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VIDEO\'Waterworld' gets a life preserver.

Byline: Robert Bianco Special to the Daily News

Only a culture obsessed with success could be so fascinated by failure.

It's not enough, of course, just to fail: To really hold the public's attention, it is necessary to fail on a grand scale. Fall hard enough, and fame is the reward.

Consider: Even people who know nothing about the West know about Custer. Even people who know nothing about cars know about the Edsel.

And even people who know nothing about movies know something about "Waterworld" (1995, MCA/Universal; priced for rental), one of the most expensive belly-flops in Hollywood history. They didn't have to release the movie; America already had panned the budget.

Unlike Custer and the Edsel, however, "Waterworld" is getting a second chance - and is likely to make the most of it. Many people will feel they have to rent it, if only to see how Kevin Costner could have spent so much time and money on what is essentially a souped-up, futuristic version of the pirate adventures studios used to churn out weekly on the back lot.

In the "Waterworld" all-at-sea update, the good-guy pirate is the Mariner (Costner); his bad-guy pirate rival is the Deacon (Dennis Hopper); the treasure they're seeking is dry land; and the treasure map they compete for is tattooed on the back of a little girl (Tina Majorino). Granted, in the days of Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power, pirates were never web-footed mutants, and they never drank their own purified urine. Otherwise, though, that old buccaneer tone flows through "Waterworld" - from the initially reluctant heroine (Jeanne Tripplehorn) to the eventual transformation of the lone mariner into a concerned citizen.

Despite all the attention paid to the cost of "Waterworld" - and let's face it, excess on such a grand scale is always intriguing - what really matters on video is whether it's worth the money and time it's going to cost you. The answer is a conditional yes. It's long and somewhat monotonous, but it's not dreadful, and the curiosity factor alone tips the scales in its favor. It's also less graphically violent than many current adventures, for those who are squeamish about such things.

Since most of the blame for the problems in "Waterworld" seems to have fallen on Costner, it seems only fair to give him some credit for his courage and his drive, misguided though they sometimes may be. It would have been easy enough for Costner to build a career on variations of the laconic sex symbol he played in "Bull Durham." Instead, he takes risks, including playing a character who is unattractive in all senses of the word for much of the film.

Not every risk, however, is worth taking. It's one thing to refuse to give the audience what it wants when you're making art, and quite another when you're making blow-'em-up junk. There's nothing more wasteful than spending a lot of effort and money on a noncommercial commercial film.

That kind of failure is dear at any price.

When it comes to inflation-adjusted failure, the all-time champ is probably "Cleopatra" (1963, Fox; $29.98), though with "Cleopatra," at least the money went for stuff that's fun to look at. Too long by half, but that's what the fast-forward button is for.

Poor "Jade" (1995, Paramount; priced for rental), on the other hand, was even a failure as a failure: All the really good insults were used up on writer Joe Eszterhas' other big flop, "Showgirls." By the time "Jade" came along, people were exhausted.

The sad thing about the failure of "Jade" is that it gave some people another chance to knock David Caruso, a fine actor who has yet to be forgiven for leaving "NYPD Blue." All right, so he forgot to ask us for a hall pass. It's time to get over it.

Moving on to success, if you've been entranced by TV's "Pride and Prejudice," you'll be happy to know that the six-hour A&E-BBC co-production is available from A&E Home Video for $99.95. Or, if six hours and $100 is a bit much for you, try either the four-hour 1985 BBC version (Fox; $29.98) or the two-hour 1940 movie (MGM/UA; $24.95).

I remain partial to the '40s classic, though all three versions have their virtues. It may not be as impeccably period as the latest miniseries, but it's hard to top a cast that includes Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, Maureen O'Sullivan, Edmund Gwenn and Edna May Oliver.

Fast forward: Also out in stores are "Love and Human Remains" (1995, Columbia TriStar; priced for rental); "A Mother's Prayer" (1995, MCA/Universal; priced for rental); and "Brian Wilson: I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" (1995, Live; $19.98).

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Photo The curiosity factor may give the financially disastrous "Waterworld," with Dennis Hopper as ad-guy pirate the Deacon, a boost on video.
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Video Recording Review
Date:Jan 26, 1996
Words:815
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