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About five hundred years in the future, the polar ice caps have melted, and the Earth's surface is almost entirely water. The surviving humans have now taken to living in large floating constructs called atolls, all the while searching for dry land. The key to the location of dry land lies in a tattoo on the back of a little girl. The Smokers, led by Dennis Hopper, want the girl, and are willing to kill for her. It's up to The Mariner (Costner) to recycle his urine and keep the girl safe from Hopper's crew.
WATERWORLD. The film has become synonymous with others like it. The ones that go over budget, reek of controversy and ultimately tank at the box office. Granted, the Kevin Reynolds film (or Kevin Costner's, depending on which side you're on) eventually made back its $175 million budget from the overseas box office, but the film is still regarded as the biggest bomb ever (well, unless you forget THE ADVENTURES OF PLUTO NASH, BASIC INSTINCT 2, CATWOMAN, CUTTHROAT ISLAND, and so on). So after over a decade of miring in its failure, Universal has granted fans a new 2-disc set for the film, featuring the theatrical version, and the nearly 3-hour extended cut that premiered on ABC in 1998. Does the addition of 40 minutes of footage do anything for the film?
Regardless of version, WATERWORLD was and still is a fun-yet-forgettable trip for me. Don't get me wrong, Costner as the quiet loner and kicker of asses was great, but I never got the idea of 'MAD MAX in water' out of my head, even with the well-crafted sets and locations. It just didn't do it for me, even with the explosions and satisfying-yet-predictable ending.
The other thing was the fact that the film has some rather glaring plotholes that a reasonably intelligent person would spot right away. Take the Smokers, for example. How is it that they have access to cigarettes, the ability to make ammunition, and (probably the biggest issue) the ability to refine the crude oil in the tanker they use as a home base? Also, how is it that no one seems to be afflicted by scurvy, given that you need vitamin C? Sure, the Mariner has his lime tree, but how is it that the tree bears fruit when there's nothing to pollinate it?
Obviously, the film is one of the action flicks that requires you to suspend disbelief. A lot. Leave it to Dennis Hopper to break up the duh-duh with his portrayal of the goofy-yet-threatening Deacon, who is fleshed out that much more in the extended cut, making the character into more of a fanatical "bible" reader, though it's clunky in its execution. Unfortunately, this clunkiness plagues the entire extended cut, as the pace of the film slows to a crawl, a tradeoff for the character and plot development added. Also, despite the extended cut not being rated, it is unfortunately the exact same cut as the ABC broadcast, so all the edits for language and action are here. Shite.
So at the end of the day, is WATERWORLD still worth the watch? If you liked THE ROAD WARRIOR and have an inkling for seeing Costner recycle his own urine, and don't mind turning the logic centre in your brain off for a few hours, then sure. Those of you who despised WATERWORLD when it finally made its splash (sorry) won't be swayed by the extended cut, and are encouraged to seek out THE ROAD WARRIOR for their apocalyptic future fix.
Video: Since the two cuts are quite different in their looks, I'll break 'em up for you.
Theatrical Cut: Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, this is even more of a touch-up that the 2006 HD-DVD release of WATERWORLD. Gone are the edge halos and picture softness, and in their place are vibrant, perfectly saturated colours with some solid contrast. Hell, you can even make out some small object detail in spots! Great job!
Extended Cut: Not so pretty. Despite also being in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, this still carries the disclaimer that the film has been formatted for your TV from the ABC broadcast *groan*. Also, unlike the theatrical version, the extended cut is plagued by grain, edge enhancement and shimmering video throughout. There's also a softness to the picture and a loss of detail. Definitely not the best, but perhaps the best they could do with the source material (unless Universal really just wanted to get it out the door and not spend more money on it).
Audio: Both cuts are presented with English Dolby Digital 5.1, though the theatrical cut gets the added Spanish and French tracks. Like the video, the sound in the theatrical version packs a stronger punch, with more activity in the surrounds and more 'oomph' during the action sequences. The extended cut, on the other hand, sounds considerably thinner. What's great about both English tracks is that the ambient sounds are put to great use, with rustling wind and the water slapping up against the hulls of boats making for great immersion.
The only extra comes on the first disc (the theatrical cut), in the form of the film's theatrical trailer. No commentary, no documentaries on the production, no behind-the-scenes photo galleries, nothing. It's kind of expected that the film gets snubbed by Universal in one way, yet at the same time alienate the fans of the film. Hopefully one day we'll get the story on the film, but in the meantime, stick to the internet.
I should also point out that from the fact that the cover art and back of the case both contain errors (Dennis Hopper's image is flipped on the cover, and the technical information for both discs on the back is switched), Universal really didn't put much care into seeing this release through.
It's certainly not the definitive version of WATERWORLD, nor will it win over critics with the extended cut, but it's probably as good as fans will get for a while. The rest of you will wonder what all the fuss is about, and why Universal wasted their time on this.