The Postman (1997)

The Postman”(1997), LOOSELY based on a 1985 novel by David Brin, is the second in my series of 90’s post-apoc films starring Kevin Costner, and enjoys an even lower score than its 2-year older brother: a dismal 10% on rotten tomatoes as of the writing of this review.  Costner takes the reins as director this time, likely in response to having had to take over the direction of “Waterworld” after Kevin Reynolds threw in the towel and walked off the set.  James Newton Howard returns from “Waterworld” as well with another sweeping musical score that might be one of the best aspects of both films. While I don’t feel that such a low score is warranted, I do admit that “The Postman” doesn’t deliver as buoyantly as “Waterworld”, in part because it is less of a popcorn action film and more of a sincere attempt to paint a realistic portrait of post apocalyptic civilization in the Pacific Northwest.  While I appreciate that, most people don’t, and almost nobody wants to sit through three straight hours of what should probably have been a T.V. mini-series, ala “Jericho”.

While “Waterworld” took place on the rusted bones of the old world, long after the memories of the previous society had faded, “The Postman” takes place in 2013, a mere fifteen years after the apocalypse.  I gathered this because the letter Costner reads from the bag of mail he discovers in the abandoned truck is said to have been written fifteen years ago. This means that the mail truck delivering that letter was still running fifteen years ago, yet somehow crashed and was never recovered. This leads me to believe that law enforcement agencies were disbanded either during or shortly after the mail truck wrecked.  That would place the film’s apocalypse in approximately 1998.  (Whew!  We dodged another one, guys!)  This is congruent with the fact that both Costner’s and Will Patton’s characters purport to have been of working age before the apocalypse, and Patton claims to have been present at one of the battles in the apocalyptic war.  Since much of the old civilization is not only still above sea level, but actually still functioning, the movie occupies the same niche as “Jericho” in that it walks a line between post-apocalyptic and neo-western small town drama – the difference being that “Jericho” did it seamlessly.

One thing that really stands out about both of the Costner post-apoc epics is that both feature exceptional opening sequences.  “The Postman” opens with non-diegetic radio broadcasts describing the fall of civilization – They describe trouble with a hate group called the Holnists, led by a motivational speaker named Nathan Holn.  The broadcasts, we can assume, are playing in Costner’s character’s memory – a concept that is used repeatedly in the first few minutes, and successfully, in my opinion.  Costner, trading in his skin tight leather and ski boots for more traditionally post-apocalyptic scavenged wardrobe including  sun shades, an M1 Carbine on his back, and a pack mule, looks out over the great salt flats…which don’t look much different after the apocalypse.  In fact, the difference is that someone has dumped a bunch of junk everywhere.  The desolation of the salt flats, though in contrast with the lushness of the rest of the film’s landscape, is a perfect complement to Costner’s lone-nomad character and appearance, and makes for some epic opening shots.  For one, Costner jumps up and down on a diving board, drawing attention to the fact that there is no water as far as the eye can see, and then stands next to a Coppertone billboard drawing attention to the baking sun and arid landscape.

As he crosses the wastes, we hear more non-diegetic sounds, again from his memory, of explosions and war.  We can assume that what we see is a result of a war that involved the aforementioned Holnists, and thus, we can already establish them as the antagonists before we’ve even met them.  In a move I’m never too fond of, but which was used in “Waterworld” as well, a narrator speaks up, introduces herself as the lone-nomad’s daughter and talks about endless winters, poisoned oceans, and resulting plagues.  So, we can now assume that the Holnists’ war involved some kind of nuclear holocaust as well, and that the few who survived suffered plagues (the “bad” mumps… as opposed to the good ones).

In one of the best shots in the film, we see a lion standing alone in the wasteland pawing at a rusty tin can.  Even the greatest predator is alone and starving without prey.  Fortunately, he doesn’t see Costner and his mule walking by, or this would’ve been an artistic short film pointing out our true place on the food chain.  Fin?

It starts to rain, and the lion turns his face into it, echoing the claim by the narrator that the rains are finally returning.  So, perhaps what we’re seeing is the end of the worst days, but it’s still a jarring transition when Costner walks right out of the desert and into a Thomas Moran painting.

If there’s one thing I love about this genre, it’s when a writer and/or director can display their post-apoc savvy.  The next scene at the gas station is, I believe, solely intended for this purpose.  Costner and his mule, now introduced as Bill, come upon an abandoned gas station and decide to scavenge for supplies.  Bill tries to drink from a trough, but Costner stops him long enough to perform some kind of chemical test on the stagnant water.  For the longest time, I couldn’t decide if he was testing for radiation from the nuclear fallout or biological contamination from the stagnation, but someone on a message board told me it was a PH testing kit.  Why would the PH matter?  I have no idea.  More importantly, why ISN’T he worried about radiation or bacteria?

Costner rings the service bell and we are again privy to his memory as he sees a reflection of the old world in a nearby mirror.  He walks inside and sets up a TV, and begins fantasizing about watching it, hearing the sounds of old television shows in his mind.  I find this effect brilliant, and it’s unfortunate that after having seen it used to great effect so many times in the opening sequence, nothing else like it is seen again anywhere in the film.

Another shining aspect of the opening is when he cracks open the cigarette vending machine and, upon seeing his bounty, exclaims “I’m rich!”  Since Dennis Hopper isn’t around with his mysteriously abundant supply of smokes, they are realistically rare and valuable in narrative.  But, like the glimpses of Costner’s pre-apoc memories, they never appear again, and are never so much as mentioned for the rest of the movie.  In fact, if they’d ended the movie right here, it would probably have a 90% rating.

Costner comes upon a small settlement and decides to perform Shakespeare in exchange for a meal.  If this had happened even half an hour later in the film I could more easily forgive it, but it wasn’t TWO MINUTES AGO that he stumbled on his carcinogenic fortune!  Why wouldn’t he just barter a handful of Marlboros for a hot meal and save himself the embarrassment of his humiliating display?  Truly, the Shakespeare scene comes off as pure silliness, and right after such an epic opening. What’s more, if he’d have avoided putting on the play, he’d already have eaten and left town long before the Holnists show up and set a three-hour debacle in motion!

Props once again to whoever designed the costumes in this movie.  Everyone in the settlement is clothed in heavily patched and repaired scraps of mismatched clothing, accented with a large number of handmade and knitted pieces.  All their cozy layers aren’t enough to cover up their terrible acting, though (I’m looking at you, townsperson Larry. What exactly is your purpose in this film?), and just like in “Waterworld”, the solid performances of the central characters are barely enough to make up for the supporting cast.

Speaking of solid performances, the best part of this movie is also the villain.  General Bethlehem (Will Patton) rides into town at the head of a column of Holnists, and they look fucking scaaaaary.  The Holnists have come for supplies, taxes, and conscripts, though they won’t accept anyone of ethnic blood, claiming that they are impure.  They don’t necessarily kill or maim them – they just don’t kidnap them and force them into military slavery.  So, in essence, they’re almost nicer to those that they claim to hate.  Costner tries to slip out while they loot the hapless villagers, but is caught and knocked out with a stick… because he is an example of pure blood!  This flavor of racism is confusing.

He is taken back to the Holnist HQ, which is in a partially flooded rock quarry.  The only thing more confusing than the Holnists’ racism is their habitation. If you spend all day looting lush, green farming villages with log cabins and nearby rivers, how shitty would it be to have to come home to a big hole in the ground?  Wouldn’t you just want to occupy one of these villages?  The smokers lived in a rusted out oil tanker, for God’s sake, and even THEY didn’t have to kidnap new recruits!  Also, for apparently having taken on the US government, and presumably the US army and police, the entirety of the Holnist army isn’t very impressive.

Bethlehem looks over the day’s catch, and asks the first man what he did before the war.  His answer is golden: “I had a shovel. I digged holes.”  Bethlehem answers, “Well, now you will fill them.”  Is that a threat? Is he referring to filling a grave, or is it supposed to be some kind of motivational comment – “well, fillin’ holes is better’n diggin’ em, I guess.”  Bethlehem moves on to Costner, who states that he was once a Shakespearean actor, leading Bethlehem to quote, “Cry Havoc! And let slip the dogs of war!”  They quote Shakespeare back and forth in what I find is a very misunderstood scene.  They’re not just randomly quoting Shakespeare, but rather, each quote is a double entendre with Bethlehem trying to convince Costner to join the Holnists, and Costner expressing his hesitation. Because of this exchange, Bethlehem sees Costner as too clever and individualistic and decides to knock him out a second time, since this obviously cures dissent and is a convenient device to progress the story temporally.

The next morning, Idaho, Bethlehem’s 3rd in command, leads the men in their training which involves running twenty miles with full packs, and mentions that the men haven’t eaten for three days.  Now, there are certain sciences that can be skewed for artistic license and still allow me to suspend my disbelief.  Physics and human biology are not among them. Jesus, 20 miles!?  That’s almost a marathon!  With full packs!?  After not eating for three days!?  There’s no human being alive that could do that, let alone every man they just kidnapped, all of whom are probably malnourished anyway, and none of whom are likely Olympic-level athletes.  Why not a believable distance, like 5 miles?  With full packs, and after 3 days without food, that alone would have been an adequate herculean effort.

Giovanni Ribisi, appearing in a role he would reprise 2 years later in “The Other Sister,” comes in from the run last, and is denied his dinner in an attempt, I assume, to weed out the weak.  The others are served up a big bowl of what looks like used toothpaste or paper pulp, but actually turns out to be Bill.  Yes, that Bill – Costner’s mule that we just spent ten minutes learning to care about.  Get used to that.  With this in mind, Costner gives his dinner to Ribisi (who is credited as “Bandit 20”, despite his significant role in this portion of the story).

In another moment of incongruent silliness, the Holnists sit down to watch a movie on a working projector, but nearly riot when the projectionist plays “Universal Soldier”.  He pacifies them by putting on “The Sound of Music”.   Though the Holnists are chucking large rocks at the projectionist booth with apparent ease, you can see in one shot that the booth is actually about 200 yards from where they’re sitting.  So these guys can chuck stones the length of two football fields?  They really are the super-race!  It must be from running twenty miles with packs every day.

Because he’s apparently running out of excuses to kill people, Bethlehem organizes a game of musical chairs and kills the loser.  He recites the “Rules of 8”, which are somewhat like the Cobra Kai creedo with some rules-of-fight-club thrown in.  Much like the quality of this film, Ribisi’s retardation seems consistently present, but varies in degree.  Costner attempts to recruit Ribisi and a large black man named “Woody” (who snuck into the army by virtue of his light skin) to escape, but neither seem interested.

Ribisi tattles, leading Idaho to choose Costner for a two-part suicide mission: Go into the woods armed only with a knife, retrieve the scout (or his remains), and kill and bring back the lion (who finally found some prey!).  His reward for successful completion: a lion steak.  Instead, Costner intentionally falls through a rope bridge spanning a river and makes his escape.  By the way, he falls like a hundred feet into this river, and for a guy who seems to have a penchant for getting knocked unconscious, he takes it pretty well.

Now facing the death of a scout, and the loss of his worst troublemaker, Bethlehem makes the most logical decision he can: order Woody and Idaho to ALSO jump from the precariously high bridge into the river, a potentially fatal fall, and swim after Costner through the rapids.  Why risk two more men, including an officer, just for Costner?  Why not let him go, and just claim later that a scout found and killed him?  NO!  Bethlehem’s ego is at stake!!!

Ribisi, his teeth looking disgusting despite the bowl of toothpaste he ate earlier, manages to find Costner first (and he didn’t even have to jump off any bridges), but before he can call out to anyone, Costner does what he should’ve done a long time ago and sticks a knife Ribisi’s gut.  Next up are Woody and Idaho.  Woody, with the coordination of a sack of oranges, pulls a knife on Costner and lunges forward clumsily with both hands simultaneously like a cheap action figure, even though only one hand is holding a knife.  Apparently he can’t control them independently.  Woody has a sudden change of heart, and reveals that though he can’t knife fight worth a crap, he can THROW a knife perfectly, and does so, sticking his knife in Idaho’s arm giving Costner a chance to escape.  Idaho shoots and kills Woody, ending yet another potentially interesting character, and pursues Costner into the woods until he gets attacked and killed by the infamous lion.  I told you not to get attached to anyone in this movie (including the lion – you never see him again).

The following scene is Scavenging 101.  Costner, caught in the freezing rain, stumbles upon a postal truck and crawls inside seeking shelter.  Inside, he finds a plastic skeleton in a bomber jacket, and he steals it to keep warm.  He also finds a zippo lighter and starts burning mail to keep warm.  Hmmm… it seems like the fuel in my Zippos always ran out in about a week, but apparently this one is still going strong after sitting for fifteen years.  Also, does mail just not produce smoke when it burns?  I mean, he’s got a fire burning in an enclosed truck.  Furthermore, it appears that Costner is eating something while reading the mail by firelight.  What the hell is he eating?  I hope not something that he found in the fifteen year old mail…

The next morning, newly uniformed, he takes the bag of mail to the nearby town of Pineview, but they’re all being complete jerks and not only refuse him entrance, but threaten to kill him.  He constructs an unnecessarily large and complex lie, telling them he’s a postal carrier from the reformed government.

When pressed by the townspeople for information, he claims Richard Starkey is president (the real name of Ringo Starr).  The local musicians in the background obviously recognize this because they laugh when he says it…but they don’t think to ask if it’s THE Ringo, or question the fact that he’s still alive and now president.

The town throws a dance in Costner’s honor, complete with about a hundred strings of Christmas lights and a number of large halogen lights.  How are they powering these lights, anyway?  If they’re using generators, where are they getting the gasoline?   A beautiful brunette named Abby (Olivia Williams) approaches Costner and straight up asks him to knock her up.  He freaks out a bit, and decides to skip town…because this is the obvious male reaction *cough*.  On his way out he finds the local post office, and he seems to realize that his own destiny is coming together.  This scene very effectively conveys that he truly realizes that he is destined for greater things.  There appears to be a windmill behind the post office – are we to assume this is where the town is getting all the electricity they’re frivolously wasting?

He meets a young man named Ford Lincoln Mercury (Larenz Tate) who needs a destiny as well, and decides to jump onboard Costner’s.  Costner half-assedly swears him in with the postal carrier motto, and decides to call it a night.  Abby shows up in Costner’s room, however, and practically rapes him until he passes out.

Costner leaves the next morning and Bethlehem shows up, falls for Abby, and asks her husband Michael if he can sleep with her.  Oddly enough, though Michael just outsourced his wife the night before, he refuses Bethlehem, knowing that it means his life.  Bethlehem indeed kills Michael on the spot and kidnaps Abby anyway.  Great plan there, Mike.  Ironically, Bethlehem calls Pineview a “mud hole.”

The Pineview sheriff tells Bethlehem that Costner is heading east, when he is actually heading west, but somehow, they both end up in a town called Benning (the Holnists circumnavigated the globe…with packs on, after not eating for three days).  The Holnists gear up to attack Benning, and the villagers send Costner out to negotiate a peace treaty. Believe it or not, Bethlehem does not recognize Costner!  Why not? Because he shaved his beard off!  Seriously!?  Even after Costner caused him so much trouble?  It hasn’t even been that long!  I could understand if it had been a year, but how long has it been since they literally stood face to face and quoted Shakespeare to each other – a week?!

Even though he doesn’t recognize him, Bethlehem decides to kill Costner anyway (no surprise there), and instructs the pimp from “12 Monkeys” to shoot him in the face.  Fortunately for the pimp, Costner is not a crazy dentist… but unfortunately for him, Abby is a crack shot with the Armalite rifle she steals off of her guard, whom she knocked out with a stick.  Abby takes out a number of Holnists, aiming and picking her shots one shot at a time.  She shoots some barrels that Bethlehem is hiding behind, and much to my dismay, the barrels don’t explode!  That might be a first in action cinema history.

By the way, where did the Holnists get the machine gun and artillery cannons that they’re using to attack Benning?  Did they haul those things with their horses?  I didn’t see the Holnists arrive with them.  Abby runs out of ammo, BUT SHE DOESN’T DROP THE RIFLE!  She actually hangs onto the empty gun.  Abby, I tip my cap to you.

Costner and Abby escape to the woods on horseback, but Costner is injured.  A Holnist tracks them, but Abby kills him and loots his body for ammo and a straight razor, likely to surgically remove the bullet from Costner’s gut, but this is never shown.  Suddenly and inexplicably, there is snow falling and it is literally piled in drifts all around.  Instant winter? It seriously looks like there’s been a blizzard raging for hours!  They find an abandoned cabin and start a fire, apparently not worried that the Holnists might see the smoke.

After awhile, they run out of food, so Abby, without hesitation, shoots their horse and stews it up. Spring comes, and Abby burns down their cabin.  Why?  Because she’s hardcore.  I think she did it to force Costner to move on, as he was pretty attached to the cabin, but I don’t really think that’s her decision to make, is it?  I mean, if he wanted to stay there, let him – she can leave any time she wants.  Costner is whipped, though, and tags along with minimal whining.  Also, though she’s probably three months pregnant at this point, she’s not showing in the slightest.

Costner and Abby take to the road and meet up with a letter carrier who takes them to the headquarters of the newly formed postal service.  Ford has set himself up as the Postmaster, and has quite a little army of mailmen built up!  Way to go, Ford!  Abby was apparently in such a hurry to go SOMEWHERE that she was willing to burn down a perfectly good cabin, but she apparently doesn’t mind shacking up here at the post office indefinitely.  One of the kids recognizes Costner as the legendary postman…even though he’s only seen him once before, three months ago.  Bethlehem, take notes.

Costner begins delivering the mail with his new army of children.  In one scene, he rides past a child holding up a letter (his real life son), and while he could turn his horse around and ride up slowly, he instead chooses to gallop at FULL SPEED toward the little kid and snatch the latter out of his tiny hand while coming dangerously close to trampling him.  Though completely contrasting in character, the mariner and the postman can find common ground in their fondness for endangering children.

Costner and Abby eventually return to Pineview, which has apparently discovered COLORED Christmas lights since they were last there, and strung up even more than before…oh, and the band has hired fiddle and flute players from the large talent pool in their town of under two hundred people.  They also have suspiciously good acoustics, considering their lack of sound equipment.

The Holnists start killing postal carriers on their routes, so Santa Clause the ex-military aerospace engineer helps the mailmen plan an ambush in retaliation.  In an earlier scene in the film, it’s mentioned that the entire town of Benning only has twenty rounds of ammo between them, yet Costner somehow scrapes together enough firearms to fill all the tiny hands in his child army, and enough ammo that they literally all unload their magazines in unison to take out just a small band of Holnists.

Obviously, the Holnists get revenge by killing ten innocent people from Pineview, including the parents of some of the carriers.  Costner decides that the price is too high, and pens a letter of surrender to Bethlehem.  Does he deliver it himself?  Why would he do that when there’s a perfectly good young person he can put in harm’s way?  So, he gives the letter to Ford to deliver instead, and sure enough, Bethlehem rejects his surrender and then sticks Ford in front of a firing squad.  *sigh*

In a sincerely touching scene, Ford finds himself on the executioner’s pole next to a postal carrier from California that’s he’s never met.  Both he and Bethlehem are shocked that the postal service has managed to spread like “Fight Club”, and Bethlehem, who also prefers to let others deliver his messages, sends Ford back to Costner to, I guess, tell him that he…still wants to kill him?  Just in case he forgot?

Costner and Abby, the refugee  mystery man and the American girl, still runnin’ down a dream of freedom, end up at a town run by Tom Petty (as himself).  The Holnists arrive, but again don’t recognize Costner’s face in the crowd.  Tom won’t back down and tells them “Don’t come around here no more”.  They must have been fans, because they don’t break down the door and sack the town.  You got lucky, Tom.  (I spy another conspicuously fat guy here who shouldn’t exist, under the circumstances.)  Tom has a zip line built that leads downhill to the next town, and suggests that Costner skedaddle on down and recruit another army of rebels to face Bethlehem.  Abby has a change of heart and admits to Costner that she is a woman in love, and they share a heartfelt goodbye. Mayor Petty and Costner climb to the top of the zip line tower and Costner loses his balance, but Tom catches him and saves him from free fallin’.  Though Costner is restless, Petty claims the zip line will get him there faster than any other mode of travel, save maybe for learning to fly.

Costner zips into the great wide open toward the town, but we see three of his child soldiers riding alongside him on the road below and keeping up just fine.  So…maybe the zip line isn’t so fast afterall?  There’s a quick montage where the postman raises an army, and they meet the Holnist army in a big open field, even though the field is flanked by cliffs where they easily could’ve ambushed the Holnists.

So, now this cobbled army of peasants is going to do what the US army couldn’t do, and take on the Holnists?  In a moment of clarity, Costner realizes the outlandishness of this prospect, and decides to invoke one of the Rules of 8 and challenge Bethlehem mano-a-mano for leadership of the clan.  In a really good scene, Bethlehem tries to deny Costner the right to challenge, but Costner tears off his sleeve and rides along Holnist front line showing them the number 8 burned into his arm from when he was a recruit.  Bethlehem knows, now, that he must allow Costner to challenge or risk undermining his own rules – the concepts upon which his own reputation and power depend.

I also really like the fight.  Instead of standing toe to toe and flinging choreographed punches and kicks at each other to bad 90s techno, the two men slam into each other like bears and wrestle in the dirt, clumsily but viciously.  In fact, Bethlehem ends up with blood on his head that I’m pretty sure is genuine.  Costner eventually takes mount and ground-and-pounds Bethlehem into submission.  He stands and begins decreeing peace, equality, and an end to killing, but Bethlehem must not have heard him, because he snatches a six shooter from Ford and decides to snatch back the victory by K.O. via .38 special.  Before Bethlehem can pull the trigger, his own second in command shoots him in the back, and the whole match gets thrown out on a D.Q. for interference. Still, the Holnists lay down their rifles and accept peace.  Costner returns to Petty’s town and meets his lovechild “Hope”, the narrator of the opening sequence, and he and Abby presumably live happily ever after.

Jump to 2043 where we see an amazingly re-modernized group of people in modern clothing.  There are three television cameras watching Hope give a speech dedicating a bronze statue to her late father.  The statue depicts Costner almost trampling the little boy with the letter, but I’m not sure how anyone knows that even happened since no one was around to see it…unless that little boy grew up and became a sculptor.  So, in 30 years, they’ve gone from a post apocalyptic wild west to factory clothing and television cameras?  Bullshit.

While this movie obviously has enough wrong with it that I can spend well over four thousand words point it out, it’s also a very sincere and charming movie, and features some outstanding characters and performances.  Costner, again as the nameless hero, trades in his badass card for a pansy stamp, but his character shows believable growth and change throughout the film to reflect the events that occur.  While not a great performance, I still think it fits.  Will Patton is amazing as yet another quotable antagonist that is not only illogical and unsympathetic, but just plain evil…and yet we can’t help but love to hate him.  Olivia Williams is a competent, capable female lead, and more importantly, I BELIEVE her.  Whether she’s firing an AR or charming Costner out of his semen, she looks as though it’s second nature, and THAT is the mark of a good performance.  Lastly, Larenz Tate is nothing if not lovable as Ford Lincoln Mercury, and delivers his lines with legitimate emotion.  I truly believe that, if a sequel were made, it should pick up after the battle and follow Ford on his adventures.  I think it would even make a great book or TV series.  DO YOU HEAR ME, DR. BRIN?!?

Both “Waterworld” and “The Postman” follow basically the same formula: Great opening sequence > nameless outsider nomad meets girl, and decides to help her and her people against an over-the-top villain (who destroys the protagonist’s mode of transportation) and his hordes of followers who are stealing from them > outsider becomes a reluctant hero and overcomes great odds with the help of friends, defeating the villain and freeing the people.  The difference being that in “The Postman” the hero finds a place to belong, and in “Waterworld”, he inexplicably rejects it.  “The Postman”, however, runs a bit too long and includes a lot of the neo-western elements that don’t seem to fit in the overall narrative, and don’t add anything to the characters or their relationships that hasn’t been or can’t be established in the rest of the film.  For this reason, I’m giving it a score one point lower than “Waterworld”, but I still recommend it.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

Waterworld (1995)

Waterworld” is the first of the infamous duo of post apocalyptic films starring Kevin Costner that came out in the mid 90s.  Both were big budget epics, both over two hours in length, and both were largely considered failures.

"Failure is in the eye of the freakin' beholder..."

As of the writing of this review, “Waterworld” has a score of 41% on Rotten Tomatoes.  At the time of its release, it was the most expensive Hollywood production to date, costing $175 million, but only made $88 million in U.S. theaters.  It actually did much better internationally, and through later VHS and DVD sales, but its reputation as a “bomb” had already been dropped on the civilian population.  There are many things this film does right, but also, like many of the ships it features, there are many holes in its hull. Many also criticize it for its similarities in plot to the Mad Max films “The Road Warrior” and “Beyond Thunderdome”.  Personally, it is one of my favorites of the genre.

Waterworld opens with a CG visual of the ice caps melting and flooding the earth completely. A narrator tells us that people have adapted, and we close in on a rusted trimaran, and a plastic bucket…and someone peeing in said bucket.  Kevin Costner, decked out in scavenged clothing, pours his urine into a hand-pump filtering apparatus and drinks the potable water that comes out the other end.  A speaker sounds (possibly some sort of sonar, indicating that he’s passing over some sunken salvageables) causing him to jump into the water, and we are shown around his ship via a series of static shots that shows truly how well-stocked and mechanically equipped it is.  Suddenly, a stranger’s hand steals the limes from the small tree potted on his boat. Costner rises from his dive with a sack of goodies (ski boots! possibly even more impractical than roller skates!) too late to realize he’s been swindled, but soon enough to see the stranger attached to the aforementioned hands back on his own boat.  The two exchange cautious but pleasant words, and much is revealed about the world.  The stranger alludes to smokers, slavers, and an atoll outpost nearby.  Costner mentions the code of the drifters, and refers to their world as “Waterworld”.

They notice that a small band of smokers, the pirates/raiders of this world, are approaching, and the stranger chooses this moment to reveal that he has stolen Costner’s limes.  Why would he think that would be a good idea?  Wouldn’t he prefer every possible ally in a confrontation against the smokers?

Costner, now pissed, reveals the true potential of his trimaran.  Like a transformer, hatches open, machines buzz to life, and previously hidden sails and cables appear and give his ship extra speed and maneuverability.  Now easily able to outrun the smokers on the seadoos, he intentionally steers toward the thieving drifter’s

MY LIMES!

comparatively novice sailcraft, and runs it over, destroying the mast with one of the steel crossbeams of his trimaran.  (I love the word “trimaran”… so fun to say. No, I had no idea what the boat was called until I looked it up on Wikipedia). The smokers board the immobile drifter’s small ship and have their way with him – that’s what you get for putting your fingers on Costner’s limes without permission.

You may be wondering why I walked you through that entire opening sequence, but I wanted to point out how this film does right what so many do wrong.  In a very short opening sequence, and within a single scene, the film has successfully established the setting, its circumstances, and the factions operating within it.  I am completely oriented and immersed with the world of the film, and we’re barely five minutes in.  Bravo!

Costner, as the unnamed mariner, has been criticized as delivering a flat performance, and while this may be the case, I choose to believe that the flatness is actually an aspect of the mariner character, and in that regard, I find it very effective.  After all, not every antihero has to be Ashley Williams.

"Ashley is a girl's name."

The atoll and its denizens, while not composed of award winning thespians, are done very well in the film.  Cultural details that could easily have been ignored are explored and portrayed in abbreviated fashion to flesh out as much of the atoll culture as possible.  The atoll is initially hesitant to allow the mariner entrance until he bribes them with a jar of dirt.  Obviously, dirt would be a valuable substance in a world without dry land.  During a scene with a banker, they equate the value of dirt to that of fresh water – also rare in a world of saltwater.  Water, water everywhere…and only filtered pee to drink. [In the rare extended cut, it is mentioned that seawater can be filtered as well, but that is it harder on the filters.  I’m honestly not sure how desalinization works, but I would assume one could desalinate seawater using simple distillation, but unfortunately this is never explored in the film.]

Mariner witnesses a funeral in which the atoll peasants dump the corpse of an old woman into a pit of thick, bubbling, yellow mud.  They mention “recycling” her.  What is this yellow mud?  My first thought was that it was some kind of compost pit, possibly composed mostly of human excrement, since these people wouldn’t waste anything with compost potential.  This would also explain what these people use as a fuel source. [Methane, that is, ala Bartertown’s pigs… “ass-gas-oline”, anyone?]

After cashing in his soil, he meets up with a circumstantially impossibly-attractive bartender named Helen

"I've clearly led a hard life."

(Jeanne Tripplehorn), and who we assume to be her inked up daughter, Enola (Tina Majorino). Both Tripplehorn and Majorino are perfect for their respective roles, with Majorino getting my vote as the second best character in the entire film.

While Costner buys a tomato plant to replace his lime tree, he is repeatedly pestered by a lion-maned alpha male who admires his flashy ski boots.  This character, “Nord” (Gerard Murphy), is another great unsympathetic villain right out of a “Die Hard” script.

Costner turns down an offer to breed with a local youngster, inciting the locals to mob him.  They can’t decide whether to kill him because he might be a spy, or because he’s a mutant with fish gills behind his ears.  Helen and Enola live with a mad scientist caricature, and this movie’s Gyro, named Gregor (Michael Jeter) who speaks in a heavy accent of no particular origin, and over-acts as if this were a stage play. Why would he have an accent, anyway?  According to the mythos of the film, nobody even remembers that dry land ever existed, and the citizens of this atoll of likely lived here their entire lives, so why would people have different accents?

The next morning, the locals decide to “recycle” the mariner in the poo-pits, but before they dunk him, the smokers conveniently attack the atoll to steal its “go-juice” (this film’s “guzzoline”).  The smokers are so similar to the raiders in “The Road Warrior” that I

"I never thought I'd say it, but I'm glad to see you guys."

half expect Enola to slice Nord’s fingers off with a razor edged boomarang.  The smokers are led by Humongous… no wait, I mean Deacon (the late, great Dennis Hopper), who is not only the greatest character in this movie, but one of the best villains in any post apocalyptic movie ever. One of the smoker ships boasts an anti-aircraft turret that makes short work of the atoll’s defensive walls, and Hopper states

"They have pits full of what?"

that they are there to steal the atoll’s go-juice.  Could this be gasoline, or the methane from the pits?  There are clearly machines at work in the atoll, but we are never explicitly shown what powers them.  If it’s gasoline, where do they get it?  I’m going to say it’s the methane from the pits – and if it’s not, then it should’ve been, because no other option makes sense within the context of the film.

During the battle, Gregor stumbles into some levers in his lab which starts an apparently irreversible inflation of a homemade hot air balloon.  Nevermind that Gregor built this damn thing himself and should therefore understand it, but later in the film he is shown to have perfect control over the thing – still, he somehow can’t stop its ascension and abandons Helen and Enola while he makes he escape.  Sorry ladies, I only have enough supplies for me… I mean I can’t control this crazy contraption!… that I built!

A flaming jetski lands in one of the compost pits, setting it alight, revealing that, indeed, the substance is flammable.  Luckily, it wasn’t the pit the mariner is busy drowning in.  Helen frees the mariner in exchange for his promise to help them escape, and given the options, he agrees.  The mariner is a total badass, throwing machetes, swinging on ropes, and swimming like a dolphin during the daring escape,  also showing a flawless awareness of his ship, zipping around on cables and driving it with both hands and both feet and ducking the mast without even seeing it swinging behind him.

"I'M AAAWWWSOOOOOME!

During the escape, the mariner even harpoons the smokers ship sporting the turret, and pulls it around to face the other smokers, destroying Deacon’s ship and causing him to lose an eye.  You might think the mariner did this to help the survivors battling in the atoll, but I would argue that he was simply exhibiting another act of

"He really is a jerk..."

revenge, such as he did with the lime-yoinking drifter in the opening scene.  The mariner is not a nice guy.  In fact, he’s a cold, vengeful jerk – and makes that abundantly clear in the following scenes.

As he surveys the damage to the trimaran, he explains that his water filter is broken, and he must kill Enola so he and Helen can survive. You might think he’s joking – but nope, he’s serious.  Helen offers her body to the mariner in exchange for Nola’s life, but after considering it long enough to get an eye full of tanned nekkidness, ultimately turns Helen down. [The extended cut reveals that he planned on selling them both to slavers.  See?  He’s an asshole.]

I have to take a moment to point out two details that pleased me: first, his pendant is made out of a piece of a circuit board.  Second, and most importantly, the mariner’s weapon of choice in many scenes is a kukri.  If you don’t know what a kukri is, it’s only the greatest type of machete that exists, and one of my absolute favorite post apocalyptic weapons.  Buy one today.

The Mariner's Kukri

The Mariner's Kukri

While sexual awkwardness abounds above, Enola explores in the trimaran’s cabin, discovering a bunch of old world trinkets including a big box of crayons!  Not the 24 pack, mind you, but the big papa "You, my friend, are totally worth it."64 pack! Somehow, the box and its contents have survived hundreds of years in saltwater, but work well enough for Enola to draw pretty pictures all over the ship, eventually pissing the mariner off to the point that he actually does throw her overboard.  Remember, this is our protagonist.

She can’t swim, which makes total sense for someone who grew up in a world composed entirely of water, so Helen jumps in to save her.  The mariner, having lost the larger portion of his investment, swings ‘round to pick them up.

We are finally shown the smokers’ headquarters, which is essentially Bartertown’s underground.  It turns out they are refining the oil leftover in the wreck of the Exxon Valdez, but they’ve only got a couple months left – thus all the raiding and pirating (straight from the pages of “The Road Warrior”).

Deacon tosses cigarettes to his workers as he drives around among them, but where are they getting the cigarettes, and is that why they’re called the smokers?  Are they the only people that smoke in Waterworld?  I’ve heard it said that they are called the smokers because of all the oil-burning machines they employ, but the cigarette thing can’t be a coincidence.  Either way, they HAVE to be making them, because there’s no way they could survive underwater for so long, so where are they growing the tobacco?

The trimaran is spotted by a smoker airplane flown by the lead singer of Tenacious D, Jack Black, himself.  (Yes, folks, that’s really him).  Helen fires the tow-harpoon at the plane, scoring an

"Is that Jack Black?!"

impossibly accurate hit (does she have prior experience with harpoon guns?), but the plane wraps the tow cable around the mast of the ship, battle-of-Hoth style, and causes even more damage before breaking the cable and escaping.  For her effort, the mariner chops all of Helen’s hair off with the kukri (love that kukri) and decides to whack off Enola’s braids too, just in case anyone in the audience was actually starting to like him.

"Ya know, he really is a jerk."

At this point, we run into the third best character in the movie: the insane drifer (Kim Coates). This drifer is apparently very Irish, though I’m now tabling my issues with the accents in this film. He offers to trade something possibly even more valuable than dirt or clean water for some alone time with Helen – Paper.

Oh, yes! Paaaaaper!  Have ya ever seeeen paaaaper!?

He’s been saving it for a “special trade”. Costner obliges, and trades Helen’s self-respect for a couple of sheets of said paper.  The mariner changes his mind and ends up killing the Irishman with the kukri.  Damn, I love the kukri.  Did he do this to save Helen’s dignity?  Doubtful.  The truth is, he probably just figured he could have the Irishman’s entire boat if he could goad him into a fight and kill him – why stop at two pages of paaaaaper?

They don’t find any food aboard his ship, and only after Helen and Enola are practically starving does he load up a double ended speargun and use himself as bait to catch a giant fish-monster. Could he do this all along?  Why did he wait so long while they starved, and why did he want to trade the Irishman for food when"WTF was that thing anyway?" he could’ve gotten it himself at any time?  How are they getting fresh water if his filter is busted, anyway?  Regardless, these giant, man-eating fish monsters are NEVER seen again in this movie.

The mariner eats the creature’s eye in another nice little survival-accurate detail.  Other details I appreciated were how everyone in this world sports a deep tan, sun-lightened hair, and chapped lips.  It’s all in the details, right?  Maybe not, but they do help to make up for some of the gaping plot holes.

"I think I can almost see the end of this review."

Suddenly, and without explanation, the mariner starts warming up to Nola. He teaches her to swim, and shares a very loving father/daughter moment with her in the water.  While the

"I think I'm done hating you." > "What? Just like that?"

cinematography, music, and slow motion really work to accentuate the feeling of being in and under water in this scene, and I truly enjoy the scene, I felt that it came about a bit abruptly.  I mean, this is the girl he has attempted to sell and kill up to this point, and suddenly he just accepts her as his own.

They come upon an outpost where people are auditioning for a “Weekend at Bernie’s” sequel, but the mariner suspects the charade, and looks through a periscope under his boat and sees the smokers hiding underwater. He avoids their fishing net by tilting his ship one way, and then the other, but why did it not get caught on the periscope he used not five minutes ago?

During the escape, he gets shot by Deacon, and Deacon tells Nord to employ the trackers to follow the mariner’s blood trail.  What!?  In the ocean!?

TRANSLATION: "You are NOT here."

Helen reveals that Nola’s tattoo is the map to dry land, and that Nola is indeed from there, but the Mariner refuses to believe it, and shows Helen the sunken cities he raids using a homemade mini-sub. Apparently the pressure isn’t enough to kill them.  I’m no scuba diver, but touching bottom on the deep end always made my skull hurt.

[Note: During this scene you can see possibly the only intentional or unintentional product placement in the film – a pepsi can on the sea floor.]

The trackers apparently employ sharks, because Nola sees two shark fins approach in the film’s attempt to explain how they tracked his blood trail through the ocean, but it’s not as though he just hung himself over the side and bled in the water continuously, is it?  Even if he did, can you really train a shark to differentiate between all the various bloods in the water, and motivate them to follow one of them like a hound?

Helen and the Mariner arrive back at the boat find Deacon and Nord on their boat, but no mention of the trackers or their pet sharks.  Helen and the Mariner escape by swimming underwater and the mariner uses his gills to breath into Helen’s mouth.  Where are those sharks now, huh?  Wouldn’t they still be in the water nearby?  Though Deacon has SEEN the mariner’s gills, and likely realizes he’s just biding his time below the surface, they have what they want, and leave with Enola.

There’s nothing left of the trimaran, but mariner and Helen decide to have sex on the burning, jagged, rusted wreckage anyway.  Afterall, what else does one do at such times?  It is at this point in the movie that I rejoice, because every subsequent scene involving Deacon and Enola is pure gold.

The mariner goes below deck and reveals that he has an entire issue of national geographic, letting everyone know that he didn’t even need the Irishman’s measly two pages of paper, but was still more than willing to let Helen suffer for them. In the most Hand-of-God moment in the whole film, Gregor happens to find them in his hot air balloon.  He does say he saw the smoke of the burning boat, but from how far away?  Days away by sea?  I don’t buy it. Also, he can control the balloon just fine now, which Helen must find a BIT irritating, right? He takes them to a small craft filled with the survivors of the atoll,  and using a map that the mariner rescued from his boat, Gregor figures out the symbols on Nola’s back, and decides he needs her back to decipher the tattoo and find the way back to dry land.  They also figure out that the Earth’s poles have shifted, swapping north and south.  No one on the craft believes that cities used to exist at all, so apparently no one actually realizes that the earth has flooded.  From this we can gather that it has been a very, very long time.

[Note: There is  a scene immediately following this one that shows the survivor craft and Gregor’s balloon with a sunset sky…and land is clearly visible in the background.  Oops.]

The mariner arrives at the smoker HQ and is able to approach in a convenient fog that disappears right after this scene. Deacon is busy

"Follow the arrow to the giant mountain...seems pretty freakin' simple to me."

lying to his followers and telling them he has deciphered the tattoo, and that he is leading them to dry land.  He tosses out cans of SMEAT to his followers, which is interesting, because SPAM actually does have an indefinite shelf-life!  (The more you know…)

Deacon apparently has an assortment of eye patches, but the chinstrap he wears while giving his speech is my favorite. Despite easily infiltrating the oil tanker, and effortlessly stopping all opposition, he decides to walk out on the deck alone to confront

"I am not a crook! Well, maybe a little."

Deacon and Nord on the balcony above, rather than trying to sneak up on them and catch them unaware.  He places himself in a situation in which his only option is to do something drastic…so he drops a flare into the open oil tank, blowing up the entire ship.

The tanker must've been full of water and melted tires

Pretty risky move there, hero, don’t ya think?  There was no way to gauge how big that explosion was going to be, or whether or not you’d kill yourself and/or Enola. Deacon is right, you are “a total freakin’ retard.”  The following scene is a great action sequence, but another example of just how irresponsible the mariner is, and how careless he is with Enola’s fragile little life.  As Deacon escapes with Enola in a plane, the mariner attaches a small anchor to a cable and hooks it to the passing plane, causing it to crash. Yes, he intentionally causes the plane to crash, knowing full well that Enola is IN THE PLANE.  Points for thinking on your webbed feet, mariner, but how many times now have you almost killed Enola, either on purpose or with one of your careless stunts when you’re supposed to be SAVING her – twice now in the last ten minutes!

"Hey Enola, your seat looks a little too safe. Why don't you hop up on the edge there..."

Gregor and the survivors rescue Enola and the mariner in a new, larger balloon that he must have fashioned while on the survivor craft…I guess. They haul them into the balloon as the ship explodes behind them (for reals this time).  We’ve already established that the bad guy’s headquarters always explodes when good guys escape from them, so this should come as no surprise. What does come as a surprise is that after this group of people repeatedly risk their lives to save this little tattooed treasure-map, they LET HER SIT PRECARIOUSLY ON THE EDGE OF THE BALLOON BASKET, like a hundred feet up in the air!!!

So, when Deacon shoots the balloon and causes it to buck slightly, Enola falls RIGHT over the edge and all the way down into the water. The mariner bungee jumps down and snags her out of the water right in time for Deacon and two other smokers on jetskis to collide at full speed  in the spot where she was treading water only seconds before. What was their plan, exactly, speeding toward her at breakneck speed, all at once?  The jetskis explode as if they were filled with dynamite.  Apparently, everything badguys make explodes – not just their hideouts.

As they float toward dry land in the balloon, the mariner sees that there is only a few drops of water left in their bottle, and instead of pouring it in Enola’s mouth, decides to pour it into his hand, wasting most of it as it drips between his fingers, and then rub his moist fingers across her lips.  How sweet.

Unfortunately, they land the balloon on the island from “Jurassic Park”, though I think all the dinosaurs are extinct by this time – again.  They find Nola’s parents’ skeletons and decide to bury them “under the dirt” because they think it was their way.  How would they know?  Yesterday, none of them even believed dry land existed, now they know their burial customs.

Mariner is freaked out by a passing herd of horses, but no one else seems to mind, despite the fact that they could very well be carnivores and not one of them, save Enola, have ever seen one before…let alone an entire herd of them stampeding.  Eh, no biggie.  Instead, let’s play in the water!

The mariner decides that scraping out a living on the ocean is better than living with his friends on the island, and takes an old wooden raft back out to sea.  This may seem completely ridiculous, but in the extended version it is revealed that he wants to find others like him, and also send other humans in the direction of this dry land, so it makes a bit more sense.  Why they left these details out of the final cut, I can’t imagine.  One interesting detail: in the extended version, Enola gives him the name “Ulysses” before he leaves the island.  As the screen fades to black, we hear the sound of the smoke monster somewhere on the island… (just kidding).

While Waterworld has some poor acting by the supporting cast, I feel that the central characters were very well cast, and there were enough memorable performances and characters that I didn’t mind the forgettable ones.  Though the plot was largely stolen from the Mad Max trilogy, and had some gaping holes (especially in the edited version), the small details showed that the writers and producers put real thought into the project, and I applaud that.  What really stands out about Waterworld, however, are the epic visuals and attention to detail in costume and set design.  The world of the movie is so meticulously crafted that I can easily immerse myself in it, and in the end, that’s really all I ask from a good film – escapism.

"This thing must be broken..."

FINAL RATING: 7/10

Solarbabies (1986)

Solarbabies takes place in arguably the same universe as “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome”; the earth is now a desert, and the remaining water is being controlled by the Eco Protectorate, a fascist police entity led by a homoerotic M. Bison. All the children are taken at birth to be raised in orphanages where they are indoctrinated to serve the Eco Protectorate, but are allowed to play a game called skateball – a cross between lacrosse and roller derby.

Nothing screams evil like an SS visor and skin tight synthetics.

The movie begins with a narrated explanation that an alien has crash landed on earth.  We see Daniel, the human equivalent of Fievel Mousekewitz (played by Lukas Haas), awkwardly skating through what appears to be an industrial skate park.  Actually, the entire world seems to have been designed as a giant skate park, which comes in handy for our heroes who impractically choose to spend 75% of the movie in roller skates.  Fievel hits a breaker that lights a giant concrete bowl covered in graffiti, and two teams of teens on skates enter the arena.  There’s never a question of the two teams’ moral alignment, as our protagonists are decked out head-to-toe in symbolic red, white, and blue starred and striped homemade equipment.  Their heel opponents, in contrast, wear slick, manufactured black plastic armor with angry facemasks.  The only thing missing is an over-the-top villain to lead the stormtrooper youths against their… oh wait, suddenly Grock, a smirking military officer in a comically exaggerated blue plastic SS uniform (the aforementioned diet M. Bison), steps ominously into the light on a nearby cliff to oversee the match.  At this point I’m thinking, “Why didn’t they just make this an animated movie?”

Since they were already on a roll with the 80s movie clichés, we then see Darstar (played by Adrian Pasdar before he learned how to fly), the stereotypical native American/gypsy kid with long, dark hair in a side-ponytail (rad!) watching quietly from atop a crane…oh, and in case we didn’t get his archetype right away, an owl then lands on his arm.  Then meet our heroes; a gang of teens as creatively diverse as the original cast of Power Rangers. Jason Patric plays Jason (red/green/white ranger), the Leonardoesque fearless leader and love interest to the token female, Terra (pink ranger), played by Jami Gertz.  They are essentially the exact same characters they would play a year later in “The Lost Boys”, minus the vampirism.

Our Heroes

James LeGros plays Metron (blue ranger), the nerdy, awkward kid with glasses (which means he’s smart) who acts as the teams answer to any problem involving technology.  Claude Brooks is Rabbit (black ranger), the only African American kid in the entire orphanage, who actually has one of the most uncomfortable exploitations in the film, which we’ll get to later.  Lastly, Peter DeLuise (mullet ranger) plays Tug, the group’s token muscle, though his role is only really utilized in one unnecessary scene, and he has the least dialogue of any character…leaving me wondering why he was included at all.  The midboss, Gavial, Grock’s underling and the leader of the “evil” skateball team is played by a very forgettable Pete Kowanko, who’s hyperbolic thuggery and rockin’ skunkhawk remind me of those PSA videos on bullying that they made us watch in elementary school.

The two teams square off in skateball, with the solarbabies (the good guys) getting the better of Gavial’s team, leading to Grock calling in his troops, the E-Police, to break up the game and capture the solarbabies – who are apparently breaking curfew.  The solarbabies (that sounds more and more stupid every time I say it) escape via a series of old mine shafts, but Fievel gets separated from the group and displays the first of many examples that caused me to question the wisdom in choosing rollerskates as your preferred post apocalyptic footwear – he is forced to descend the steep mineshaft by sidestepping painfully slowly, despite the fact that he is being pursued by stormtroopers who are comparably fleet-footed in their jack boots.  Fievel barely avoids a runaway mine cart which breaks his headphones, revealing that they were actually hearing aids (probably built by Metron) and that he is deaf.  This is actually pretty cleverly shown by muting the movie’s sound, though it doesn’t take three minutes for the writer to once again assume that the audience are idiots.  Fievel descends deep into the mine and finds a glowing orb, the crashed alien, that introduces itself telepathically as “Bohdai” and then heals Daniel-san’s ears.  We suddenly hear sound again, and Daniel looks around, confused, as he hears water droplets echoing  off the cave walls.  As I said, however, the writer assumes we’re idiots, and Fievel suddenly yells out, three times, “I can hear!  You fixed my ears!  I can hear!  I can hear!”

The next day at school, the children are scolded by their kindly old warden, played by Charles Durning – the most anachronistic character in the post-apoc wasteland.  First of all, Durning is fat.  I’m not knocking portly people, but in a hot desert world where no animals or vegetation exist, and water is the most prized commodity, would there really be fat people?  If that weren’t bad enough, Durning looks like he walked off of a civil-war era southern plantation in his oddly cut yellow suit and his black ribbon tie.  He sweats profusely, which is all the more noticeable in his conversation with Grock, who remains almost plasticine in his dryness, despite wearing multiple layers of blue vinyl.

Our heroes (whose team name I refuse to use again) meet in their super secret basement hideout where it is revealed that their pet lightbulb can actually make it rain…in the basement…complete with lightning…Hmm.  They take Bohdai out to the industrial skateball arena where they were almost arrested, and start tossing him around with their lacrosse sticks.  In a shocking asshole move, Jason asks that Bohdai be tossed to him, at which point he SWINGS HIS STICK LIKE A BAT AND SHATTERS BOHDAI INTO DUST. I’m not even kidding!  He maliciously MURDERS their rainmaking spherical messiah FOR NO REASON.  WHY!? Luckily, the dust reforms into the orb and everyone laughs…but what if it hadn’t?  Huh?  What if that had been the end of the movie?  Pretty irresponsible dick move, Jason.  This is where we see Rabbit in a very racially uncomfortable Harlem Globetrotters moment as he dances, rolls the orb across his wingspan, and spins it on his finger like a basketball before bouncing it off of his hip to someone else.  Yeah.  It’s pretty much his only moment to shine in the entire movie, and it’s a cheap racial stereotype.

It is decided to keep the orb and its powers a secret, but unfortunately, Darstar the birdman, finally tired of seeking attention by drawing native symbols in the schoolyard, spies on the gang and steals the crystal ball because he wants its “magic”, and subsequently escapes from the orphanage.  By the way, if Darstar was taken from his tribe at two months of age, as he later says, how does he remember the symbols and trademark side-ponytail of his people?  Jason and Terra are in class when they hear of Darstar’s escape from the compound, and Jason remarks casually how he’ll get caught…because they always get caught.  However, when Fievel is summoned telepathically by Bohdai to follow Darstar, the rest of the team decides to escape in order to protect him.  They easily escape the compound, destroying the ONE motion sensor with a rock, and then casually rollerskate to freedom on the convenient paved roads that stretch across the desert wasteland.  Darstar somehow finds and returns to his tribe, only to have his village burned by the E-Police as they search for the alien orb.

An interesting detail: during their escape, the teens manage to jump a thirty foot chasm by holding hands and using their centrifugal force to fling one another toward the gap.  Somehow, going faster also allows them to jump ten feet in the air without a ramp.  In one of the dumbest oversights in the history of bad screenwriting, the biggest and strongest person in the group, Tug, is flung over the gap first.  Shouldn’t he have been the one flinging the smaller, weaker members across?  Or maybe it required every other person to toss his fat ass across.  I have a degree in English, not physics.  Either way, the kids get away without a scratch… and the E-troops pursuing them are unable to jump the chasm on motorcycles – the same chasm our heroes can jump on skates.

So…what was so hard about that?  Why didn’t these kids escape a long time ago?  One might argue that they were given food (presumably), water, and shelter at the orphanage, but in no time at all they end up at Tire Town – a blatant rip off of Mad Max’s Bartertown, nestled in an automotive scrapyard.  The market in Bartertown, I mean Tire Town, has everything from prostitutes to potatoes (which Terra can’t stop fondling…no, the potatoes), so obviously these people not only get enough water to survive on their own, but they get enough to grow enough potatoes to subsist as well.

It is revealed that Tire Town gets its water by extracting it from melted tires.  Wait, what?  Yes…the citizens of the scrapyard melt down pre-apocalyptic tires into molten rubber, and EXTRACT POTABLE WATER from it.  Despite the fact that I’m pretty sure this is impossible, it is mentioned early in the film that there is uncontrolled water a mere 100 miles from the orphanage.  Even walking at 4 miles an hour, that’s only going to take a little over 24 hours to reach.  Why would you waste time and effort drinking melted tires instead of just cruising over to the uncontrolled water source?  Am I over-thinking this movie?

They happen upon Darstar, who is working in Tire Town after the destruction of his village.  He’s disillusioned that he wasn’t able to use the magic of the orb, and apologetically gives it back to the heroes just as the E-Police attack.  The E-cops chase the now roller skating protags into the tire/water refinery and are systematically beaten with a series of roller skating stunts – nevermind the fact that the cops have “pew pew” laser guns.  In one scene, they skate through the storage area where they knock over shelves containing countless bottles of water…completely unguarded and unsecured.  The most valuable resource in this fictional universe.  No guard.  Not even a padlock.  *sigh*

During this melee we get to see Tug’s only apparent usefulness as he picks up a steel beam and throws it on a group of cops.  The cops are slapstick in their incompetence, and the kids easily escape by rolling down a hill in tractor tires.  Behind them, the refinery explodes… from all the tires and water inside, I guess?  I give up.  The kids land at the bottom of the hill and realize that Terra has been left behind.  They also don’t seem to notice the POND next to them.  Granted, it’s full of trash and scrap metal, but the water’s still probably better than drinking melted tires. Somehow, though, it has escaped the radar of the nearby town of desperate wastelanders who can filter potable water from anything.

Bohdai has been given to the E-police by Darstar’s former tribal chief (who is tortured with ants for his trouble while Grock and skunkhawk get off by watching), and the heroes are captured by two more Power Rangers characters: Bulk and Skull, named Malice and Dogger in this particular film.  Malice is a perpetually smiling Aussie bounty hunter (also inexplicably fat), and Dogger is his chortling, pea brained sidekick played by English actor Bruce Payne in the biggest “WTF!?” role of his career.  They are all strapped to a makeshift rickshaw as Malice plans to sell them to the E-Gestapo.  They are confronted by a mysterious stranger in Persian garb who starts squirting them in the face with water from a goat bladder canteen, before they are surrounded by more Persians with impossibly huge crossbows.

The stranger reveals herself to be Terra, who in a matter of a few hours has managed to find and reunite with her lost tribe and father, and rally them to save her friends…who she also managed to locate.  Her tribe is called the Eco Warriors, and were apparently famous for having gone to war with the E-Nazis over water rights.  They are taken back to a subterranean volcanic cave that contains lush vegetation and clear flowing water thanks to a melting glacier.  Terra’s father “Greentree” (heh) looks like a 70s chiropractor, and explains the history of the Eco war to the kids.

Bohdai is busy being tortured by M. Bison and the Evil Queen from “Conan the Destroyer”, so the kids decide to leave paradise and assault the E-headquarters where all the known water in the world is being held (except, apparently, the water in Tire Town, the pond outside Tire Town, and the uncontrolled water 100 miles from the orphanage).  They decide to assault the HQ of the most powerful military in the world, which guards the largest amount of the most valuable substance on earth, and they plan to do so on roller skates…with no weapons.  They can’t fail!

Metron roller-skate-pole-vaults over the front gate and starts randomly pulling wires out of a fuse box.  Luckily, he pulls precisely the ones he needs to, both opening the gate and shutting down the base’s first line of security – Dobermans with flashlights strapped on their heads.   That’s the future of security, folks. 

This is the best we've got?

Thanks to their skating prowess, they overcome more inept laser-armed guards and easily make their way into the base’s control room, where the Evil Queen has just introduced her giant robot – which she describes as the most technologically advanced weapon in her arsenal.  The kids simply break the robots eyes with their miniature hockey sticks, and it goes completely retarded.  Queen shoulder-pads tries to grab the orb with her bare hands, and it SETS HER HANDS ON FIRE in probably the most unintentionally funny scene in the movie. 

Should've let that nail polish dry...

The now retarded robot grabs Grock by the arms and lifts him into air while Queen Firefingers stumbles back against a damaged control panel and is electrocuted to death.  The kids manage to escape with Bohdai, and again, the entire HQ mysteriously explodes behind them.  So, again, this is supposed to be the penultimate secure fortress, even though kids can break in at will, but if you spill coffee on a control panel, the whole place comes apart.

As the walls crumble, the water somehow contained within bursts forth into the wasteland.  The kids watch from afar as a thunderstorm forms, promising rain and thus a future.  Bohdai can’t make up his mind as to whether or not he wants to stay, return to space, or burst into dust and become one with the rainstorm…so, he somehow does all three.  I’m still not completely clear on this, but there you have it.  The kids hold hands and glow and talk about how “he’s all around us” and “he’s in each of us” and all the typical nonsense kids in these movies say when they don’t really understand what the hell is really happening.  As the credits roll, we see the kids stripping and running toward…the ocean?  So, the E-protectorate’s headquarters contained the entire ocean, which has now been released?  Or is the ocean the “uncontrolled water” they’ve just now decided to walk the couple day journey to?

Needless to say, I don’t think too much of this movie.  The writing is terrible, the acting is worse, and I think the “post apocalyptic” setting was chosen more out of budget concerns than for the actual story.  After all, shooting a movie in a post apoc desert means very little money spent on sets, scenery, and filming permits.  I think it tried to be a kid’s movie, but didn’t actually impart any moral lessons or hippy wisdom.  Even where there were opportunities for an ecological message, the best that they’re able to muster is “water should be free to everyone” and “controlling water is bad”.  However, because I hold “The Lost Boys” in such high regard, I will consider this movie a necessary springboard for Patric and Gertz…because that’s the only way I can justify its existence.  It should’ve been animated, and it should’ve been about half as long.

"I think I see where he's coming from..."

What lessons can we take from this movie for our Post Apoc playbooks?

1. If you ever find yourself the despotic ruler of a post apocalyptic wasteland, be liberal with rollerskate-proof obstacles (like stairs), and build facilities that don’t explode when people escape from them, or when some flaming feminazi stumbles into a control panel.

2. It’s better to have a handful of well trained goons than an army of inept fools with laser guns.

3. 100 miles is not nearly as far to walk as it sounds.

4. Rollerskates trump laser guns and Dobermans with flashlights on their heads.  Keep ‘em handy.

FINAL RATING: 3/10