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Universal // PG-13 // October 20, 2009
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Brian Orndorf | posted October 20, 2009 | E-mail the Author


In 1995, "Waterworld" was the film to beat...and beat up. With an extravagant production scope, a surefire leading man in Kevin Costner, and material dripping with summer popcorn thrills, box office expectations were elevated to an absurd degree. Then behind-the-scenes mishaps started to occur, entire sets (along with their subplots) sunk to the bottom of the ocean, and the budget went positively bananas. Suddenly a guaranteed summertime blockbuster turned into a cheap punchline for the media, who branded the film a disaster before it even opened - a tag that still incorrectly haunts the movie to this very day. "Waterworld" was doomed to fail no matter what type of movie showed up in theaters.

After all the ill will and seething defamation curdling the film's legacy, what can I say? I really enjoy the picture.

In the far-off future, only a few remaining pockets of civilization remain after the polar ice caps have melted, flooding the planet, forcing the survivors to relocate to floating atolls. Hounding the peaceful are a violent gang known as The Smokers, lead by the wicked Deacon (Dennis Hopper), who patrol the waters on an endless search for chaos and the myth of dry land. The Mariner (Kevin Costner) is a trading recluse, searching the oceans for items of worth, stumbling upon young Enola (Tina Majorino) and her adoptive mother Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) as they barely escape the Smokers' grip. With a special map to dry land tattooed to her back, Enola has become hot property, forcing the irritated Mariner into protection mode, while showing his new charges the harsh reality of a life lived on the water.

With chests fully puffed after their global success with 1991's electric "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," star Costner and director Kevin Reynolds decided to test the adventure waters again with this admittedly blatant lift from the "Mad Max" series. Given a blank check to realize a three-dimensional world of oceanic desolation, the two Kevins dreamed big, taking the film to the actual deep blue sea for filming. Of course, what resulted is the stuff of primo Hollywood gossip, but the intended effect still reigns supreme in the finished feature. Strip away all the unsavory elements of the picture (real and imagined), and what's left is a gorgeous prison of water; an arresting backdrop to a simple tale of heroes and villains. "Waterworld" never breaks character in this regard, with Reynolds employing his forbidding locales as a supporting character in the film. Mute "Waterworld" and picture still dazzles; a waterlogged visual feast that few productions have ever attempted to achieve, and perhaps ever will.

Reynolds also has a dynamite way with action, focusing intensively on kinetic energy and Saturday matinee heroics (scored with aplomb by James Newton Howard) in a manner that snowballs the commotion agreeably. There's a certain action architecture going on in the film that's not rare, but exploited to thrilling results, featuring the cast running around elaborate floating sets (rich with post-apocalyptic detail) and various aquatic craft, with the nimble camera eager to survey the ensuing pyrotechnics. "Waterworld" is an awfully exciting picture when the plot heats up, underlining Reynolds's talents as a visual choreographer and an able summer movie craftsman.

Reynolds's vision is matched well by Costner in a rare screen appearance that doesn't rely on his affable boyish charms. Playing a prickly fish/human hybrid (Mariner has developed gills and webbed feet, multiplying his loner mentality), Costner doesn't overwhelm the film with a dogged performance of pure anti-hero clench. The actor remains surprisingly silent, letting his actions do the talking, hoping to convey Mariner's concern with glances and quick movement. It's an interesting performance from Costner that plays against expectation, but he's routinely drowned out by the rest of the movie, especially Hopper, who, in 1995, was in the midst of gleefully destroying his credibility as an actor with unfiltered hammy acting. At least Costner knew how to read the temp of the movie and remain quiet.

Naturally, the complaints against the film have merit. Logic is not a friend to "Waterworld," forcing those who demand exact science from their entertainment to run screaming from the picture as the plot stacks inconsistency and impossibility high. "Waterworld" is a sci-fi extravaganza, not even the least bit interested in reality, imaging a desperate world where cigarettes still hold their flavor centuries after production, basic crude oil tends to power everything, and vaguely defined monster fish rule the seas. It's best to view the feature with an open mind, accepting the rolling inaccuracies as a cover charge for a spirited adventure. Taking this film to task for scientific elusiveness seems to miss the point of the intended experience.



The AVC encoded image (1.85:1 aspect ratio) might encourage a few smiles from "Waterworld" fans. The picture seems to have found it's a proper home on BD, with a visual experience that maintains the blown-out sunshine photography of the theatrical presentation. Detail is strong throughout the event, allowing an opportunity to inspect the massive, floating sets and intricate costume designs. Facial detail is even better, lending the more of a wet, pressed look than previous home entertainment incarnations allowed. Shadow detail is satisfying. Image is crisp with select moments of fine grain, and while the age of the cinematography shows (there's a few scratches on the print), the BD finds surprising new life within the film.


The DTS-HD 5.1 is pleasingly aggressive, with explosive action specifics pouring through the surrounds during combat sequences, with nice separation for the dialogue and the audio mayhem. Water-based scenes offer enveloping atmosphere, pulling the listener into the sci-fi elements with subtle sound effects and scoring cues. Soundtrack selections have a nice punch, and there's bountiful LFE response. A Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is also offered, along with French, French Canadian, German, Castilian Spanish, L.A. Spanish, Italian, and Japanese 5.1 DTS tracks.


English SDH, French, French Canadian, Italian, German, Castilian Spanish, L.A. Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese, Greek, and Traditional Mandarin subtitles are included.


Only a Theatrical Trailer is included here.


There are moments when the jet ski gymnastics of The Smokers can turn "Waterworld" into a glorified theme park stunt show (something the film eventually became at Universal Studios Hollywood), painful sequences where the acting reaches shrill levels of grandstanding, and times when the screenplay makes leaps it fails to land. Regardless of faults, I embrace "Waterworld" as the pure matinee escapism it was intended to be, readily devouring the sci-fi excitement both Reynolds and Costner are more than happy to dish up.

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