Kevin Costner’s infamous dystopian action-adventure was, at the time of its release in 1995, the most expensive film ever made, largely due to an extremely troubled production that saw its hugely elaborate seawater sets destroyed by an ocean hurricane during production. The intended $100m production budget nearly doubled, reaching 175 million. Even now, 24 years on, the film remains the 11th most expensive production of all time when adjusted for inflation.
As a result, Waterworld was put in a position where it was almost impossible for it to actually turn a profit at the box office, and it remains the go-to example of a flop to this day. All of this toxic buzz overshadowed the film itself, ensuring that conversation largely focused on it as a financial failure, tainting the discussion with unwarranted negativity. Now, more than 20 years later, the film has started to earn something of a cult following from those judging it based purely on its actual merits, and you know what? Waterworld is actually pretty cool.
The film is set in the distant future where Earth’s polar ice caps have all melted, leaving the planet seemingly entirely flooded with water. Complaining that the polar ice caps don’t contain nearly enough water to submerge the planet is to miss the point entirely. This is a setup for Mad Max at sea, and what could have been little more than an excuse for action setpieces is buoyed by truly wonderful art direction, practical effects and stunt work, not to mention some delightful scenery chewing from the cast - most notably, Dennis Hopper as the villainous Deacon.
It’s rare to watch a film that transports you to a world genuinely nothing like our own as effectively as Waterworld,and it’s even rarer that a film achieves it with minimal use of CGI. In many ways, the film represents the peak of blockbuster filmmaking of the ‘90s (for all its strengths and weaknesses). Yes, the runtime is bloated, the plot is simplistic, and you have to be willing to go with some fairly preposterous ideas from time to time, but the film also offers a true extravaganza of epic proportions, populating its world with colourful characters and genuinely thrilling spectacle in equal measure.
This 3-disc Blu-ray release features a gorgeous transfer that really allows you to appreciate the film’s technical achievements in all their glory. As well as the original theatrical cut of the film (which already runs at 135 minutes), there is also the TV cut and the “Ulysses” cut (featuring the extra footage from the TV cut, but restoring the censored shots and dialogue), both of which run at about 178 minutes. Interesting as these extra cuts are, the original film was overlong to begin with so it’s unlikely that these newly available versions will offer more than a one-time curiosity viewing for most. There’s also Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld, a feature-length making-of documentary digging into what proved to be a very interesting production.
WATERWORLD / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: KEVIN REYNOLDS / SCREENPLAY: PETER RADER, DAVID TWOHY / STARRING: KEVIN COSTNER, JEANNE TRIPPLEHORN, DENNIS HOPPER / RELEASE DATE: 21ST JANUARY