Wet, Wet, Wet – Waterworld (Blu-Ray Review)

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At the Universal Studios Theme Park in Studio City, California, hidden away within the maze of Minions 3D rides, Harry Potter attractions and kooky merchandise outlets sits a strange, almost alien attraction – the Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular stunt show.  Essentially the movie Waterworld condensed down into an explosive 20-minute theatre piece, complete with stunt actors swinging, zip-lining, fighting, splashing, diving, jet-skiing and shooting each other, the show offers a nice little bit of entertaining escapism for those fed up of the endless simulators and nauseating rides elsewhere in the park.

Enjoyable as it is, what strikes and astounds one about this attraction the most is how such a thing has survived so many years, whilst big crowd-pleasing attractions like the Jurassic Park and Jaws rides have either been closed for refurbishment or simply banished to the backlot altogether. Considering the fact that Waterworld was neither a critical darling or a big Box-Office smash upon it’s release in summer of 1995, it boggles the mind somewhat as to why such an attraction still has the same draw when other more popular movie-themed rides and shows have gone the way of the dodo.

Obviously it may be to do with the fact that it is the only stunt show on offer in the park. But even then, why not update it with a newer blockbuster? Could it be that there’s more to Waterworld then audiences and critics afforded it on it’s controversial release?

Rewatching the beautifully restored HD version that Arrow Video has just released on limited edition blu-ray, it sort of makes sense. One of the film’s many overlooked accolades is its action sequences, each a thrilling and outlandish set piece that makes full use of the film’s post-apocalyptic, aquatic environments. Director Kevin Reynolds is no stranger to creating big action spectaculars onscreen and here we see the man at the top of his game, creating kinetic, breathtaking action . The ambitious visuals are further complemented by excellent production design and practical effects, which all give the film a unique, detailed and captivating look.

Waterworld is much more fun then it’s reputation suggests, even if the whole shebang is pretty cliched. Essentially just Mad Max on the open water, the story follows the typical narrative for such post-apocalyptic occasion – tough loner finds himself on the run from an unhinged gang of villains, with a kid and a woman in tow who happen to have something of value (in this case, a map to dry land tattooed on the youngster’s back). But the conceptualisation of the post-flood world depicted here are fresh and engaging enough to make up for the story’s shortcomings.

Granted though, beyond the action and effects, the film does flounder as a result of the uninspiring narrative detailed above. It doesn’t help that Kevin Costner as Mariner is an unlikeable arsehole for the most part, whilst the other characters are paper-thin at best. The film also feels too long, with many a scene or sequence that could easily be cut slowing proceedings to a halt once too often. However, the impressive action scenes,  James Newton Howard’s swashbuckling score and the excellent production design all help raise the film from beneath the depths to a large extent, whilst Dennis Hopper is a perfectly unorthodox villain of the piece in the pantomime mould.

It’s certainly worth a revisit, especially when Arrow Video’s generous package comes with so much extra material. Those who adore the film unconditionally will thrill at the two extra discs included here, each containing an extended cut of the film. The European “Ulysses” cut comes complete with previously censored shots and dialogue, whilst the third disc contains an extended US TV cut that adds an additional 40 minutes of footage.

If the prospect of more movie doesn’t thrill you, then at least Arrow Video has cultivated a nice selection of extras to justify your purchase. Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld is a 102-minute retrospective that goes behind the scenes of the film, featuring a myriad of candid interviews with the production crew (no Costner or other cast-members appear though). There’s also an original featurette pulled from the archive showcasing further footage from the film’s production, as well as a short interview with film critic Glenn Kenny waxing lyrical about ecologically themed apocalypse movies. A load of galleries and trailers, a selection of freebies and a neat little collectors book completes what amounts to a fan-pleasing set.

Watching Waterworld again, it’s clear to see why it has appeal and audience-pull over twenty years on from it’s controversial release. An ecological tale that steers clear from being overtly preachy, instead relishing in the imaginative concepts such a world make possible and delivering an action packed blockbuster unlike anything else we’ve seen before – no wonder it still draws in the masses, both on home video and at theme parks!

Dir: Kevin Reynolds

Prd: Kevin Costner, John Davis, Charles Gordon, Lawrence Gordon

Scr: Peter Rader, David Twohy

Cast: Kevin Costner, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Dennis Hopper

DoP: Dean Semler

Music: James Newton Howard

Country: USA

Year: 1995

Running time: 135 minutes

Waterworld is out on Blu-ray now.

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