The most expensive film ever made at the time of its release, Waterworld has thrilled audiences through the years with its awe-inspiring action scenes, gargantuan maritime sets and ground-breaking special effects.
A definitive post-apocalypse blockbuster, Waterworld stars Kevin Costner (The Untouchables) as The Mariner - a mutant trader, adrift in a dystopian future where Earth is submerged under water and humankind struggles to survive on boats and in ramshackle floating cities. The Mariner becomes embroiled with the Smokers, a gang of pirates who, led by villainous leader Deacon (Dennis Hopper, Blue Velvet), are seeking Enola (Tina Majorino, Napoleon Dynamite), a girl with a map to the mythical realm of Dryland tattooed on her back.
Famous for both its epic scale and the controversy that swirled around its production, Waterworld is a key cult film of the 1990s, and an essential entry into the subgenre of ecologically-minded blockbusters. Presented here in an exclusive new restoration, in three different cuts, and with a wealth of extra material, this high-water mark of high-concept Hollywood can now be enjoyed as never before.
Arrow Video presents Kevin Reynold’s (notorious for the time) Waterworld in an impressive 3-disc limited edition Blu-ray set, presenting three different cuts of the film over each dual-layer disc. Each version is presented in the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and feature 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes. The theatrical version of the film comes from a new 4K restoration scanned from the 35mm original camera negative. The other two versions are constructed using what looks to be the new 4K restoration as the basis, with additional material appearing to come from alternate 35mm sources and (in a few quick cases) lower quality video.
Unlike other Universal titles, where Arrow seems to just use whatever master is handed to them, the label has, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, gone all out and given the theatrical version of the film (presented on the first disc) a whole new 4K restoration, and wow, does it look remarkable. This shouldn’t be too much of a shock for a Hollywood blockbuster, but I was still pretty stunned at how well the image has turned out. I’ve always found this a rather ugly, and unpleasant looking film, which to be fair makes sense considering the setting, but yes, everyone of those intricate details are clearly rendered here, from the costumes to the (admittedly impressive) sets, with the rusty textures on most everything looking quite lifelike. I was even impressed with how crisp and clean the water looks throughout.
The image also keeps a nice film-like texture, even though the grain isn’t all the heavy. The grain is there, though, just really fine, and it’s rendered impressively. Despite the film consisting primarily of dirty browns the colours do look exceptional, with a few pops of red and orange thanks to some sunrise/sunset shots, while the water’s blues look absolutely stunning a lot of the time. Greens also make an appearance and they too look delightful. Black levels are very strong as well, looking inky and delivering the details in the shadows. I don’t recall any crush.
The theatrical cut also doesn’t present any damage at all, and it’s as clean as can be. The only issue, really, is that the improved detail and quality makes some of the early-day CGI stand-out a bit, and some make-up effects don’t hold up too well (this could have been the case on previous DVD/Blu-ray releases as well but I haven’t seen the film since VHS/LaserDisc days).
”The TV Cut” (found on the second disc) and “The Ulysses Cut” (found on the third disc) are constructed from multiple sources. As mentioned previously, at the base is the new 4K restoration by the looks of things, but new and alternate footage comes from other sources. Most of it looks to be a film source and these added sequences don’t jump out too much, with most blending in rather well with the rest of the restored footage. Some marks can show up, and a few shots can look a little dupey or grainier, but for the most part it blends in rather well, even the digital aspect of the presentation not showing many problems. There are a handful of shots that appear to come from what I assume to be video sources, or at least standard-def, because the quality drops significantly, but they’re quick.
There are a couple of shortcomings with the alternate versions, but the fact Arrow went to the effort to construct each version using the best available resources is to be commended (even for a film many would argue wasn’t worth it), and the theatrical version (which I assume is the version most will stick with) does look spectacular.
Each version features a 5.1 surround presentation in DTS-HD MA, along with an alternate 2.0 PCM stereo surround version. I only listened to the 5.1 presentation on each disc.
For a big blockbuster summer film I was a little let down by the mix, which is, in the end, very front heavy. Some action and music makes its way to the rears (the zooming jet boats and the like), and direction is decent, but in the end it’s not exactly what I would expect from an action film. The battle sequence at the Atoll, with the large gun firing on it, is probably the most impressive part in the film. Audio is clean, dynamic and rich with excellent fidelity, with no damage or distortion to speak of. Again, its mix isn’t what I would have expected but it still sounds very strong.
The extended cuts sound about the same, though a few inserts can have a flatter sound.
Arrow puts together a rather impressive looking box set for this release. Exclusive to their Limited Edition are two longer versions of the film, found respectively on discs two and three: “The TV Cut” and “The Ulysses Cut,” with the latter version sounding to be a fan edit that reinserts censored parts excised from the TV cut. The additions are mostly in regards to character development, most of it on the Atoll, and it even makes Costner’s character a little less likeable. For me it just makes the film much too long (and I already found it long to begin with) but other than that the material does actually make the characters a bit more interesting. If I watch it again I will be sticking with the shorter cut.
All remaining supplements are found on the first disc with the theatrical version of the film. The big one is the making-of documentary Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld, running a staggering 102-minutes. The documentary gathers together the more prominent members of the crew, from writers to designers to director Kevin Reynolds himself, to go over the film’s infamous history. Everyone really tries to set the record straight about the production, quelling certain rumours about the troubles on set, while confirming some of the reported issues, from the rumours of the large Atoll set sinking all the way up to Reynolds being removed from the film with Costner replacing him (Reynolds understood why Universal did it, but I think he’s still a little upset about it). The documentary does get into painstaking detail about the production designs, which includes costumes and ses, and this is of course all interesting in and of itself (the sets are indeed impressive in both terms of look and functionality). As are the particulars about how they created the illusion of being out in the middle of the ocean a lot of the time (though there were times they did have to go far out from land, which created a lot of problems unsurprisingly, like sea sickness since everything was floating). But the part I found most interesting was how the film was first developed as a cheapy Mad Max rip-off for Roger Corman, with everyone saying the film would never get made because it would cost “five-million dollars” to produce, an astronomical amount for any Corman production. How it then made its way to Universal and Costner is then just a fascinating tale of how scripts make the rounds through Hollywood. It’s a solid documentary, fascinating to an immense degree.
Arrow also includes a 1995 promotional featurette, Dances with Waves, which is a typical behind-the-scenes video from the 90s, showing footage from the shooting of some of the film’s action scenes and getting interviews with members of the cast and crew.
Following that Glenn Kenny then offers up a history of the End-of-the-World blockbusters Hollywood has produced over time with Global Warnings. Working his way up from Things to Come all the way to 2012, Kenny shows how the genre has evolved over the years, and the environmental films that would come later (throwing in films like Silent Running, Soylent Green, No Blade of Grass, Waterworld, and even The Birds into that mix). Kenny also feels Waterworld does deserve a reevaluation, saying the film was unfairly maligned simply because it was the film that everyone wanted to pick on that year, and he offers a rather solid defense for the film (even if it didn’t win me over). The feature ends up being a good surpise.
Arrow then includes a couple of image galleries, a very large one for the production, including production designs, effects work, behind-the-scenes, and so on. There is then a smaller promotional gallery, which includes advertising and even photos of the invitations to the premiere. The disc then closes with the film’s trailers and then 14 TV spots.
Arrow also presents the 3-discs in one of their standard clear Blu-ray cases (with a flipper for the extra discs) and then includes a fold-out poster (new artwork on one side, an original poster on the other) and a 56-page booklet, all in a sturdy sleeve. The booklet is another one of Arrow’s thorough jobs: it first includes a wonderful, lengthy essay by author David J. Moore on the film, Reynolds and Costner, followed by a reprint of an article (also featuring an interview with Costner) from 1995 conducted by Marc Shapiro in Starlog. The booklet also includes a rather wonderful article on the film’s incredible technical aspects, including its early use of CGI for water effects, reprinted from a 1995 issue of American Cinematographer and written by Ron Magid. The best, and most fascinating article in here, though, is on the tie-in live-action CD-ROM computer game, written by Daniel Griffith. This article is a wonderful little time capsule and it’s a shame that a video supplement wasn’t produced for this. Related is another piece (also by Griffith) on the film’s many tie-ins, from comic books to that friggin’ Virtual Boy game (which sadly only gets a mention). The booklet is a really strong, really wonderful inclusion.
Arrow really goes all out here, and I think fans of the film will be beyond thrilled with what they offer. From three different versions to a feature-length making-of and then an in-depth booklet (and even an academic inclusion!), short of getting new interviews with Costner and/or Jeanne Tripplehorn, I can’t think of anything else they could add.
It’s a really impressive release, lovingly assembled. The presentation is wonderful and the features beautifully cover its troubled history, intriguing technical achievements, and even offer a defense. It comes highly recommended to fans of the film.