Waterworld – The Ulysses Cut (1995)

Back in the day, when I was a movie-geek teenage’d nerd in the 90’s, I routinely kept up on the large Hollywood flicks as they moved through Production, usually through my trusty Entertainment Weekly magazine. One such production was Waterworld, a big budget Summer Tentpole action / sci-fi starring Hot-At-The-Time Kevin Costner (The Untouchables), that’s now notorious for the chaotic goings-on’s behind-the-scenes. By the time it was ready for release, it’s budget had hugely swelled, due to clashing egos and a troubled production on the water off Hawaii. At one point, the enormously expensive floating atoll set was ruined and sank in a storm, setting the production back in both time and cash. So anyway, there was all this drama and everyone was braced for the movie itself to simply shit the bed.

It didn’t. Not in my opinion.

When I finally got around to checking it out on The Big Screen, I had a genuinely fun time with it, despite seeing that it was a near toothless retread of the far superior The Road Warrior (1981) that just happened to be set on the ocean instead of the post apocalyptic Outback. It probably helped that all the negative press it got before its release helped set the bar low for me, so I ended up being pleasantly surprised…after I’d turned my brain off. As a result of that, I’ve always had something of a nostalgic soft spot for Waterworld. A couple years ago, I came across mention of an alternate cut of the flick floating around out there, a 40 minute expanded version released for European TV (for some reason). I’d seen snippets of this cut before, particularly the hilarious over-dubs targeting the movie’s mild profanity, but never the whole thing in its entirety, newly buffed up for High Def. Until now. In my searching, I found that a new Blu ray version was due to be released here in North America on Dec. 3rd; a version that had this strange, alternate cut in a restored 1080p included.

So naturally…I scored a copy.

On a cold and grey Sunday afternoon, I sealed myself away with my brand new disc and a notepad, curious to see if this ‘new’ footage would enhance the flick in any meaningful way, like…say…Ridley Scott’s Director’s Cut of Kingdom of Heaven (2005) or James Cameron’s Extended Cut of Avatar (2009).

For those of you who don’t know, Waterworld takes place in an unlikely future were the polar ice caps have completely melted, drowning virtually all ‘dry land’ and forcing the survivors to exist on vast oceans. One such survivor is the nameless ‘Mariner’ (Kevin Costner); a selfish and cruel loner who becomes caught up in the plight of the survivors of a devastating attack on an atoll settlement by a cartoonish villain named ‘The Deacon’ (Dennis Hopper). Races and chases ensue, with a healthy dose of large scale action sprinkled throughout as these forces face off over the fate of a young girl who may hold the key to finding the mythical dry land.

*hits Play*

*starts scribbling*

Still love the score. Rousing and John Williams-like. James Newton Howard is another of Hollywood’s highly talented composers and in my opinion, his energetic score for Waterworld is top notch and very much helps tie the loose narrative together.

Nice Blu ray transfer. Never noticed the sail pattern. I love Blu ray (fuck that 4K shit!) for the small details the less refined versions hid that get revealed at the higher resolution. In the beginning, we’re treated to numerous beauty shots of the ‘Mariner’s unique sailboat and I’d never noticed the intricate mishmash of colored  fabric making up the sail. Cool stuff.

First ‘new’ scenes already add to fleshing things out. Atoll life. Ever since I first saw Waterworld, I’ve had to admit that there is something clumsy in the pacing, and now I know why. There was a lot more connective tissue that they cut out for the North American release that adds nicely to setting up life in this aquatic settlement.

So far, pacing feels better. It says it right there. The story, in this cut, had some time to breath and expand and it was very welcome.

Hilarious new scene. Absurd suspicions about harmless things. There’s an added scene where the towns folk of the atoll gather to go through the ‘Mariner’s mundane (to us) belongings and one character comes up with amusingly panicked and deadly explanations for them, riling people up. Made me chuckle.

Wow! Theatrical version was cut to shit! Again…says it right there. The pacing in this new cut is far more user friendly, when compared to the choppiness of the original release cut, with material that helps organically expand the universe of Waterworld.

Tripplehorn way too clean. Haha!! Back in the day, Jeanne Tripplehorn (Basic Instinct) was a smoking hot lady and she plays a prominent role as ‘Helen’ in Waterworld…and she looks gorgeous. Maybe some slight smudging here and there…but with gleaming white teeth and beautifully intense and clear eyes that are ready for any camera. She VERY much stood out against all the other grimy dirtbags that populate this flick.

Some cool new snippets in the atoll battle scene. Added carnage, no matter how small…is always welcome!

New Dennis Hopper scenes! Always welcome. Something I noticed was that a lot of Hopper’s new dialogue presented more of a religious extremist angle to the character of ‘The Deacon’ that wasn’t evident before, effectively reducing him to the buffoon that he became theatrically.

Yep. The Mariner is still a dick. One issue I’ve always had with Waterworld is the fact that Kevin Costner doesn’t portray the ‘Mariner’ with very much in the way of redeeming qualities. For a surprising duration of the flick, he’s an unpleasant asshole who only looks out for himself and has no qualms threatening and assaulting women and children to get his way. He’s only barely redeemed by the end, for me.

Still love the Boat vs Sea Plane scene. What can I say…it’s a fun, well-executed sequence that I find genuinely exciting every time I see it.

Is the pilot Jack Black?! A quick IMDB check and…yes, yes it was Jack Black playing the pilot.

Costner really is a dick, not a sympathetic character and hard to root for. We already covered this one but again…he’s this asshole for a substantial part of the run-time, consistently.

Kim Coates more of a creep in this version. The strange, fucked up pedo-guy that our heroes encounter on the high seas is even more of a sleaze bag in this extended cut, all the more deserving of the slightly too tame death he got at the hands of the ‘Mariner’.

Haha! A Discman! In an extended scene, ‘Helen’ comes on deck to hear Miles Davis playing from a rigged up stereo system…with a Discman right in the middle of it. Pssst…I still have one…don’t tell anyone.

Again, love the music, especially in the ‘teaching ‘Enola’ how to swim’ scene. Almost magical. James Newton Howard really did do a slick job on this one and some of the music is gorgeous to listen to just on it’s own. I should know…it’s playing as I write this. So there.

What was that?! Weird, shitty-looking shot of the balloon out of nowhere. Something ‘Gilliam’ about it. There’s a transition that smash cuts to a clearly unfinished effects shot of the improvised balloon craft drifting against a fake background before moving on to the next scene. It felt like cut footage from Terry Gilliam’s highly underrated The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988). Just saying.

Some effects suck, especially on Blu ray. Now, while I was praising all the sexy little details in the production that weren’t evident before, the hi-def format can also reveal the limitations of the budget…and this was no different. In the 3rd Act, the quality of the effects takes a serious dive, with some of the new footage suffering even more so, standing out sharply.

This cut is the superior version. Well…I guess that one kinda wraps it up.

Wait…there was one more:

Ah! The Ulysses Cut! I get it now! And so will You…if you check this version of Waterworld out.

All in all, as I find with most Director or Extended Cuts, this European version, coming in nearly 40 minutes longer than the evidently chopped-to-shit North American Theatrical release, is easily my preferred version now. Don’t get me wrong…Waterworld is no fantastic masterpiece, in either version, per say. It IS however, a fun movie…made even more so by this newly unleashed cut. I fully recognize just how disposable this high-budget and notorious product of mid-90’s Hollywood is but it’s on that level that I embrace it and if you’re a fan, I’m confident that you’ll embrace this new version too.

And if you opt to give this ‘Ulysses’ cut a shot…be sure to watch the Blu ray version, not the hilariously censored TV version…though there is some unintentionally funny shit in that one.


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