Waterworld. A name that will live in cinematic infamy. One of the biggest box office flops of the time, it remains a benchmark in the annals of cinematic disasters, even though it’s now been eclipsed by other celluloid disasters such as John Carter, Mortal Engines, and Mars Needs Moms.
In truth, Waterworld was one of those films that was saved by home media sales, eventually breaking even. Now here it is again, in a new 4K UHD release from Arrow Video. Released in 1995, directed by Kevin Reynolds and written by Peter Rader and David Twohy, the simplest way to sum Waterworld up is to imagine Mad Max but on the ocean.
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Our main character is known as the Mariner (Kevin Costner – Yellowstone, Dances With Wolves), who ekes out a life on the ocean by trading with other small pockets of civilisation for food and equipment, sailing from place to place on his heavily customised trimaran. Arriving at one particular atoll, he becomes embroiled in a plot that centres around a small girl called Enola (Tina Majorino – Napoleon Dynamite, Legends) who has a tattoo on her back; a tattoo which some believe will lead them to the mythical “Dryland”. Along with her guardian, Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn – The Firm, Sliding Doors), the trio must try to outrun the pirates known as The Smokers, led by The Deacon (Dennis Hopper – Blue Velvet, Speed) who will kill anyone in their way in their quest to possess Enola and her map.
Waterworld didn’t set the world on fire when it was released for many reasons. Reviews at the time were decidedly mixed, and while history has been kinder to it, it’s not difficult to see why critics didn’t warm to it. The film literally opens with Costner’s character pissing in a bottle, the shot lingering on his backside for longer than any but the most stalwart Costner fans are likely to enjoy. As openings go, it’s certainly a brave choice.
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Most of Costner’s performance, especially in the first half of the film, makes the Grinch look positively warm and fuzzy. The taciturn Mariner seemingly goes out of his way to ensure that the audience will dislike him as much as he seems to dislike having to interact with the other characters. Dennis Hopper’s Deacon, by contrast, is a charming and effusive psychopath who is frankly far more entertaining to watch than the mostly monosyllabic Mariner.
Story-wise there’s nothing here that we hadn’t seen a dozen times before, even in 1995. All the story beats you expect in this sort of big budget action movie are there, but they’re executed well. The practical effects still look damn good almost thirty years later, though some of the VFX is a little on the janky side, exacerbated by the move to 4K.
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Speaking of the move to 4K, Arrow’s new release is about as comprehensive as you could hope for. Bundling not only the theatrical cut on a 4K disc, this limited edition also includes the TV and Ulysses versions on Blu-ray, both of which include additional scenes and dialogue. The TV cut, for instance, is 40 minutes longer than the theatrical version. There are no special features for these additional two versions, but the theatrical version offers up a smattering of additional content to get fans entertained. Are there any new features for this UHD release? Not one. Everything here has already been included in Arrow’s previous Blu-ray, released on 2019.
There’s ‘Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld’ which is a pretty in-depth making-of documentary, with cast and crew interviews, that’s worth a watch as it pulls no punches discussing the film’s production. There’s another behind the scenes featurette called ‘Dances With Waves’ (we see what you did there), trailers, a promo image gallery, and a gallery of visual effects. It’s a shame there’s no commentary track, but that’s perhaps not entirely surprising given the rocky relationship between Reynolds and Costner.
So is Waterworld any good? Honestly… yeah. The story is no Citizen Kane or The Great Gatsby but it’s by no means a terrible film. It’s a big, dumb, popcorn flick. The story isn’t exactly taxing, all the performances are perfectly watchable, and honestly it’s still amazing when you look at the amount of effort that went into the sets and costumes. Costner’s trimaran, for instance, cost over a million dollars to build. The atoll sets and the massive set of the derelict Exxon Valdez are marvels of cinematic engineering and this 4K version gives a whole new generation a chance to venture out onto the open waters and discover the truth of Dryland for themselves.
Waterworld is out now on Limited Edition 4K UHD from Arrow Video.