Release Date(s)1995 (January 22, 2018)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Several years before going in front of the cameras, hampered by media scrutiny at every turn, and released in a mostly true to the director’s vision version, Waterworld was all set to either be one of the biggest box office hits of 1995 or a major financial flop. Managing to make its money back with a little leftover, it certainly didn’t light the world of entertainment on fire when it finally debuted. As one of the most expensive films ever made at the time and with rumors of disharmony between its star Kevin Costner and its director Kevin Reynolds, not to mention the multiple allegations made by the media of catastrophic production woes, just getting the film finished and in front of audiences must have been a monumental task.
The premise is simple: in the future, the polar ice caps have melted and covered the Earth entirely with water. The people leftover are survivors of different factions, including drifters like the nameless Mariner (Costner). Finding himself saddled with a young girl named Enola (Tina Majorino) with a tattoo on her back that is rumored to be a potential map to mythical dry land, as well as her fiercely protective guardian Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn), this mismatched set of survivors find themselves the targets of a ruthless gang of pillagers called Smokers, led by the Deacon (Dennis Hopper). As they attempt to evade them, it becomes abundantly clear that the Mariner must set aside his own selfish ways, stop the Smokers from acquiring the young girl, and lead them and the other survivors all safely to dry land – if it even exists.
Having not seen Waterworld in quite a number of years, I'm amazed at just how much I remember of it. Lines and moments came to me quickly as they were happening, which showed just how much of an impression it made on me. On the other hand, I didn’t take into account how blown away by the film I would be all over again. Many films of its ilk that try hard to overcome limitations are almost always destined to fail, either by poor decisions, a lack of budget, or unsuccessful distribution and marketing. That wasn’t the case with Waterworld. It’s amazing that not only is it supremely entertaining, but that it makes any sense at all. It’s extremely stylish, mostly well-paced, and awe-inspiring in the way that large scale swords-and-sandals and pirate epics used to be.
I love everything about the look of this film. Miles of deep blue ocean mixed with cyberpunk type technology, in an almost Swiss Family Robinson manner, as well as the makeshift floating cities called atolls, which have been fashioned together over time using ships and found objects. Then there’s the Mariner’s ship. It’s so cool that it makes you want to take up boating almost immediately. Nothing looks like as much fun as his trimaran, which is armed with nearly everything he needs in order to survive and protect himself, in an almost Batman TV show like way.
Waterworld also has my money just based upon the sheer scale of it. I know full and well that even if the polar ice caps did melt that the Earth wouldn’t be entirely covered in water, and that it would likely affect the planet’s weather patterns and ability to breathe astronomically, but that’s not the point. The point, as in so many Mad Max sequels, is that we’re presented with a world stripped of everything but primal instinct. Dennis Hopper’s character in particular is justifiably one end of the survivor spectrum. He’s willing to do anything and hurt anybody in order to get what he wants, while Costner’s character wants nothing more than to be left alone, seeking out only what he needs to continue with his solitary life. In fact, his curiosity about what’s below the water’s surface is ultimately what leads to the invasion of his privacy.
You also have to give enormous credit to Costner himself. He’s pretty much the beginning and end of the production, and the amount of physical work that he does in the film is phenomenal. Jumping around on metal surfaces in nearly bare feet, performing many of his own stunts, he really delivers the goods and then some. However, the other characters in the film aren’t quite as interesting, including Jeanne Tripplehorn’s Helen and Tina Majorino’s Enola. Both deliver good, competent performances, but they feel a little more two-dimensional by comparison, as do all of the side characters for that matter.
Above all else, Waterworld, for me, is a marvel. It’s pure entertainment, on a scale that’s rarely been rivaled in the years since. It may have moments that drag in the story, such as much of the journey between the Mariner, Helen, and Enola, and an ending that pretty much nullifies the film’s title, but it doesn’t matter. The action set pieces, the score, the look, and the world are so well-realized that I can forgive its shortcomings.
As for as the alternative versions of the film, the TV and the Ulysses cuts, which run over 40 minutes longer, are virtually identical aside from the TV cut’s obvious omissions, mostly due to language, but also a scene in which the Deacon offers Enola a cigarette. Most of it is scene extensions rather than full-blown deleted scenes, adding more meat to an already healthy body.
There’s some additional moments on the atoll, including Helen attempt to appeal to the elders and receiving possible threats, as well as Gregor trying to decipher the map on Enola’s back; more interplay between the Mariner, Helen, and Enola on the trimaran; more moments with the Deacon and the Smokers, including additional dialogue with Jack Black as the plane’s pilot; more development of the Mariner’s and Helen’s relationship; more of the Mariner saving Enola aboard the Exxon Valdez; and a slightly extended ending in which the Ulysses cut earns its moniker.
The biggest addition and change is when the Mariner, Helen, and Gregor take up with the atoll survivors and the Mariner selfishly decides to leave them behind, only to have a change of heart and return to inform them that he has decided to save Enola after all. A lot of this is ironed out and simplified in the theatrical cut and, frankly, feels forced and out of place since the Mariner and Enola have already developed a bit of a bond for each other at this point. Unsurprisingly, most of the additions are better left on the cutting room floor, but there are some nice nuggets scattered throughout that make the effort to watch worth it.
Arrow Video brings Waterworld to Blu-ray in a massive 3-Disc Limited Edition set (initially announced as a 2-Disc set) with all three versions of the film derived from 4K restorations of the original 35mm camera negative and additional 35mm intermediary elements for the TV and Ulysses cuts. For the theatrical, it’s a gorgeous organic presentation with solid grain reproduction and a strong encode. It’s also extremely clean and stable with only minor speckling popping up on occasion. There are enormous levels of fine detail on display, from the open ocean vistas to the smallest of details on the atoll, as well as the grit and grime of characters’ faces and clothing. There’s also excellent color reproduction on display with beautiful blues and greens, and deep, inky blacks. Skin tones also appear natural, though thoroughly tanned. Aside from some of the dodgy CGI, the film looks like it was shot yesterday.
The TV and Ulysses cuts are almost of the same quality, but with some unavoidable drawbacks. To be honest, there’s not much of a difference between the additional footage and the theatrical footage as it’s all quite seamless, but there are some moments when a couple of lower grade shots in the latter half of the film had to be utilized, which are far more grainy and less detailed-oriented. There’s also a couple of instances where high quality footage couldn’t be found and low resolution footage had to be inserted to complete the cuts, as well as an apparently irreparable fade-out halfway through. However, all of these moments are minor and only add up to about 20-30 seconds of total running time.
The audio for all three versions is featured in both English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. The 5.1 presentation is strong and totally immersive with plenty of ambient activity and foley placement. Dialogue is clear at all times and the score, though somewhat intrusive in some scenes in the TV and Ulysses cuts, comes through with great clarity. The 2.0 track is much of the same, just with less channels to work with, obviously. And while there isn’t an enormous difference in quality video wise, the audio is sometimes a bit of a giveaway as some of the dialogue and sound effects haven’t been given the same amount of fine treatment as those in the theatrical release, but you have to really pay attention to even notice.
For the extras, all of the video-based materials can be found on Disc One, which contains the theatrical cut of the film. The biggest and most important of these is a new 102-minute documentary about the making of the film by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures entitled Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld. It is definitely one of the highlights of this new release, covering plenty of new ground and talking to a variety of people involved with the production, including director Kevin Reynolds, writer Peter Rader, producer Charles Gordon, director of photography Dean Semler, film historian Justin Humphreys, executive producer Ilona Herzberg, production designer Dennis Gassner, stunt coordinator R.A. Rondell, second assistant director Robert Huberman, production assistant David Bernstein, lead scene artist Michael Denering, script supervisor Ana Maria Quintana, pyrotechnician Gary D’Amico, special effects assistant Jeff Bresin, special effects manager Gabe Videla, miniature effects supervisor Mark Stetson, special effects technician Eric Allard, and film music journalist Tim Greiving. There’s also some archival interview snippets with Kevin Costner, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Tina Majorino.
In addition, there’s Dances with Waves, a 10-minute archival featurette about the film; Global Warnings, a 23-minute featurette with film critic Glenn Kenny speaking about end-of-the-world Hollywood blockbuster movies; a Production Image Gallery, which includes Concept Art (64 stills), Production Stills (73 stills), Behind the Scenes: Hawaii (35 stills), Behind the Scenes: Los Angeles (23 stills), and Miniatures and Visual Effects (45 stills); a Promotional Image Gallery with 36 images of posters, lobby cards, and other promotional materials; the film’s teaser and theatrical trailers; and 14 TV spots.
There are no extras on Discs Two and Three (which contain the TV cut and Ulysses cut, respectively), but within the package there are 6 lobby card reproductions; a two-sided poster with new artwork on one side and the original U.S. theatrical art on the other; and a 60-page insert booklet with plenty of reading material, including In Search of Dry Land by David J. Moore, Storm Gathering – an interview with Kevin Costner from 1995 by Marc Shapiro, Taking the Plunge on Waterworld by Ron Magid, The Quest for Dry Land: Inside the Waterworld Computer Game – an interview with Michael Conti by Daniel Griffith, Water, Water, Everywhere: Merchandising Waterworld by Daniel Griffith, and restoration details. All of this is housed within beautiful and sturdy cardboard packaging.
To say that this is a massive Blu-ray release, one that will surely give long-time fans reason to celebrate, is an understatement if ever there was one. Waterworld may have had its detractors over the years, but that hasn’t kept legions of viewers from finding new things to appreciate about it. Arrow Video’s presentation exceeds all of my expectations and blows any home video release of the film completely out of the water. Highly recommended!
– Tim Salmons