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Sopping Wet

However long it took for the polar caps to melt and sink all of the Earth’s land – Waterworld never gives a timeframe – humanity changed little in those intervening years. Certainly, life adapted. People built atolls, and drifters quite literally drift on waves. Some of humanity even started to evolve, like the unnamed Mariner (Kevin Costner); his gills help his isolationist lifestyle to succeed.

The rest though, that’s all the same. Factions still war with one another. Waterworld is still part of a nihilistic genre with a persistently negative view on human behavior. Racism and bigotry reject Mariner for his gills and webbed feet. That no one sees the value in someone who can endlessly swim underwater is odd.

It’s clear women never earned their due either. Helen (Jeanne Tripplehorn) willingly gives herself to the Mariner, and traders accept females as currency. Waterworld’s story concerns a little girl too. On her back, a map to dry land. To a band of villains, that’s her value, and her only value.

Waterworld isn’t well thought out. While such an ecological horror future grows in relevancy with time, the rest is a touch off. Canned meats remain edible, let alone still around, and Deacon (Dennis Hopper, forever a screen-classic villain) always has a like-new pack of cigarettes on hand. Guns still fire and ammunition, like the processed food, still isn’t exhausted after these many years.

Also odd, the inhabitants of overflowed oceans for decades (centuries?) still hold dreams of dirt and trees despite those who lived dry dying generations ago. And, treating those visions with enough merit to ignore the significance of a human life if it means finding this future’s Atlantis equivalent.

Waterworld is one of the final pieces of old Hollywood in the pre-digital age

On this scale though, Waterworld is about the showmanship. Released in 1995, this is one of the final pieces of old Hollywood in the pre-digital age. The ambition of this film cannot be denied. Braving real waters is a catalyst for disaster, and sea salt-corroded metals draw the eye toward their potential peril. Glorious tattered costumes look either overly cluttered or barely useful. Golden skin cracks and peels in each shot. When needed, hundreds of extras rush on a barge, no digital bodies in use.

This theatrical setting isn’t even hidden. Water skiers jump with hilarious synchronicity during an attack, as if watching a Sea World show. Same goes for watercraft, turning together for the camera. Costner’s implausible action sees him rigging ropes and swinging across his makeshift raft. It all looks sensational, enough to distract from the hampered logic.

If there’s to be a lasting success to Waterworld, that’s Dennis Hopper. Hilarious and chewing the screen as a one-eyed baddie, he’s glorious, more so when commanding his legions. Even when starving, low on fuel, and lacking water, they still listen to his orders. He owns the infamous Exon Valdez and worships its failed captain. His men represent the last of the climate deniers, still certain it’s not their fault even as they float on glacial remnants. Fossil fuels (and their fumes) keep them going.

With Hopper in the lead, even on a planet drowning itself, it turns out people will listen to anyone as long as they make elaborate, impossible promises with an attractive turn of the tongue. Maybe there’s more to Waterworld than just the climate change.


Arrow’s treatment of this awkward sort-of-classic feature is sublime. A beautiful scan of film elements brings out piles of texture. This world is stuffed with heated close-ups, all defined, and the metals used to build some semblance of cities show suitable decay. It’s all rustic in a literal sense, which this new transfer happily shows off.

A boost to color brings out the tanned flesh tones, contrasting naturally with the dense blues of the water. Rafts serve as the go-between silvery metals and wet rust. The few glimpses of plant life bring deep greens, a rich enhancement to the scenery.

All of the glistening sunlight keeps Waterworld brightly lit. Few scenes ever drift toward darkness. A moody trip to an underwater city (a great miniature) requires black levels for tone, provided cleanly with stable density. Impressive too, the encode holds up against the entirely bright blue scenery.

Encoding handles a stable, consistent grain structure above water too. A few spikes pass without issue.


Were it not for the utterly blank LFE support, the DTS-HD mix here is worthy of top grades. Since the low-end barely seems activated, it’s an unfortunate whiff to an otherwise rich bit of audio work.

Water is an appropriate constant, splashing in the surrounds and stereos around dialog. It’s specific too. Watch for waves. When seen, they pop in the needed channel. Accuracy is a marvel.

Major action scenes pepper the stage with bullets and shredded metal. In crowds, screams jump channel to channel. Vehicles pass through speakers flawlessly, especially a bi-plane that begins a full circle pattern. Each speaker catches on something during that attack. Superb stuff.


This three disc set includes a trio of versions. On the first disc is the theatrical cut. Over on the second, a TV cut with 40-minutes of added footage. Disc three includes the fan-made Ulysses cut that fills in some plot holes with additional dialog.

All bonuses reside on disc one, beginning with a fantastic documentary titled Maelstrom. At 102-minutes, it covers the full production (and its troubles) in detail, although sadly doesn’t interview any of the cast. Film critic Glenn Kenny looks at post-eco apocalypse movies and their history in an interesting video essay, running 22-minutes. A ‘90s featurette shows up for the sake of completeness, a nine minute bonus. A gallery and trailers remain.

Note Arrow’s provided screener copy did not include any of the physical extras packaged with the retail release.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Bold and visually creative, the Waterworld’s ambitions overcome its numerous plotting and logic contrivances.

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