The Film: Waterworld: Extended Cut (1995)
The Principals: Director: Kevin Reynolds, Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino, Michael Jeter, Gerard Murphy, R. D. Call, Jack Black, John Toles-Bey, Robert Joy, John Fleck, Noelani Eidse, Leonardo Cimino, Zakes Mokae, Kim Coates, Sab Shimono, Jack Kehler, Lanny Flaherty, Rick Aviles, Sean Whalen, Elizabeth McNamee, Lee Arenberg,
Robert LaSardo, William Preston, Chris Douridas
The Premise: In a post-apocalyptic Earth where the polar ice caps have completely melted, all land has been covered by the resulting deluge. Small pockets of humanity survive on small boats and floating islands made up of rusting debris called atolls, with no real knowledge of their origins other than rumor and superstition. The Mariner (Costner) is a nameless drifter who is among the first generations of humans who have adapted gills and webbed feet as a precursor to a pending evolution of humanity in response to the new planet’s environs. He sails the world, preferring solitude to the company of humans, and is one of the few who knows the secret of how the planet became flooded. When he happens upon an atoll, he meets Helen (Tripplehorn) and Enola (Majorino), a young girl with a tattoo on her back that shows the way to Dryland, the only place in the world left that’s above sea level. Pirates called Smokers soon attack the atoll with an impressive array of mechanized hardware adapted from old relics, looking for Enola. After Mariner, Enola and Helen escape the atoll during the attack, they spend the rest of the movie on the run from the smokers and their crazed leader, Deacon (Hopper), who are determined to capture her so they can find Dryland for themselves.
Is It Good: Depends really on if you liked the theatrical cut or not. I’ve always liked Waterworld, despite the shellacking it took from the press before it even opened. I was working at a movie theatre at the time and got to screen a copy before it opened and really liked it. It’s got plenty of hallmarks of co-writer David Twohy, and I always admired the practical effects, sets, vehicles and production design of the movie. It had a good concept, namely man trying to survive on a planet completely covered by water. Twohy once remarked that his inspiration for the film was The Road Warrior, and the cinematographer on that film was the same as this one: Dean Semler. Also liked James Newton Howards score (even bought the soundtrack years back).
I’m sure you all probably already know the film from seeing it. What you may not know is that there’s an extended cut that was released on DVD a few years ago and shown once or twice on TV. It’s some 40 minutes longer and fills in a lot of plot holes and paints a more vivid picture of the societies of both the Atollers and the Smokers. Both factions were really more ignorant and superstitious than depicted in the theatrical cut. For instance, after Mariner was captured, the Atollers ransacked his boat and found many of the unique items he recovered from the ocean floor, like a yo-yo and a Thighmaster, thinking they’re tools for murder and torture.
The extended cut added more character development moments, such as the fact that Deacon did quite a bit more preaching to the Smokers than just on the wheelhouse deck of the ship when he conned them into rowing for Dryland (i.e. nowhere). He stated to the Smokers that the world was created as a ball of water and evolution was impossible. The situation of the survivors was also painted to be more dire, with even the Deacon saying that prior attacks on atolls seemed to be more worthy exploits, indicating that they had already raided many more and the returns on the attacks are diminishing. And a drifter to the atoll is turned away before Mariner gets there because he has nothing of real value to offer. There is also a population control on the atoll. The family offering Mariner their daughter could only have another baby after the woman that was being recycled had died. Helen also had to give up having a baby in order for the atollers to allow Enola to stay when they found her.
Mariner was also presented to be even harder than he initially was in the theatrical cut. The outpost where the smokers were waiting to ambush the trimaran was actually a slaving outpost to which Mariner was planning to barter Helen and Enola for supplies. He also didn’t initially want to go save Enola from the Smokers after they captured her. In fact, he left the mini atoll and returned to the trimaran wreckage, where he’s then shown to find Enola’s drawing of the tree, which he compares to the National Goegraphic picture on his boat. Mariner also referred to his boat as his only friend, for which Helen pitied him. Also, if you were wondering how Mariner got a Smoker’s jet ski and found the Smokers’ HQ, he had dispatched two of them that were attacking the mini-atoll and lit the jet ski’s oil trail aflame, which he traced back to the Deez. That mini-atoll scene is also minutes longer and explains that the planet underwent a pole shift, turning the world upside down.
In the final scenes, Helen gives Mariner a name: Ulysses, explaining that she’ll be waiting for his return one day. And it’s also revealed that the Dryland is the top of Mount Everest, as denoted by a plaque commemorating the summitting by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on 29 May 1953. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the extended cut on TV, but overall, it’s a much better presentation of the movie, even though there were cuts made to the extended cut like Helen’s brief nudity and some language and violence. But I want the real extended cut on DVD. So how about it, Universal?
Random Anecdotes: Laird Hamilton was Costner’s stunt double for certain scenes in the movie. He commuted to the set via jet ski and got lost at sea for several hours when his jet ski ran out of gas. He was eventually picked up by a Coast Guard plane.
Cinematic Soulmates: The Road Warrior, The Postman