In the post-apocalyptic action movie “Waterworld” from 1995, all human settlements have drowned as global warming has melted the ice caps. At the time in 1995, “Waterworld” was the most expensive movie ever made and it was not a huge success. Maybe the prospect of a drowned world was not a hot topic at the time? Or maybe open sea sailing and a virile but lonesome yachtsman boating around in the sunset was a too elitist scenario to appeal to a larger audience. (much of the movie appears like a tourism commercial for a Future-Punk-Cape Cod. It is still today regarded as one of Kevin Costner’s campier acting efforts.)
The plot, set in 2500, revolves around the quest for “Dryland” the mythical last unflooded piece of land. The lead character is a sailor with amphibic abilities, one of the first mutated humans to have adapted to live in waterworld. (He has small gills behind his ears and adnated toes.) Because of his abilities he is able to dive down to the drowned cities and bring back soil and other valuable objects that he trades above water without disclosing their origins. He thus strengthens the common believe in a hidden land above water and becomes a target for adventurers and pirates searching for Dryland.
Eventually he agrees to disclose the secret to his companion and takes her on a dive. At this point in the story, it becomes clear to the character that there is no sacred refuge to go to but that humanity is stranded on boats and floating cities with nowhere else to go. (As the plot continues they do however eventually find dry land, which pretty much turns the story from a drama to a soap opera.)
This is the scene of the dive to the drowned city and it is the only scene in the movie set in the drowned world.
“Waterworld” was clearly an effort in eco-fiction. The original script was written in the 1980’s. In 1989 the oil tank ship Exxon Valdez spilled it’s cargo off the coast of Alaska, causing the second largest oil spill in US history. In the 1995 movie the ship features prominently as the setting of the final fight between the mariner and the pirates. “Waterworld” was clearly informed by climate politics and the knowledge of continuous sea level rise already apparent in the 1980s and ’90s. It’s unfortunate that due to a questionable directing job and unconvincing plot twists the movie is today much less recognized for it’s political message than for it’s costly antics.