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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Waterworld 4K UHD Review


Arrow Video

Blu-ray Release: June 27, 2023

Video: 1.85:1/2160p (HDR10/Dolby Vision)/Color

Audio: English Dolby Atmos (Theatrical Cut only); English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 (all versions)

Subtitles: English, English SDH

Run Time: 135:07 (Theatrical Cut)/176:01 (TV Cut)/177:12 (Ulysses Cut)

Director: Kevin Reynolds


In a dystopian future, the Earth is submerged underwater and humankind struggles to survive on boats and in ramshackle floating cities. A mutant trader known as The Mariner (Kevin Costner) becomes embroiled with the Smokers, a gang of pirates who, led by villainous leader Deacon (Dennis Hopper), are seeking Enola (Tina Majorino), a girl with a map to the mythical realm of Dryland tattooed on her back. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)



One advantage to being an older cult movie fan is that, sometimes, you get to witness a major studio picture’s slow ascent from failure (or perceived failure) to grudging acceptance on home video, heavy television rotation, and, eventually, beloved cult status. Kevin Reynolds’ Waterworld (1995) is a good example as to how even the worst industry buzz and bad word-of-mouth is forgotten to time if a film is good or unique enough to build a generational fanbase. Back in 1994, the internet was in its infancy and daily entertainment industry news was a rarity. Without cable TV and a Hollywood Reporter subscription, Entertainment Tonight was more or less the only option. Still, every once in a while, a movie like Waterworld would come along and create a storm of celebrity intrigue and messy behind-the-scenes gossip so perfect that stories of its production woes would migrate to the regular news, gossip tabloids, the lunch room, and the water cooler.


Kevin Costner had been one of the most bankable stars in the world, coming off hit after hit after hit, including Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987), Ron Shelton’s Bull Durham (1988), Phil Alden Robinson’s Field of Dreams (1989), Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991), and Mick Jackson’s The Bodyguard (1992), not to mention Dances with Wolves (1990), which won him Best Picture and Best Director Oscars. But then he produced and starred in Lawrence Kasdan’s Wyatt Earp (1994) and, despite having all the ingredients for another Kevin Costner hit, it was an uncharacteristic flop. He was also brushing off the burden of his iffy headlining performance in Reynolds’ Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), which made him the butt of many jokes about Hollywood actors and their inability to maintain accents. The industry had already begun to turn on the star when news dropped that, not only was Waterworld going to be the most expensive movie of all time, but that it was going over schedule, there had been major stunt accidents, and that record budget was swelling.



Waterworld was eventually released and was a hit, though not big enough of a hit to make back its production and advertising costs. It was very successfully on home video and television, though, and its difficult production and overspending was overshadowed two years later by an even more problematic and expensive movie called Titanic. Furthermore, the cost-to-loss ratio seems kind of quaint, looking back from 2023. It’s basically impossible to know how much money it lost, but, taking inflation and theater profits into account, Waterworld probably lost less than $80-90 million. Even ignoring the fact that video rentals put it into the black, it doesn’t crack the top one hundred money losers of all time. These days, streaming models all but ensure that any new flops will never recoup those costs, even if they do become beloved cult movies (unless boutique Blu-ray labels stick around for the next few decades, I guess). Not to imply that I care about box office numbers or use them as a mark of a film's success, I just find Waterworld’s place at the end of one era of blockbuster movie-making and the beginning of another a neat way to contextualize its long-term success.


There’s also the fact that Waterworld was based on science that, while not new, was a relatively new topic in the public discourse. Global warming or what we now typically refer to as climate change had only really become a mainstream topic in 1988, when the World Meteorological Organization established an intergovernmental panel on the subject. Of course, the sheer scale of Waterworld’s global flooding is fiction, but, as we witness historic weather event after historic weather event, first-time feature screenwriter Peter Radar and future Riddick franchise director David Twohy’s script starts to look a lot more clever than the dismissive Mad Max on the Water accusations it originally garnered. The Mad Max-isms are just as prominent in retrospect and Radar even admits to setting out to write a sort of Road Warrior (1981) meets Shane (1953) riff, but Waterworld’s fantasy version of apocalyptic science isn’t really any sillier than Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow (2004), which was released at the height of the political debate surrounding climate change.


* Radar & Twohy have also been accused of stealing their ideas from Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy’s comic, Freakwave, which was published between 1983 and ‘85. McCarthy would go on to co-write George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015.



Video

Waterworld was a steady money-maker for Universal over the years and has been released on just about every available format since its 1995 debut. There are VHS tapes, Laserdiscs, an HDDVD, multiple Blu-rays, and even a 2019 4K UHD that includes the longer TV cut in 1080p. Arrow’s first crack at the property was the same year, when they put out a limited edition three-disc set that included the theatrical and TV cuts alongside a combination version known as the Ulysses cut. This version of that collection includes the theatrical cut on a 4K UHD and the company’s advertising claims that it is an exclusive new restoration and seemingly not the same as the one used for Universal’s UHD.


I don’t have the ability to take UHD screencaps and Arrow didn’t send the second and third Blu-ray discs for me to review, so the images on this page are only here for illustrative purposes. If you want to get a better idea as to how Arrow improved upon Universal’s initial release, check out this comparison on the caps-a-holic website. The short version is that the Universal disc was kind of flat and fuzzy, and had issues with edge haloes in close-ups. Arrow’s remaster brings back film grain (with a touch of machine noise) and finer textures, which is important, because Waterworld is a heavily textured movie. Colors are boosted (tweaked maybe a hair too brownish), as is dynamic range, especially on this 4K version, where the HDR improves the depth of the black levels.


Audio

The theatrical cut is presented with Dolby Atmos (core TrueHD) and DTS-HD Master Audio options. You also have a choice between 5.1 and 2.0 stereo, which makes sense, since Waterworld was made in the early days of Dolby Digital and DTS, when studios had to cut both analog and digital mixes. The sound design is aggressive in a very mid-’90s fashion with loads of directional chaos during action scenes and somewhat canned-sounding ambience during quieter sequences. As is often the case, James Newton Howard’s original score is a major highlight and sounds especially rich and large on the Atmos track. Apparently, he was a replacement composer and had very little time to throw the cues together. I suppose it does have a generic quality, but it’s still quite rousing and atmospheric.



Extras

Disc 1: Theatrical cut (4K UHD)

  • Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld (102:28, HD) – The extras begin with director Daniel Griffith’s 2018 feature-length documentary on the making of the film. It includes archival interviews with stars Costner, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Tina Majorino, and exclusive interviews with Reynolds, Radar, producers Charles Gordon, Ilona Herzberg, cinematographer Dean Semler, production designer Dennis Gassner, assistant director Robert Huberman, scenic artist Michael Denering, stunt coordinator R.A. Rondell, script supervisor Ana Maria Quintana, and special effects artists Eric Allard, Jeff Bresin, Gabe Videla, Mark Stetson, John Frazier, and Gary D'Amico. The subject matter covers the earliest development and pre-production, through the troubled filming process and release.

  • Dances with Waves (9:13, HD version of SD tape) – An archival EPK from 1995.

  • Global Warnings: Glenn Kenny Explores End of the World Movies (22:21, HD) – Critic and author Glenn Kenny discusses the larger history of ecological disaster and apocalyptic movies.

  • Production image galleries – Concept art, production stills, behind-the-scenes: Hawaii, behind-the-scenes: Los Angeles, and miniatures & visual effects

  • Promotional image gallery

  • Trailer gallery – Teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, TV Spots


Disc 2: TV cut (BD)

Disc 3: The Ulysses cut (BD)



The images on this page are NOT representative of Arrow's 4K OR Blu-ray remaster.


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