Director: Kevin Reynolds
Notable Cast: Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino, Michael Jeter
There tends to be a rift in the world of cult cinema. Often times, fans of the various genres and cinema that is associated with the term ‘cult,’ tend to view major releases or A-list names as signs that a film will never fall under that category. While there is something to be said about genre films or those films that fall under the mainstream consciousness, there are also plenty of films that will shift in and out of the cult spectrum as time moves on. A prime example? The focus of this review, Waterworld.
After it’s release in cinemas in 1995, Waterworld saw its own series of ups and downs as it came out with a splash. It was the most expensive movie ever made at the time, did not recoup its cost at the box office, and was met with wildly mixed reviews from critics and audiences. It was a full-on mainstream event though, starring an A-list actor like Kevin Costner, and it spawned plenty of merchandise, tie-ins, theme park rides, and word of mouth. Even though it was considered a failure to start, it was a blockbuster kind of film that attracted tons of attention.
Yet, here we are in 2019 and Arrow Video, known as a label that specializes in cult and genre releases, just dropped a magnificent and packed new release of the film on Blu Ray. The reason is that, despite its massive size and debut, Waterworld is a film that has fallen into the cult cinema spectrum. Over the years, the film was seen as something of a disappointment on so many levels by the mainstream and thus, was forgotten. It has only seen its relevance in the last handful of years wash back on the shores of cult cinema, where fans have been eager to embrace its B-grade style, sly environmental themes about purpose, and its end of the world mythology.
Waterworld is certainly not a film for everyone. Originally written as a Mad Max knock off in the 1980s, Waterworld is a film more so of that period and not for the changing cinemascape of the 90s. It’s reliance on broad, gimmicky characters, outlandish premises, adventure style narratives, and wink-wink one-liner filled dialogue is not the grand epic that audiences often expect from it. The film is mixed in its execution, often trying to push its awkward plotting and characters further into the more grandiose designs of a more consumable and dramatic Hollywood style epic of the mid-90s, but truthfully, it’s heart and soul rest in that of an 80s exploitation genre film. Whether it’s the reliance on an unblinking hammy performance from Dennis Hopper as the leader of the Smokers or the ridiculous use of a handmade blimp in two (!) sequences, Waterworld is weirdly and blissfully a B-grade film. No wonder it’s the cult cinephiles that have embraced in since.
The designs of Waterworld are fun to explore, essentially throwing our lead character, the nameless Mariner that’s played with a strange and seemingly uninterested focus by Kevin Costner, into the path of the gas-guzzling and barbaric Smokers. There is a sense that the film is truly world-building here with the refuge cities, patched together designs of ships and clothes, and characters that seemingly fit the human mold within that world. Director Reynolds shoots the film with a very large scale, trying to maximize this sense that the water is never ending from horizon to horizon. Too often Waterworld betrays its own logic within the plotting and narrative as it takes a very long time to get the characters together and the main “find the land plot” show on the road. The plot is simple enough, using an adventure formula mixed with the anti-hero elements of Road Warrior, but the film seemingly takes too time to develop anything and often leaves massive gaping logistics for characters and the plot. As mentioned above, the film has a lot of hammy moments and even when it is attempting some kind of emotional resonance, like when The Mariner ends up sharing a fatherly swimming lesson with the young girl he’s protecting, the film just decides to put it into slow motion instead of creating any real connection between the characters. Watching Waterworld is watching a film that is desperate to deny it’s B-movie roots and failing completely at doing so. Too often, scene to scene, it feels as though it’s having an identity crisis.
Yet, when Waterworld embraces its cheese and strangeness, that’s when it feels like it finds its voice. Plenty of reviewers and critics over the years have claimed the film to be ‘dumb’ and it’s hard to argue with that when the most random bungee jump ever to grace the silver screen is used to cap off a major action sequence, but it’s in these moments that Waterworld seemingly finds its identity. The awkward dialogue, Hoppper’s over-the-top and gleefully evil performance, and the fantasy driven concepts in the world building all lend itself to a film that probably didn’t need its massive budget, but just a bit more creativity in embracing its genre foundations. Despite all of its massive flaws, Waterworld is a film that I continually find myself enjoying for those flaws. If one is willing to overlook the films attempts at being a massive epic and accept it for the Mad Max knock off it is, one is open to enjoying it for the strange choices it makes. It is action packed, silly, and willing to throw everything to the wind without the low budget charm to go with it.
For all of these reasons, this is why a well-crafted release from Arrow Video is actually quite fitting. Not only that, but they have thrown it all in for this latest set. When I say ‘all in,’ I mean it. This latest release contains three cuts of the film, the original theatrical cut, the TV cut that’s 40 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, and the extended “Ulysses Cut” from Europe. The new restoration is a 4K scan of the original negative and the set even includes a feature-length documentary of the film that goes incredibly in-depth with the process of the making of the film from concept to release and beyond. The list of features is added below on the disc, but that’s just the material on the disc. The packaging is another story. The new artwork is blissfully great, there’s a 60 page book with new articles on the film, and there’s more collectibles for fans.
This is the kind of release that wins awards at the end of the year and while I find Waterworld mixed in effectiveness, this kind of release means that there are people out there that adore the film. I agree with the film critic Glenn Kenny in his interview on the disc that the film is one that deserves to be reassessed as time goes on, particularly as a film that exists in a context that strides the line between two different cinematic worlds. The film is not one that will work for everyone, particularly for its blend of being epic and cheesy, but Waterworld is a film that has rightfully earned its cult status through the years.
ARROW VIDEO FEATURES:
- 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
- DISC TWO THE EXTENDED CUTS [LIMTED 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
Written By Matt Reifschneider