Waterworld made quite a few headlines in the 1990s before it was even released. The film was plagued with a bloated budget (over 175 million dollars), natural disasters destroying sets, and a major feud between director Kevin Reynolds and star Kevin Costner.
Costner eventually finished directing and editing the project and Waterworld was released in 1995. Although the film earned some harsh criticism, it did eventually make its money back but Kevin Costner's career took a severe hit in the process. Waterworld finally appears on Blu-ray 14 years later and is an enjoyable and good-looking popcorn movie.
Waterworld is set hundreds of years after the polar icecaps have melted and covered the world in water. Humanity has adapted to the changes by building outposts called atolls that serve as floating villages. Kevin Costner plays a drifter called the Mariner. He sails the world on his boat trying to get by and make the best of his life. The Mariner is what they call a ‘muto’ — he has developed gills and webbed feet and can survive in the water or on land like a true amphibian.
We are introduced to the Mariner as he encounters another traveler. This one attempts to double cross him and the mariner is able to outwit him and leave him to the mercies of the Smokers. The Smokers are a group of anarchists based on an old oil tanker and led by the scenery-chewing Deacon (Dennis Hopper). The Smokers are the boogeymen of the water and are feared everywhere.
The Mariner makes his way to an atoll and we are introduced to the pivotal plot-focused characters, Enola (Tina Majorino) and Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn). Enola is an orphan girl cared for by Helen; she has a strange tattoo on her back that seems to be a map to dry land. This information has made its way to Deacon and he wants the girl so dry land can belong to him and the Smokers. The Mariner happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and helps Elona and Helen escape the atoll as Deacon's forces are assaulting it.
The rest of the movie is your typical reluctant hero against overwhelming odds adventure. The Mariner has to come to grips with Elona and Helen as he tries to stay alive, outwit the Smokers, and find dry land. The story is fairly vanilla at its heart but much of the atmosphere helps it to be very enjoyable at times.
The sets, designs, and attitude in the film are all very effective and at times really amazing. In particular the Mariner's boat is a marvel to see in action. Hidden sails, escape hatches, emergency speed boost parachute, and all the rigging for quick swings around it are truly inspired. The costumes and sets really feel appropriate to the world. The outfits are Mad Max meets a pirate theme and while that sounds silly, it truly works.
This is not Kevin Costner's best acting foray, but he is very effective as the Mariner and Dennis Hopper is amazing as the over the top Deacon. Costner's willingness to perform most of his stunts lends a visceral feel to many of the scenes and helps to make this a fun action movie to watch.
At the end of the day Waterworld is a little long, a little hackneyed, but somehow still overcomes its stigma and is very enjoyable and watchable 14 years after its debut. Watch it for a fun escape and not for a treatise on the dangers of global warming and you will be satisfied.
Waterworld appears in full 1080p utilizing the VC-1 codec on a BD-50 disc in the 1:85:1 aspect ratio. The result is a surprisingly crisp and pleasant presentation. The film was obviously shot in a very high quality pass and preserved quite well. Color levels are quite good and the brightness of a world made up of water comes across brilliantly.
Not all is perfect. The black levels, though not frequent, are hit and miss and underwater scenes are too bright and slightly saturated. Despite this, small detail in clothes, faces, and scenery comes across quite well and short of a few speckled frames the transfer is really quite good.
A movie like Waterworld needs a quality transfer in order for you to not think about the image and instead enjoy the film. Thankfully Universal has done a great job yet again and we can appreciate the effort put into the film in this fine transfer.
Presented in a DTS HD-MA 5.1 mix Waterworld is at its best aurally. This well-balanced and effective soundtrack makes effective use of the sound field and in particular ambient effects. When on atolls or on the water there are creaks, splashes and small noises that immerse you into the world.
Larger scenes or battles are also well represented with bass being utilized effectively and not excessively. During all of the well-balanced atmospheric audio, dialogue is always clear and understandable.
Like a quality video presentation exceptional audio is essential to an average movie like Waterworld. If you are more immersed in the world because of well done surround effects and clear dialogue you are apt to enjoy the experience more than if it was muddled. The quality audio makes Waterworld a better, more enjoyable film and that is a sure sign of success.
Well, this will be the easiest supplements review ever. Why, you ask? Because there are none! No director's commentary, no script treatment, no storyboards, nothing! Well, there is a theatrical trailer, but that hardly counts as an extra.
It is truly disappointing to see this in the mature age of Blu-ray. This was acceptable in the first year of the format, but not now. You know what I would have liked to see? Some behind the scenes footage of Kevin Reynolds and Kevin Costner fighting or the producers getting purple-faced as the budget exploded — now, that would have been entertaining!
The Final Word
Waterworld is not nearly as bad a film as the detractors and pop culture mythos would lead you to believe. It is a capable, campy, and over the top adventure film blessed with a great video transfer and an even greater Master Audio soundtrack.
It is well worth a watch as a nice popcorn flick that is enjoyable and great to look at. It is a true shame there are no extras to flesh out the history of the film to add some emotional attachment to the project and its journey to the screen.