Directed by Kevin Reynolds.
Starring Kevin Costner, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Dennis Hopper, Gerard Murphy, Robert Joy, Sean Whalen, Zakes Mokae, and Tina Majorino.
In a dystopian future where the polar ice caps have melted and flooded the planet, a mutated man with gills fights to survive against marauding gangs.
1995’s Waterworld may seem a bit of an odd choice for cult movie specialists Arrow Video to give their special treatment to seeing as it was the most expensive movie ever made at the time of its original release – no mean feat when coming in the wake of Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park – and it starred Kevin Costner, then the go-to leading man for bland middle-of-the-road blockbusters, making it as mainstream as you could get in the transitional mid ’90s landscape.
But Waterworld was a troubled production, going over budget and being delayed by near enough every problem a film crew could experience during a shoot, including difficult actors, extreme weather destroying sets, digitally altered receding hairlines and all the other difficulties that filming on water brings. Given the blood and sweat that went into making it one could assume that the returns would be worth it but, alas, Waterworld spent so long in production that the hype – this was pre-internet remember – went into overload and thanks to some mixed (that’s putting it politely) reviews it just didn’t do the business at the box office and became something of a joke, the byword for box office flops. The truth is that the film did eventually turn a profit thanks to home video and curiosity – after all, all publicity is good publicity – but the profit was minimal and the damage had already been done.
So is Waterworld the dog’s dinner of a film that many have claimed it to be? Well, not really as it does provide some entertainment and you don’t spend $175,000,000 on a movie for it to have no redeeming features whatsoever (well, you didn’t back then). On the other hand, it is very easy to see why it got derided at the time because – and this may be because it is being judged by today’s blockbuster standards – if this is what you get for your money then somebody in the finance department should have stopped signing cheques long before they eventually did. The story itself is basically Mad Max but set on water as opposed to the desert, focusing on a character known only as the Mariner (Costner), a humanoid who can breathe underwater, who sails around the world scavenging food and finding things to trade. The polar ice caps have melted and Earth is now mostly covered in water, and when the Mariner docks at a trading post he gets embroiled in a battle with Deacon (Dennis Hopper – Easy Rider), the leader of a gang of outlaws known as Smokers who are after Enola (Tina Majorino – Napoleon Dynamite) as she has a tattoo on her back believed to be a map to the mythical Dryland. Enola and her guardian Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn – Basic Instinct) escape with the Mariner to try and find Dryland before Deacon and his cohorts can kidnap the girl and claim the riches to be found there for themselves.
A B-movie plot wrapped up in a thin eco message with a strong cast and a lot of money behind it should have been a winning formula back in 1995 but somehow Waterworld just never really comes together to create a whole that justifies the sum of its parts. There are some obvious flaws – Dennis Hopper chewing the scenery to the point of almost choking himself to start with, along with some dialogue that feels like a first draft, Kevin Costner sounding as wet as his digitally altered hairline looks and no real explanation for anything that is going on, so nothing much – but for the most part the film shifts along on a high seas adventure vibe that at least keeps things moving until about 90 minutes in and the momentum just sort of disappears, you realise there is still 45 minutes to go – 45 minutes to rescue a little girl from the baddies who, so far, have shown no competence in anything so it shouldn’t be a problem for our hero – and the film just sort of hits a brick wall.
And that is just the theatrical cut, for in this three-disc set you also get the TV cut, which clocks in at a stodgy 178 minutes, and the Ulysses cut, which is basically the TV cut without any censoring, and to be fair they do add a lot more to the story that gives you more character building and some more action but 178 minutes is still far too long for a movie that wants to be seen as a serious ecological warning on what we are doing to our planet but is really an excuse to redo The Road Warrior on water, and as good as that premise sounds, this is no George Miller movie. That said, there are some decent set pieces and the camera work is excellent, especially the opening shot from the Universal logo, through the clouds and down to the sea, and the HD transfer makes it all look pristine so for visual quality you cannot fault it. The transfer also does the business audio-wise, loud and booming during the battles and the presence of water lapping at your speakers throughout helping to submerge you in that world.
Also in the set you get extensive making-of documentaries – which are worth watching for some context – and discussions on the film as well as postcards, a 60-page book and poster, so for an insight into how to make a big budget turkey this is as extensive as you are likely to get. It is easy to see why Arrow would add Waterworld to their catalogue as the film has been something of an albatross around the necks of Kevin Costner and Universal Pictures for over two decades and deserves its cult status. It really isn’t as terrible as its reputation makes it out to be if you approach it with the mindset of it not being the ultra-serious drama piece that Kevin Costner seems to think he is in and take it for the silly nonsense that it actually is. Whether you need to own three versions of the movie is debatable and the question of whether to splash out for this admittedly gorgeous limited edition set or not is entirely up to your own conscience (or your OCD when it comes to special editions) but for anybody who has previously written Waterworld off, for whatever reason, this edition might just be worth checking out to at least view the film how it should have been seen. Whether you view it more than once, though, is another thing entirely.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★