Little-known sci-fi fact: Whedon spent 7 weeks rewriting 'generic' Waterworld script

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Jun 14, 2013, 3:00 PM EDT

The writer/director of one of genre cinema's biggest hits also had a hand in one of its biggest flops.

Back in the early '90s, Joss Whedon was spending a lot of time working as a Hollywood "script doctor," a writer hired to come in and, usually anonymously, "fix" or "punch up" problematic scripts in an effort to make them funnier, smoother or often just plain cheaper to produce. Among his script-doctor credits are blockbuster hits like Speed and X-Men, but he also had to spend what he later described as "seven weeks of hell" trying to punch up the notoriously awful and notoriously unprofitable 1995 flick Waterworld

"Waterworld was a good idea, and the script was the classic, 'They have a good idea, then they write a generic script and don't really care about the idea,'" Whedon said in a 2001 interview with The AV Club. "When I was brought in, there was no water in the last 40 pages of the script. It all took place on land, or on a ship, or whatever. I'm like, 'Isn't the cool thing about this guy that he has gills?' And no one was listening."

According to Whedon, much of his time spent on Waterworld involved trying to write around the untouchable bits of the script created by the film's star and producer, Kevin Costner. The results were, predictably, pretty bad.

"I was there basically taking notes from Costner, who was very nice, fine to work with, but he was not a writer," Whedon said. "And he had written a bunch of stuff that they wouldn't let their staff touch. So I was supposed to be there for a week, and I was there for seven weeks, and I accomplished nothing. I wrote a few puns, and a few scenes that I can't even sit through because they came out so bad."

Two years later Whedon created Buffy the Vampire Slayer and spent almost all of his time working in television until he wrote and directed Serenity in 2005. Back in 2001, reflecting on his work on things like Waterworld, it seemed like bad experiences rewriting other people's movies had soured him on returning to the film world.

"By the way, I'm very bitter, is that okay? I mean, people ask me, 'What's the worst job you ever had?' 'I once was a writer in Hollywood...' Talk about taking the glow off of movies. I've had almost nothing but bad experiences."

More than a decade later, Joss Whedon is the writer and director of the third-highest-grossing film of all time. Looks like he tamed Hollywood after all. For now, at least.

And check out these other little-known sci-fi facts:

Originally, Wonder Woman was the JSA's secretary

The Thing once had a happy(ish) ending

Lucas wanted Indiana Jones 2 to be a dinosaur movie

Stan Lee thought Marvel's readers would HATE Iron Man (at first)

Know Yoda's original first name, we do

Uhura's famed Trek kiss wasn't meant to be with Kirk

Studio execs pushed for Chewbacca to wear pants

Millennium Falcon appeared in Blade Runner

Ripley was supposed to DIE at the end of Alien

Homeless James Cameron sold Terminator script for $1

Why Tron's FX got snubbed for an Oscar

Jewel Staite played Amy Pond in Supernatural

Toshiro Mifune turned down Vader role

How a mime saved the original RoboCop

Lucas originally wanted FOUR trilogies

Why Soylent Green was called Soylent Green

R2-D2 appeared in Raiders of the Lost Ark

Gandalf wasn't going to be named Gandalf

A computer glitch almost killed Toy Story 2

The incredibly filthy joke hidden in Willy Wonka

Kirk wasn't Wrath of Khan's only father

The accident that gave us the lightsaber

Scully stood on a box to film X-Files

Kirk's Trek hot rod was Catwoman's, too

James Cameron played the Alien Queen

Why HAL 9000 sang 'Daisy' in 2001

What inspired Alien chestburster scene

3 ways George Lucas' wife saved Star Wars

The brawl that got Mel Gibson the Mad Max gig

James Doohan was shot six times on D-Day

Tolkien killed a Beatles LOTR movie

How Ghostbusters pissed off Isaac Asimov

The lyrics to Star Trek's opening theme

The famous "Wilhelm scream"

(Via The Daily Beast)