exhale breathable air indefinitely to allow Helen to breathe underwater. Needless to say, gills do not work that way.
    • He can breathe underwater, yet he still needs fresh water to drink, like an ordinary human.
    • Even if we accept the Mariner's gills, has it really been long enough for a giant, three-jawed vertebrate mutant like the one he catches to eat to have evolved?
  • Artistic License – Geology:
    • If you melted all the ice on the planet, you would cause a 60 metre (about 190 feet) rise in sea level, which is a lot, but only lowland areas would be seriously affected, and at the very worst people would have to resort to living on long chains of large islands. Everest would still tower six miles above the sea, and it has the rest of the Himalayas to keep it company.
    • Even if there were enough ice to cover the world to the extent depicted, the ocean salt water would become diluted enough to be drinkable. (And kill everything that's adapted to live in salt water. Not to mention it would be much more difficult to float in it.)
    • The shores of the island at the end had sandy beaches. It takes a long time to erode rock to sand...
  • Artistic License – Physics: Even if the world were totally flooded in water, the moon would not appear as huge as it does in the movie.
  • Barbarian Longhair: Pretty much everybody has barbarian hair, with the notable exception of the Deacon's Bald of Evil.
  • Big Bad: The Deacon.
  • Bland-Name Product: Smeat, an Expy of Spam. There's tons of it on the Exxon Valdez and the Deacon hands out cans of Smeat like it's manna from heaven and going out of style.
  • Brutal Honesty: The Mariner, who at first glance sounds like a Deadpan Snarker, but each of his comments is proven real and dead-serious.
  • Buffy Speak: The pale old guy who measures the oil in the smoker ship apparently doesn't know it's called oil; he calls it "black stuff". This seems to apply to all the Smokers, as they all refer to it as "go-juice".
  • Bullet Holes and Revelations: The knife-fight variety, when the Mariner killed the drifter after cancelling their deal.
  • But Now I Must Go: Kind of justified considering our Drifter is a mutant with gills and webbed phalanges who really doesn't need or want life on land.
  • Byronic Hero: The Mariner is the less erudite version of this, without any hint of formal education, but it's par for the course in a less cultured, post-apocalyptic world.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": drinkable water is called "hydro." Makes sense, really, since the entire planet is covered with undrinkable saltwater.
  • City on the Water: Atolls and the Exxon Valdez.
  • Changed My Mind, Kid: Played straight.
  • Character Development: Kevin Costner's character changed from Jerkass to Jerk with a Heart of Gold halfway through the movie and lost his "jerk" persona by the end of the movie.
  • Conflict Ball: Helen, listen, first of all, when you've just blackmailed a man into saving your life, expecting trust is a little much. On top of that, in the middle of a firefight when that someone is trying to save your life and his is a really stupid time to answer any random question he asks you with "Can I trust you?!"
  • Cool Boat: The Mariner's Trimaran, and the Exxon Valdez.
  • Cool Car: The rust-eaten shell of a car the Deacon rides around in throughout the depths of the smoker colony.
  • Cool Plane: The Smokers' seaplane. Cool by virtue of being ancient, rust-colored, and probably the last of its kind.
    • Also, piloted by Jack Black.
  • Crapsack World: All that appears to be left is small communities on the edge of genetic extinction, traders, slavers, pirates and marauders.
  • The Dragon: The Nord.
  • Dull Surprise: Costner, a notorious contrast to Dennis Hopper's Ham and Cheese. Which is kind of justified, as he's spent most of his life alone on the ocean, keeping away from people to hide his mutation. Some people deal with that much solitude by going bonkers (like the sailor they encounter at the halfway point of the film), and others react by emotionally shutting down.
  • Epic Movie: Waterworld was the most expensive movie ever made at the time, with an eventual budget of $172m in 1995 (~$270m in modern money, making it a contender for most-expensive movies even today).
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: The pilot of the Smokers' seaplane was deeply distraught to say the least over losing Ed, his gunner and apparently best friend whom Helen killed when they attacked the Mariner's boat.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Mariner. Subverted in the extended edition, wherein after the heroes reach Dry Land, Helen gives the Mariner a real name just before he heads back out onto the ocean. It's Ulysses, the Latin name of the main character of Homer's Odyssey.
    • Also the Deacon, and in a way the Nord. The Smokers don't get names either because most of them are just Mooks.
  • Exact Words: Subverted. The Deacon interrogates two atoll survivors by saying "First one to tell me lives". So one survivor tells him what he wants to know and is still threatened with death. He reminds the Deacon that "You said you wouldn't kill me." So Deacon gives his gun to the Nord to execute him. The talker should have used the exact words.
  • Eyepatch of Power: The Deacon gains one during the movie.
  • Fantastic Racism: You'd believe that being able to breathe underwater would be quite a desirable asset in a ocean world, but people seemed to think otherwise.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Implied with the old guy who works in the oil tank in the villains' ship, who is actually relieved to see the flare blowing the whole thing up with him inside.
    "Oh thank God!"
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Subverted when Helen strips nakednote , appropriates the Mariner's weapons and threatens to kill him, only for the Mariner to lower his sail directly onto her.
  • Future Imperfect: While going through the Mariner's belongings, the Atoll's citizens assume that a yo-yo, flute, and exercise machine are garrote wire, a spy listener, and a torture device.
    • Well, the last one isn't completely wrong...
  • Glass Eye: The Deacon gets one initially, but hates the appearance, so he settles for an Eyepatch of Power instead.
    Deacon: It DOES look like shit!
  • Green Aesop: The film's portrayal of a ruined Earth depicts the villains in a world flooded by global warming as wasteful "smokers" (most of whom coincidentally smoke tobacco) who use motorized vessels running on unsustainable fossil-fuel obtained from the Exxon Valdez, a tanker infamous for one of the largest oil spills in history. The aquatic anti-hero and his companions use natural wind-power and eventually find refuge in a serene promised land with vegetation and fresh water atop the Himalayas.
  • He Will Come for Me: Enola defends the Mariner with a speech intense enough to scare her captors, and when orderednote  to put a lid on it, finishes with "He'll come for me, he will."
  • History Marches On: The real Exxon Valdez was renamed several times (it was the Sea River Mediterranean at the time of filming), refitted into an ore carrier in 2008, and finally beached in India and dismantled in 2012.
  • Human Resources: How the residents of the Atoll dispose of their dead... they need the organic material for sustained growth. They call it "recycling," and it's done to the dead as well as to prisoners they want to execute.
  • Incest Is Relative: Discussed. The Atoll folk try to get the Mariner to impregnate one of their young women since all the local options would be inbreeding. Him turning the offer down is what makes them suspicious of him.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: The Nord runs out of ammo just as he has The Mariner at gunpoint and gets blown away for his troubles.
  • Jerkass: The Mariner. He tossed a little girl overboard to drown. Justified in that he didn't know she couldn't swim. He even lampshades it.
  • Large Ham: Dennis Hopper as the Deacon, the leader of the smokers.
  • Logo Joke: The Universal Pictures globe floods to the levels seen in the movie proper.
  • Long Runner: While the film bombed, the stunt show based on the film has been running at Universal Studios Hollywood since 1996. The parks in Japan and Singapore opened with the attraction in 2001 and 2010.
  • Made of Explodium: A Wronski Feint between three smokers on jet skis creates a giant fireball explosion. What fuel they used to create the massive, towering fireball is still unknown (oil?). There are also traces of Outrun the Fireball, but on a bungee.
  • The Mole: The atoll dwellers believed the Mariner was a spy for the smokers who would bring them to invade the atoll looking for Enola but their concerns of him were completely unfounded. The Nord on the other hand...
  • Mood Whiplash: So the world has gone crap, few survivors left are squabbling against each other and there's tension between the protagonist and two females he saved... Suddenly, over-the-top Smokers hijinx!
    • A smaller example happens during the escape from the Atoll. Whenever the boat is cut to, the music sounds triumphant, but whenever the slaughter on the Atoll is cut to, the music sounds tragic.
  • More Dakka: The Smokers' idea of a siege weapon is a four-barrel antiaircraft machine gun emplacement trained at your enemy's floating citadel. It gets hijacked by the good guys, and shows itself very effective against ships too.
  • Mutants: Numerous humans and wildlife have ended up developing mutations in this new world.
  • No Place for Me There: The Mariner brought Helen, Enola, and their friends to the much sought-after Dryland. However, he decided that it wasn't a suitable place for him to settle down, and left for the sea - It was hinted that his gills mutation was why he prefers the sea environment.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Taking a page from Jaws, much tension comes from the invisibility of underwater threats. The giant three-jawed mutant-fish-thing the Mariner catches for food is only very briefly seen (alive; it does get a few more minutes of screen time as mutant sashimi).
  • Ocean Madness: The other seagoing trader whom the Mariner eventually knifes because he wanted to take Helen.
  • Ocean Punk: In all its post-apocalyptic, anvilicious, Green Aesop glory.
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: The Smokers make the residents of a small trading post, whom they've recently killed, appear to be waving to the Mariner as the latter approaches, intending to draw him into a deadly trap.
  • The Old Convict: Sort of, if you count the old guy who measures the oil level in the Exxon Valdez's tanks. It's implied he can't leave.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "MU-TA-TIOOOON!" "HE'S-A-MU-TAAAANT!"
  • Rasputinian Death: The Deacon.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: One of the leaders of the atoll does what he can to give the Mariner a fair trial and the benefit of the doubt, and is genuinely sorry when he is sentenced to be recycled anyway. Regardless, it's enough for the Mariner to save his life when the Smokers attack.
  • Recycled INSPACE: It's Mad Max... on JET SKIS!
  • Regional Redecoration: Waterworld has a similar situation to A.I., except the entire world is underwater. Aside from the very tops of the Himalayas.
  • Religion of Evil: In the extended edition, The Deacon refers to the Smokers as the Church Of Eternal Growth when talking with Enola.
  • Ruins of the Modern Age: Seen underwater when the Mariner takes Helen to see where he got dirt from.
  • Scavenger World: There's (almost) no dry land left, no agriculture, and no real industry, and relics from the old world like simple technology, uncorroded metal, plants and soil are rare and worth fighting for.
  • Scenery Gorn
  • Sdrawkcab Name: Enola is "alone" spelled backwards. Fitting considering she was orphaned.
  • Sea Monster: The giant, three-jawed... thing that the Mariner kills for food using himself as bait.
  • The Social Darwinist: Most of people in the movie are this but the Mariner is the prime example, he definitely (at least at first) believes in survival of the fittest and has no concern for anyone.
  • Spent Shells Shower: A Smoker operating a Maxon Mount four-machine gun chassis in the atoll assault scene showers the boat it is mounted on and his crew with hundreds of .50 calibre brass shells.
    • On the other hand, it does show them collecting most of their brass. While the ability to refill it is questionable, you don't let valuable metal go to waste. Especially as brass doesn't corrode much.
  • The Stateless: The Mariner has no nationality.
    • Many characters in this film have only their boat as their "nation," since all nations as we know them have been submerged after the polar ice caps melted. The closest thing to nations in this universe are the Atoll, while it lasts, and Deacon's oar-powered supertanker.
  • Suddenly SHOUTING!: "Maybe he has some FOOD!"
  • Technology Porn: Done for Padding.
  • This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: When the Smokers raid the Atoll, the Mariner impales one of them with a thrown machete.
  • Title Drop: "Nothing's free in Waterworld".
  • Token Romance: The Mariner and Helen.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Enola, who lives in a world covered in water and doesn't know how to swim.
    • The people who persecute mutants who can breathe underwater.
  • Traumatic Haircut: A somewhat strange example that serves as kind of a Kick the Dog moment for our anti-hero, the Mariner. Following their survival of an attack on his boat, he takes out his knife and holds down the girl, cutting off her hair as punishment and warning her not to ever touch anything on his boat.
  • Used Future: Almost all technology is repurposed from "ancient" (read: 20th–21st century) equipment, and thus looks heavily patched and rusted. The remainder is mostly Bamboo Technology.