July 25, 1995
What began as a low budget, aquatic version of "Mad Max" evolved into the most expensive movie ever made. Welcome to "Waterworld."
With a budget reportedly at $172 million dollars, stories about the movie's cost threaten to overshadow the film and its star. Kevin Costner admits, "It was an expensive movie - - maybe embarrassingly so to some people. But the studio who has made 100 movies understood what was happening. Not that they were alarmed by it, but knew the movie they were making. If they are comfortable in the fact that they had to do what they had to do, then most people should leave it alone."
But MCA's "Waterworld" isn't the first to sail into rough financial water. Many others have charted the same course, with varying degrees of success. "Gone With the Wind" cost MGM $4 million to make back in 1939.
"Cleopatra" starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton came in at $44 million in 1963. If it were made today, it would cost an estimated $213 million, leaving "Waterworld" in its wake. And in 1978, "Superman" soared with a $55 million budget.
Others haven't done as well. "Heaven's Gate" and "Ishtar" have become synonymous with big budget movie flops. And now, some in Hollywood are calling "Waterworld" "Fishtar" and "Kevin's Gate."
Costner argues that the criticism is unfounded and premature. "I mean if I spent that money and didn't have a movie, there should be some questions. The question is, can this movie return its investment? I believe it can."
Corie Brown of Premiere Magazine isn't so sure. "There is no confidence that this will make a profit or even break even. They only hope it won't bleed them to death."
A logistical nightmare, the movie was shot almost entirely on the water. The set's manmade floating islands and production schedule were at the mercy of the elements. Writer/director Steven de Souza knows how difficult that can be. "As soon as you go into nature you're getting into a union conflict with God. That's his department."
In fact, Arnold Kopelson, the producer of "Outbreak" and the $400 million hit, "The Fugitive," decided against making a film set on a North Atlantic oil rig. Kopelson explained, "I said it read great, but then I have to go out there, and risk my life, the lives of the crew and cast to make this movie...and you can't control your scheduling."
Now everything is completely out of Costner's control, and up to the audience to decide if it was money well spent. As Brown put it: "This is a fun picture, but for that much money it had better be pretty darn fun."
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