Waterworld

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Wed Aug 2 09:20:57 MDT 1995


Louis Proyect:

"Waterworld", while no masterpiece, is much, much better than the
critics would have you know. It is far superior to "Apollo 13", a
universally acclaimed "summer movie". There is more going on here
than meets the eye. I want to offer some highly speculative opinions
about why this film has been the target of so much controversy.

"Waterworld" is a project that has much in common with another
"fiasco" from some years ago: "Heaven's Gate".

They share a number of things in common. The director of "Heaven's
Gate", Michael Cimino, and the producer and star of "Waterworld",
Kevin Costner, emerge out of the right-wing milieu in Hollywood.
Cimino made his reputation on the basis of "The Deerhunter", a rather
feckless work that depicted the Vietcong as wanton murderers who
forced American G.I.'s to play Russian Roulette. (In fact, the only
recorded instance of this sort of thing was the work of American
troops enacted against Vietcong prisoners.) When I saw this film,
somebody started a trash fire in the theater in angry protest (no, it
wasn't me.)

Kevin Costner is one of the major backers of the Republican Party in
Hollywood, along with Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger,
Charlton Heston and Clint Eastwood. Curiously enough, he doesn't
allow his politics, for the most part, to be reflected in his films.
"Dances With Wolves", if anything, defends a revisionist view of U.S.
history in which the cavalry was the bad guys and the Indians were the
good guys.

It is entirely possible that Costner has stepped over the line
ideologically in his new film. Basically, it is a post-apocalyptic saga in
which the planet has been covered with water as a result of global
warming. Costner leads a group of environmentally-minded survivors
in search of dry land. He is opposed by "smokers", an anti-
environmental band led by a grinning, scenery-chewing Dennis
Hopper (who would have it any other way). The "smokers" are chain-
smoking, whiskey-drinking pirates who love nothing more than
driving old Detroit gas-guzzlers at high speed within the bowels of
ancient, rusting oil-tankers.

Toward the climax of the film, Hopper tells the assembled "smokers"
that he will be the first to lead them to dry land where they will be
able to "chop down trees, burn gas, and develop to our heart's content."
Hopper is a crude representation of capitalism's  worst threat to global
ecology. But not apparently too crude to mollify Hollywood's "pc" police.
I believe that the critics hate this film because of its rather trenchant
"deep ecology" theme rather than any extravagance or lack of art on
Costner's part.

"Heaven's Gate" received the same treatment. This film was basically a
beautifully photographed, well-acted story of the conflict between
ranchers and farmers in the old west. There was a clear delineation of
the conflict within a Marxist framework. The bad guys were the
ranchers who are just like the ranchers today in Chiapas. The good
guys were the farmers, who come across as forerunners of the
Zapatistas. This message offended even the most liberal critic,
although the brunt of their criticism was directed against the "inferior"
film-making. In my opinion, Cimino was creating an American
version of the type of film Visconti had made in Italy: a class-
conscious, epic, operatic retelling of national myths.

Finally, there is the issue of money. Both films have the reputation of
being extravagantly expensive and everybody worries whether
"Waterworld" will make the film studio any money. "Heaven's Gate"
cost overruns were blamed for the demise of United Artists. Given the
prevailing ethos of this nation at this time, I'm rather doubtful whether
this is the real problem worrying the opinion-making establishment.



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