waterworld blu-ray

Kevin Costner‘s infamous flop Waterworld is now on Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Video. And this is no barebones release: Arrow has packed the release to the gills with content, including the fan-created “Ulysses Cut,” which adds nearly 40 minutes of new material to the movie. But is it worth watching? And does it make the film better?

kevin costner waterworld

Dry Land is Not a Myth

“I don’t know what the big fuss is about. I saw that movie nine times. It rules!” So says Jim Carrey’s Chip Douglas, the unhinged antagonist of the oft-misunderstood dark comedy The Cable Guy. The movie he’s talking about is Waterworld, one of the most notorious flops in Hollywood history. A film that was doomed to sink long before it hit theaters, thanks to a tidal wave of negative press focused on a bloated budget, behind-the-scenes squabbles, and expensive sets destroyed by hurricanes.

But is Waterworld as bad as its reputation suggest? No. In many ways, it does indeed “rule”, just as Chip Douglas claims. It’s a big, bold, ambitious post-apocalyptic action pic, loaded with world-building, mythology, and yes, Kevin Costner drinking his own piss. Does it have problems? Oh yes. Costner is far too wooden for his own good – sure, he’s playing a mutant loner who hates people, but he leans into the monotone far too often. And there are long stretches where the narrative feels adrift, lost at sea, and on the verge of capsizing.

And yet…it’s kind of a blast. Much was made about this film’s out-of-control budget, but every dollar is up there on the screen. The production built massive water-logged sets, all of which are mighty impressive. If this film were made today, the majority of these sets would be rendered in CGI. Here, it’s all real, and that lends an authenticity that’s hard to beat. The cinematography from Dean Semler (who also shot Costner’s Oscar-winning Dances With Wolves), is often stunning – endless stretches of deep blue water abound.

Director Kevin Reynolds, who directed Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, brings a good eye to the film as well – he pulls the camera back for action scenes, providing a grand scale. Of course, Reynolds’ contributions to the film often clashed with Costner’s. The two didn’t really get along well on Robin Hood, but they came together yet again for Waterworld. This was the film that officially broke the relationship, with Costner taking control of the project completely. (Costner and Reynolds apparently reconciled, as the actor later appeared in the director’s mini-series Hatfields & McCoys.)

Time has been kind to Waterworld. It’s obtained a kind of cult following, and now, it’s received a jam-packed Blu-ray release from Arrow Video. But when it arrived in 1995, it spelled the beginning of the end of Kevin Costner’s movie star career. Up until this point, Costner had been on the rise, starring in critically acclaimed films that also cleaned up at the box office. In 1990, he would prove he was more than a movie star by starring and directing Dances With Wolves, which won Best Picture. After Waterworld, though, the actor’s star status was sunk. He followed the flop up with the golf comedy Tin Cup, and then yet another post-apocalyptic flop, The Postman. By then, the damage was done. The actor would eventually rebound, though, by blossoming into a dependable character actor. But his days at the top of the box office were through.

waterworld costner hopper

The Arrow Video Blu-ray

Does a film like Waterworld deserve such a spectacular Blu-ray release? I think so. This release justifies itself by the sheer fact that there is so much extra material to include. We get not one, not two, but three cuts of the movie. There’s the theatrical cut, the extended TV cut, and the famous Ulysses Cut – a fan-edit that has been mastered in hi-def. The Ulysses Cut began as a crowdsourced cut of the film – fans used torrent sites to piece it all together, and up until now, it only existed online (and illegally, one might add – but let’s not get into that).

In addition to the new cut, there’s also a brand-new feature length documentary, Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld. The doc features new interviews with director Kevin Reynolds, writer Peter Rader, producer Charles Gordon and more, and it’s one of those painfully honest docs that provides real insight. More often than not, behind-the-scenes docs are made while the film itself is still shooting, and the cast and crew interviewed are basically doing PR work. They’re there to sell the movie, proclaim it to be a new masterpiece, and praise everyone and anyone involved. Maelstrom is under no such obligation, and as such, the viewer gains real knowledge about the film and it’s many problems.

At the same time, no one here seems bitter, or resentful. There is a sense that everyone here grew exhausted and dispirited as the film was shooting, but none of them look back at the event as the worst experience of their lives. Sadly, there’s no new interview with Costner – his interview inclusion is archival. I would’ve hoped that enough time had passed for the actor to be willing to reflect on the film, but I guess not.

Here’s a full list of features included on the Arrow Video Blu-ray.

THREE-DISC LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS:
– Three cuts of the film newly restored from original film elements by Arrow Films
– Original 5.1 DTSHD 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, and archival articles
– 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
– Dances With Waves, an original archival featurette capturing the film’s production
– Global Warnings, film critic Glenn Kenny explores the subgenre of ecologically themed end-of-the-world films
– Production and promotional stills gallery
– Visual effects stills gallery
– Original trailers and TV spots

DISC TWO – THE TV CUT [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

DISC THREE – THE “ULYSSES” CUT [LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE]:
– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the extended European “Ulysses” cut, which include previously censored shots and dialogue

waterworld arrow video

The Ulysses Cut – Does it Make the Movie Better?

The biggest draw of the Arrow release is the Ulysses Cut. In 1997, ABC broadcast the television debut of Waterworld, with a twist: the film was shown over the course of two nights, turning it into a kind of mini-series event. The reasoning behind this was that instead of showing the theatrical cut – which ran 135 minutes – the TV cut included nearly 40 minutes of new material. At the same time, the TV cut was also edited for content, trimming violence and other adult-oriented material.

In the wake of this premiere, Waterworld fans (who do exist!) took it upon themselves to assemble the most definitive cut of the film imaginable. This entailed taking the lengthy TV cut and editing it into something that also included the trimmed adult material. This became known as the Ulysses Cut (so named for a new scene at the end in which Kevin Costner’s nameless hero is awarded the name Ulysses, after the fabled hero of The Odyssey). Until now, if you wanted to watch the Ulysses Cut, you’d have to pirate it. Thankfully, Arrow Video has given everyone the chance to see it. While this is unique, it’s not entirely unprecedented. The 2016 Scream Factory release of Raising Cain also includes a fan-edit of the film that was more in line with what director Brian De Palma originally wanted.

So how different is this new Waterworld cut? The premise is still the same. In the future, the polar ice caps have melted (something that doesn’t seem even slightly far-fetched now), resulting in a planet covered in water. While the actual year the film is set in is never clarified, enough time has gone by that most living people have never even seen dry land, and most think it’s a myth. Instead, the surviving people of this water world live on floating atolls, barely scraping by. They also have to deal with pirates known as Smokers – filthy (if there’s no land, why are they so dirty?) creeps who ride jet skis and murder with impunity.

At the center of all of this is The Mariner (Kevin Costner), a loner who has mutated to have gills and webbed feet. He sails the world on his ramshackle boat, interacting with others only briefly, to trade supplies. He wants nothing to do with humans – which is unfortunate, because he’s soon swept up in an adventure involving them. Atoll resident Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) turns to the Mariner for help protecting Enola (Tina Majorino), a young girl with a tattoo on her back. Helen believes the tattoo is a map that has the secret to finding the fabled Dry Land, but the Mariner is doubtful. Also seeking Enola is the Deacon (Dennis Hopper), the leader of the Smokers, who all live on the rusted remains of the infamous Exxon Valdez, the ship that spilled hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil in Alaska in 1989. The Mariner is very reluctant to get involved, and at first, he treats Helen and Enola terribly – at one point he even forcibly cuts their hair off, which is all kinds of creepy. Eventually, though, the Mariner learns to care about these humans, and become the hero he’s destined to be. Chases, battles, and huge explosions abound.

But does the Ulysses Cut improve any of this? Let me again remind the reader that I actually like the theatrical cut of Waterworld to begin with, which might not make me the best judge of if this cut is “better”, but for all intents and purposes, I’m going to say yes. While this cut doesn’t change the film drastically, it does expand it greatly. The new material fleshes almost everything out. We learn more about the Mariner, we learn more about Helen and Enola, and hell, we even learn more about Deacon and the Smokers.

In the theatrical cut, the Mariner’s time at Helen’s atoll is quick, but here, it takes up a significant portion of the film. We spend a lot longer getting to know the superstitious humans Helen lives with, and this helps build up both Helen and Enola as characters. We also get to see what everyday life is like with the Smokers, which is presented in a rather humorous way, even though these characters are murderous bad guys. But it’s undeniably fun to watch Dennis Hopper, using a ridiculous Souther twang that comes and goes at random, ham it up big time. None of these new additions are what I’d call essential, but they help make for a richer, more detailed film.

I suppose the best way to describe the worthiness of the Ulysses Cut is this: if you hate the original Waterworld, this cut won’t change your mind. Taking a 135 minute film and suddenly making it nearly three hours almost never results in such a positive change (with the notable exception of Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven). But if you enjoyed the original cut of Waterworld, and would love to see the world of the film expand, The Ulysses Cut is a must-see. Yes, it’s still bloated. And yes, Costner’s performance is still too flat. But the attempt here at creating something truly epic makes for one hell of a ride.

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