“Waterworld”, the failure that sank Kevin Costner: the fierce fights with the director, a set devastated by a typhoon and the hell of the screenwriter

You have to put your head in the lion’s mouth if you want to be successful in the action that you carry out ”. The phrase leaves no room for doubt. Winston Churchill, the former British Prime Minister, wrote it in 1900 in London to Ladysmith via Pretoria, where he portrays his impressions of an armed conflict led by the United Kingdom in South Africa. That philosophy of life strengthened its political structure throughout history and allowed its decisions to be key. to win in World War II. The actor Kevin Costner seems to have gone to depth with this idea to articulate one of his most overflowing films, although the result was not what was expected.

The story of Waterworld It is one of the most expensive films of its time, with an exacerbated bombast, in which technical flaws ground a good idea that succumbed at the box office. During its filming there were accidents that were about to wreck the project, the budget went through the roof, the fights between the protagonist and the director became unbearable and one of the scriptwriters they hired at the last minute lived “a hell”, in his own words.

How “Waterworld” Came into the Hands of Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner’s box office run was promising. The actor came from having swept the Oscars in the early ’90s with Dance with wolves, in addition to having achieved $ 424 million with a budget of 22 million. That allowed him to access several films that followed, which also had a monetary impact: Robin Hood, the prince of thieves earned 390 million; JFK, 204 and The bodyguard, 411.

The “Waterworld” poster. (Photo: Universal Pictures)

Your arrival at the production of Waterworld It happened after the eventful origin that the project had had, said the magazine Esquire in an analysis of the genesis of the film that he published for its 25th anniversary. The creator of the plot, Peter Rader, took the idea to Roger Corman, a renowned producer of low-budget films in the late ’80s.

In principle, they wanted to make a cheap version of Mad Max, the George Miller classic and starring Mel Gibson, but that the context of the post-apocalyptic story is in the water. Everything was growing and the New Horizon company ruled out doing it because the costs became more expensive: Five million dollars was a lot to Corman’s production company.

How did Costner intervene? Rader wrote the script he wanted, sold it to producer Lawrence Gordon, and seven drafts later, came into the hands of Costner. The actor had a good relationship with the director Kevin Reynolds. They both worked together on Robin Hood, the prince of thieves, with great repercussion. Despite the differences he had there, the filmmaker embarked on designing the universe of Waterworld: neither of them thought that everything could end as badly as it finally did.

Kevin Costner, in a scene from “Waterworld.” (Photo: Universal Pictures)

The storyline underwent changes from the first version that Rader built. According to what the site specifies Far Out, when the scriptwriter David Twohy reassembled the story, added elements of Mad Max 2 that were not in the first sketches. This further increased the budget which escalated to exorbitant figures and it completely complicated the filming.

What is “Waterworld” about

The plot of Waterworld revolves around a futuristic dystopian world, in which the continents disappeared. People survive as best they can in the immensity of a unique ocean, among old boats and damaged boats. Mariner, a mutant half fish and half man, it will end in the fight for the search of the supposed “solid ground”.

The focus on the main character became essential, as pointed out Janine Pourroy on The Making of Waterworld. When describing one of the first scenes, in which the solitary sailor urinates into a glass and transforms that liquid into drinking water, his essence appears. “That is our first and most indelible impression del Mariner, a man so completely self-sufficient that he managed to transform even the most basic elements into a resource for survival, “he said. That, added to the figure of Costner, placed the full weight of history there.

Dennis Hopper, in his role as the villain in “Waterworld.” (Photo: Universal Pictures)

The complexity of the filming happened, mainly, because of the climate. When Reynolds agreed to direct the project, he consulted another director as Steven Spielberg on the possible consequences of filming in the sea. The maker of Shark warned him that there could be problems if they built certain structures in the water, as happened to him.

According to a detailed article by THAT ONE which was published in 1995, as soon as the film was released, the production designer Dennis Gassner had explored locations in Australia, New Zealand, Malta, and the Bahamas before deciding to stay in the port of Kawaihae, Hawaii. The venue offered available phone lines and flights to Los Angeles, essential for part of the cast. What no one took into account were the hurricane and typhoon seasons.

What were the main complications in the filming

Between May and June 1994 the actors arrived at the filming area. In addition, the necessary elements for the filming began to be built: of the Mariner’s sailboat, two structures were assembled that cost 500 thousand dollars each; the floating slave colony was designed; and the metal atoll where the villains live was finished. This was a weak point in the budget. They started with the idea of ​​using 1.5 million dollars and ended up spending 5 million, due to the thousand tons of steel that it took to do so. Nonsense for a set.

One of the boats that were put together for the set. (Photo: Universal Pictures)

Everything was ready for filming until they realized that time was going to play a trick on them. The high speed winds that whipped the area where the production was generated permanent physical discomfort in each member of the technical team and in many actors that swayed on top of the sets. Breakdowns were an everyday occurrence.

Due to the large number of storms that occurred, part of the floating sets sank, which forced to continue increasing the number of days of shooting and, therefore, the cost of production. In summary: Waterworld had a final budget by Universal of $ 175 million, according to the records of Box Office Mojo.

The weaknesses of the production led those responsible for putting the money to hire a scriptwriter who could polish certain aspects of the story that was going to be on the screen. That’s why they paid Joss Whedon, which would later create the series Buffy, the cazavampiros, to take care of that. He was going to be alone for a week, but it all took him almost two months. He himself described it as a “hellish” process.

Kevin Costner, in the scene in which the villains kidnap the protagonist of “Waterworld”. (Photo: Universal Pictures)

“When they brought me in, there was no water in the last 40 pages of the script. It all happened on land, on a boat or whatever. I was like, ‘Isn’t that the cool thing about this guy that he has gills?’ And no one was listening. He was basically there taking notes on Costner, who was really nice, it was nice to work with him, but he wasn’t a writer. I was supposed to be there for a week, I was there for seven weeks and did not achieve anything“Whedon recalled in a report made in 2001 in The AV Club.

The fight between the director and Kevin Costner that defined the future

Once they managed to have all the material, post production started. And this is where the problems escalated between Reynolds and Costner. Because just as it had happened in the film of Robin Hood, the director and the actor clashed on the editing island for the constant changes that the protagonist wanted to give to the final cut. Thus, the filmmaker abandoned the film.

Consulted by THAT ONE, Reynolds gave a sharp opinion and with much irony against the protagonist interpreter. “In the future, Costner should only appear in images that he directs himself. That way, you can always work with your favorite actor and your favorite director“, He launched.

An aerial shot at “Waterworld”. (Photo: Universal Pictures)

The premiere in 1995 followed the logic of the disaster of its realization. The box office never responded either in the United States or internationally. Universal was never able to recoup its investment, since in total, Waterworld raised something more than 260 million dollars, less than 100 corresponding to the country of origin. A real failure.

On an artistic level, the film also failed good reviews or criticism. At a distance, it is not an immovable film, far from it. This was also considered by Costner, who in one of the few references he made on the subject, said that everything could have been much worse.

“I know people might think of Waterworld as a low point for me. It was not. It could have had a better and more obvious result. What I do know is that I never had to be higher up for a movie when most of it went the other way. The movie, with all its imperfections, was a joy to me. It is a joy to look back and have participated“, Said in a conversation with Jeff Wells to Hollywood Elsewhere.

“Waterworld”, in retrospect

Despite the enmity that binds them together, Reynolds also has a similar look. In an interview that BBC he did it to promote the film The Count of Monte Cristo gave his opinion about the film.

“I do not think it is worse or better than any other of its kind. It’s not horrible. At that time there was only a feeding frenzy: the press suddenly decided that it was more pleasant to hate her than to like her. It was condemned even before it was finished. I guess it was the moment in Costner’s career that he was pulled off his pedestal. It was something that was out of control no matter how well it was done”, He commented.

Kevin Costner, in action in one of the first sequences of “Waterworld”. (Photo: Universal Pictures)

Bruce Feldman, Universal’s head of public relations from ’93 to ’95, told Hollywood Elsewhere to work on the set “It was very complicated”, Which made the final product more valuable in the distance. “The filmmakers tried to do something entertaining. Some people in Hollywood just do a lot of nonsense and justify it because people will pay to see it, but I give all the credit to Costner and Reynolds for trying to do something that made the difference and it was important, ”he remarked, despite the fiasco that resulted.

The germ that everything was going to go wrong, perhaps, was in the dark halo that surrounded the production since it began. At least, that’s the vision Reynolds still has. “I have never experienced anything like this before. And for the first time I understood how this kind of collective wave of negativity can really condemn something, “he replied when the journalist from the BBC he wanted to know how he felt about the film.

“No one can ensure success in a war, he just deserves it”Winston Churchill wrote in Their Finest Hour. Because you don’t just have to stick your mouth in the lion when you want to win at something.


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“Waterworld”, the failure that sank Kevin Costner: the fierce fights with the director, a set devastated by a typhoon and the hell of the screenwriter