Waterworld is an amazing achievement, and it remains my favorite score from Howard.
Review: Hundreds of years into the future the polar ice caps have melted and flooded the earth. Surviving humans have adapted and have become atoll-dwelling beings that trade scraps and value dirt and paper as much as they covet drinkable water. The first time we see the hero, The Mariner (Kevin Costner, in a very physical role), he drinks his own filtered piss water. He roams (much like Mad Max) without direction or purpose other than self-preservation. His means of transportation is a giant catamaran with all the trappings a hero needs to escape any danger. When he goes to a floating city to trade some dirt, he meets Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and a “prodigal child” named Enola (Tina Majorino), who has a cryptic tattoo on her back which some say points the way to Dryland. It is revealed that The Mariner is a mutant (he has gills and can breathe in the water), and so he is tried as a freak of nature and sentenced to death. At this juncture, the city (which has the requisite roles for various peace-dwelling survivors) becomes a war zone when the Smokers, a marauding gang of jet-ski warriors who have a neverending supply of cigarettes, attack and try to kidnap the tattooed girl. The Mariner saves Helen and Enola, igniting a chase which lasts the rest of the movie. The Smokers are led by the Deacon of the Deez (a gleefully enjoyable Dennis Hopper), whose base is the Exxon Valdez, which has a diminishing supply of “the black stuff”. Dryland is eventually found and The Mariner (who grows to love the little girl) sails off back into the ocean by himself – just like Max did at the end of each installment of the Mad Max series.
All fairness aside, Waterworld is a triumph of stunt and camera work. The cinematography is by Dean Semler, who also worked on The Road Warrior and Thunderdome. The set design and costumes are outstanding. The score by James Newton Howard is thrilling. The mere idea of this movie is awesome and original. No other movie has the same setting or story. If the world were to be destroyed by floods, then this is probably how it would look like hundreds of years down the line. Even the language in the movie is altered (several of the characters speak “Portu-Greek”). The script is by Peter Rader and David Twohy (Pitch Black). Kevin Reynolds, the director, deserves a lot of credit for undertaking this epic, and if rumors are correct, then he walked off the project towards the end and was replaced by Costner. Reynolds is one of the best directors for big epics (he did Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Tristan and Isolde), and as far as scale and scope, Waterworld is probably his biggest and best film.
Regarding the soundtrack by James Newton Howard: he was given six weeks to compose the entire score after Mark Isham’s original score was dumped when the film was drastically recut. It’s an amazing achievement, and it remains my favorite score from Howard. It might be one of the last great adventure scores of the last 25 years, in fact. Big, sweeping themes and cues with ethnic undertones, it’s always been in rotation in my CD player since I bought the original album in 1995. But here’s some GREAT news for fans of the score: La La Land Records has just released a two-disc set of Howard’s complete score for the film! With a grand total of 131:17 minutes of music, it’s the ultimate edition of the soundtrack, and it’s got great, previously unused artwork by Drew Struzan for the slipcover to boot. This one is limited to 3000 units, so seriously: grab one while you still can!