'Waterworld': a turkey turns into a golden goose

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The Independent Online
Kevin Costner's Waterworld, the pounds 120m turkey predicted to sink with the infamous label of being Hollywood's most expensive flop, has miraculously floated to life and unexpected initial success by taking a respectable pounds 13.5m gross in its first opening weekend.

The box office takings have pushed it straight to the number one spot in the US.

With its 166-day shoot (70 beyond schedule), a near fatal on-set accident, last-minute reshoots, sinking sets, and feuding between the director Kevin Reynolds and its star, Costner, the movie will still need to break records to break even. But the indications are that Waterworld has been thrown a life raft by some leading critics.

The influential magazine Newsweek simply said this week that "Waterworld is a pretty damn good summer movie." Heart rates, blood pressure and career panic must have visibly eased around the offices of Universal in Hollywood.

The studios, part of the MCA group, are now owned by Seagrams, which bought into big time Hollywood in April, buying MCA from the Japanese multi-national Matsushita for $5.6bn. Waterworld's costs soared from an original budget of $65m to $200m. The sets alone cost $40m, with Costner's reputed fee at $14m.

The "summer movie" is a Hollywood consumer invention, namely, it is a movie and it comes out in the summer. (No one has yet invented the winter movie.) Newsweek's description of the film as "breezy, clever entertainment with stirring effects" is supposedly classic summer movie material. Whether the film can sustain decent business beyond the fever created by hyper- expensive opening hype is now the industry's big guessing game.

The film is set in a post-apocalyptic future after the ice-caps have melted. Survivors float on man-made mini islands and boats. Costner plays a strong, grouchy, silent hero, Mariner, a sort of Mad Max in water wings.

Waterworld, which opens in the UK on 11 August, was predicted to out- turkey Hollywood's all-time largest loss Inchon! starring Lord Olivier. The war film, made in 1981, cost more than $120m to make. It opened in the US south-west on limited release and was withdrawn four days later.

Despite its claim of being the most expensive-ever film, trivia buffs may still point out that in real terms (and allowing for inflation ) the $44m budget of Cleopatra (1963) is now the equivalent of over $200m.