Movie memory #1764 (or so): sitting in a packed theater back in 1995 watching the opening sequence to Waterworld as Kevin Costner’s Mariner character urinates into a plastic container, then pours that pee into a dicey-looking filtration system and drinks the results. You’d best believe the bulk of the audience let out a collective “EWWWWWW!” and yes, there was one guy sitting somewhere in the back of the darkened theater who yelled out something about how ice cubes would have made that recycled beverage go down better.
Flash forward to me watching the three (!!!) versions of the film in Arrow Video’s packed to the gills (heh) with bonus features triple-disc set and I kind of want one of those funky filter devices just so I don’t need to take breaks when I’m going through my film backlog. For all its expensive sets, Costner’s dedicated performance, some amazing stunt work and a completely and perfectly bonkers performance by Dennis Hopper as its main villain, the film is still flawed in that, “Where’s the beef?” manner when it comes to a few key plot elements. Granted, its ecology past peril theme is a bit more relevant it today’s climate (and yes, that’s a double pun, kids). But there’s no real “science” here if you’re looking for it. Hell, if the Earth does lose its major land masses underwater as shown here, an overblown big-budget sci-fi action flick isn’t exactly where we’re headed in that watery future, glub, glub.
The plot in a
nut er, sea shell: Long after the polar ice caps have melted, some of the remaining humans have set up floating cities called atolls, while a second group called The Smokers sets themselves the task of raiding these atolls for whatever they can take, leaving a wake of death and destruction (okay, another pun I won’t apologize for). The Mariner tools around in his fancy but well-worn Trimaran (a massive, gadget-packed catamaran) collecting goods from his underwater dive searches and trades said goods with the assorted atolls he visits in his travels for fresh water and other useful items.
Led by Deacon (Hopper), the Smokers get wind of a map (sorry, puns are set to automatic at this point) that’s supposed to be a path to what seems to be the last remaining dry land on the planet. That map just so happens to be tattooed on the back of a little girl named Enola (Tina Majorino) who ends up along with her surrogate mom, Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) aboard that fancy boat after Deacon and a well-armed large crew of
Smokers stuntmen lay waste to the floating death trap that used to be that Atoll. Let’s just say The Mariner is not your traditional hero riding that big metal rig into the sunset, as before he makes good his escape woth his new passengers, he’d been captured by the Atoll’s suspicious inhabitants and sentenced to a certain icky demise.
He’s not particularly fond of his new passengers and in fact, at one crucial moment, tosses Enola overboard (she can’t swim at all and is saved by Helen, but yes, the boat thankfully swings around to retrieve them). There’s more bantering and bickering, some abrupt haircuts, a revelation or three, a kid-napping (heh), more destruction and a few rescues before it’s all over with. The film hits its assorted beats much of the time, particularly in Costner’s cracking performance where he’s choreographed to work that boat of his as an extension of his body, what with all the ducking, pedal cranking, lever working, speedy climbing and other actions he effortlessly pulls off.
I suppose I should make the requisite comparisons to George Miller’s much greater Mad Max 2 (or The Road Warrior, as it’s known here), so here you go: Waterworld is pretty much a sea-bound riff on that film, but with Costner’s Mariner getting the girl for a time and Hopper and his Smokers more or less riffing on Lord Humungus and his band of leather-clad sociopath punks. Well, there’s more humor here as well (Hopper and his tribe of wackos try hard), but it doesn’t always work. Granted, while bombastic and packing its own punches with its singular stunts and load of big explosions, this epic plays a bit hollow at times. Still, seeing Costner channeling Douglas Fairbanks as he ambles, scrambles, and takes gambles doing a ton of his own stunts was and is pretty awesome stuff.
The shortest cut of the film in this set is the Theatrical Version that clocks in at a tide-y (quiet, you) 135 minutes, but it’s a bit scattershot in its storytelling. Granted, as a pure action flick, it’s excellently produced, that atoll set is pretty awesome while it lasts and yes indeed, you do see where all those millions went, especially if you watch the fantastic documentary on Disc One that should answer much of the important questions you’ll have. The two other cuts are the heavily edited US TV cut and the European TV “Ulysses” cut, which restores the edited footage of the US cut and adds a brief scene at the end that’s a neat “aha” moment. Both those cuts are about 40 minutes longer than the theatrical release, so make a triple order of popcorn served in a that big salad bowl you never use for salad and get that Costco-sized 3-liter of whatever fizzy beverage you like (non-alcoholic, or else you’ll be dozing off in the middle of the US TV edit).
Or, hey – you can always look up some sort of home-made filtration system plans on the internet, whip up your own pee hookah and have at making your own water. Um, just don’t forget the ice cubes?
As noted above, Arrow’s superb restoration blows every other version of the film to date out of the water (Yes, I know, I know – I did the pun thing again). Here’s what’s in that box:
THREE-DISC LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
• New restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative by Arrow Films, presenting the film in three cuts
• 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, archival articles and original reviews
• 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
• Original archival featurette capturing the film’s production
• Global Warnings, film critic Glenn Kenny explores the subgenre of ecologically aware Hollywood blockbusters
• Production and promotional stills gallery
• Visual effects stills gallery
• Original trailers and TV spots
DISCS TWO and THREE– THE EXTENDED CUTS [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
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the extended European “Ulysses” cut, which includes censored shots and dialogue (shots that were previously censored have been restored and it is no longer censored)
I didn’t hate Waterworld when I first saw it back in 1995, but I didn’t love it enough to want to see it more than once. Er, although I ended up going twice thanks to a friend who wanted to see it, his date canceling, and him offering me the ticket so it wouldn’t go to waste. Seeing all three edits has me respecting the hard work that went into the film even more and sure, recommending this set to fans and collectors looking to add another excellent Arrow release to their libraries. Of course, if you’re Waterworld-curious and don’t want to sit through ads if this pops up on AMC ot some other channel that’s going to show the TV edit, you may as well, well… take the plunge and get this set just for comparison’s sake, right?
Score: B+ (85%)
Review copy provided by Arrow Video
I remember how ripped this got back when it was released, and though I liked it, and didn’t think it deserved the bashing, I’ve still only seen it that one time, so I’m curious what I’d think of it today. It sounds like you preferred the extended version, so if it should suddenly wash up at my library (see, two can easily play this game), I’ll give it a rent.
All that production chaos and media frenzy about the film costing so much and all the behind the scenes squabbling didn’t help matters much, that’s for sure. In a way, the film reminded me of Slipstream, but with a much larger budget and even more ambition. It’s well-made, for sure and yeah, you kind of end up rooting for it when it clicks.
Ice cubes HAHA. That’s brilliant.
I was the same as you, liked it, didn’t hate it. Just thought it was meh! Deep down I always felt sorry for all the hard work and stress and strain that went into that film for me just thinking that meh. I can’t believe it’s been 23 years! I will definitely revisit it one day. Don’t think there is any chance I’ll be watch it 3 times though! Haha
I did very much enjoy your brilliant pun heavy review Greg. They come at yah like a swarming shoal of barracudas.
If the Mariner ever found a small piece of land out there he could call it “Gill”igan’s Island.
Hey Helen so sexy she gives you the Tripplehorn!…….. ok ok I’ll get my coat!
Well, it took a while to watch all three versions because I wanted to spread them out and not get too underwater (heh). The making on doc is a bit of a revelation on a few fronts as it reveals that as with Jaws and other films shot on water, it’s a LOAD of problems that will plague a production even if things go as planned (and on the water, NOTHING goes as planned, lol.).