Starring Kevin Costner, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino, Dennis Hopper
Directed by Kevin Reynolds
Distributed by Arrow Video
When a film has been labeled a “bomb” before ever opening in theaters it is pretty much a foregone conclusion the box office performance is going to follow suit. That’s the situation Kevin Costner’s post-apocalyptic seafarer Waterworld (1995) found itself in once tabloids began reporting the film had gone vastly over budget, on its way to becoming the most expensive film ever made by that point. The controversy surrounding the film and the tales of behind-the-scenes melees do hold plenty of value, though; maybe even more than the actual film. The gargantuan budget is commensurate with its astounding ambition but by the time the credits roll what has transpired certainly looks expensive and impressive… but that’s about it.
The Mariner (Kevin Costner) is a solitary trader, sailing between atolls – floating manmade cities – and offering up rare items such as dirt in exchange for useful and equally rare items (like a tomato plant). After the polar ice caps melted the planet became a water world; dry land is nothing more than a much-talked about myth… or is it? At one atoll Mariner meets Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn), ward of Enola (Tina Majorino), both of whom are being pursued by The Deacon (Dennis Hopper), leader of the Smokers, a band of pirates. Rumor has it Enola has a map tattooed on her back that leads the way to dry land; with oil reserves depleting more every day Deacon wants to lead his men off the seas and onto terra firma. The Smokers and Mariner engage in a long sea chase, with both Helen and Enola caught in the middle.
Waterworld does not tell a great story – let’s get that fact out now. Even the fabled “Ulysses Cut”, which is really a fan edit, adds in approximately 40 minutes of extended footage and none of those minutes make this film any better. But, if you are on board with this world and its production design and wild energy paired with the kind of ambition reserved for producers with a cocaine budget on their features then this is your movie. What I liked most was being a party to this new future universe, where taking a hot bath is once again a luxury and something as common now as dirt holds enough value to get a man nearly anything he wants. Scrap parts from vehicles hundreds of years old are repurposed to create a grimy steampunk-ish world that runs like the Industrial Revolution on top of a tin can. Deacon worships “Saint Joe”, a painting in his headquarters that has been deified – except it’s only the portrait of former Exxon Valdez captain Joe Hazelwood. There are so many little flourishes hidden throughout the film it’s a veritable treasure trove of eye candy.
But yea, the script is weak. The problem is there isn’t a true sense of urgency to get to the meat of the story – and that’s because the film has no second act. The first act sets up this world, its inhabitants, its currencies, its intricacies. We know Mariner is a reluctant hero, and he must protect Helen and Enola from Deacon, because Deacon wants Enola. This is clearly leading to a conflict between Mariner and Deacon. Unfortunately, all the film can do is set them loose and let the two factions sail – together, away, frequently, slowly, quickly – but it’s always right there on the water. The awe of the atolls washes away early on and the film doesn’t have anywhere to place its actors. There’s that cool bit where Mariner uses a diving bell to show Helen the underwater ruins of a major city, but that’s about it. Even worse (in my mind) is when Mariner is attacked by an evolved sea creature, which he promptly, and surprisingly, kills and eats. Y’all got any more of those sea monsters? Because more sea monsters would have made this film way cooler.
There’s a reason Universal still, to this day, has a Waterworld stunt show and that’s because the stunt work here is crazy impressive. There are impressive bits of stunt work throughout but once the climax comes and the Exxon Valdez, filled with whatever oil remains, is ground zero for all the action the party really pops off. This is the kind of film that should give all viewers an appreciation for the hard work Hollywood stunt players do because it isn’t easy and they have to do most of it about a half dozen times or more.
My favorite part of this film (aside from the two-second sea monster) is Dennis Hopper playing a megalomaniacal ruler in a post-apocalyptic world, running the biggest commune left and chewing every bit of scenery he can stuff into his acting mouth. It isn’t unlike his role in Land of the Dead (2005), only Deacon is even more of an egotist and twice as ruthless. Hopper is used here sparingly but his words and his abilities carry this feature further than it could have gone only on Costner’s capable-but-boring shoulders.
Arrow Video has graciously included three cuts of Waterworld in this limited edition set: theatrical, television version, and the “Ulysses Cut”. The theatrical cut runs 135 minutes, the TV cut 176 minutes, and the Ulysses Cut is 177 minutes. The first is severely truncated, the second adds in many scenes and alternate takes but shortens others and removes vulgarity/nudity, while the third cut is uncensored and contains most of what was added back in for the U.S. television debut. This is the one to watch, although if you’d prefer the “brevity” of the theatrical cut I wouldn’t be one to argue.
Each version of the film is presented in 1.85:1 with a 1080p image taken from recent 4K scans; the original negative for the theatrical cut while the other two cuts had their additional footage culled from interpositive sources. As noted in the booklet, some effects for these extra scenes were incomplete and they remain as such here. Still, what is available here looks remarkable with a handsomely clean picture that is incredibly vivid and lifelike in close-up. Few bright hues are used aside from those provided by nature, leaving the palette full of greasy blacks and smeared browns; you can “feel” the texture of every rotted wall and oily plank. Film grain is slightly variable, with some spikes, but overall appears smooth and cinematic.
No complaints are found on the English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track – available on all three cuts. Dialogue is nicely prioritized and always clean and clear. James Newton Howard’s score is typical of his work, which is to say big, bold, and traditional Hollywood in the best sense. Howard’s work sounds tremendous blaring from every available speaker. Explosions are where it’s at here and every time something big goes BOOM that impact is directly passed on to you, the viewer. The finale in particular has more than a few thunderous LFE moments. Each release also includes an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track. Subtitles are available on all three cuts in English.
THREE-DISC LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
- Three cuts of the film newly restored from original film elements by Arrow Films
- Original 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 stereo audio options
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Six collector’s postcards
- Double-sided fold-out poster
- Limited edition 60-page perfect bound book featuring new writing on the film by David J. Moore and Daniel Griffith, and archival articles
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper
DISC ONE – THE THEATRICAL CUT
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the original theatrical cut
- Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld, an all-new, feature-length making-of documentary including extensive cast and crew interviews and behind the scenes footage
- Dances With Waves, an original archival featurette capturing the film’s production
- Global Warnings, film critic Glenn Kenny explores the subgenre of ecologically themed end-of-the-world films
- Production and promotional stills gallery
- Visual effects stills gallery
- Original trailers and TV spots
DISC TWO – THE TV CUT [LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE]
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the extended US TV cut, which runs over 40 minutes longer than the theatrical cut
DISC THREE – THE “ULYSSES” CUT [LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE]
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the extended European “Ulysses” cut, which include previously censored shots and dialogue