Waterworld with Kevin Costner: the story of a monstrous and magnificent shipwreck

water world
Universal

The demented odyssey of maritime SF by Kevin Costner and Kevin Reynolds is broadcast at 9:10 p.m. on NRJ12. This is an opportunity to return to the sinking of this aquatic Mad Max.

Kevin Costner’s megalomaniac project resurfaced in March 2019 on a gorgeous English Blu-ray, complete with a three-hour fan-made event edit. Let’s go back to the complicated story of this monstrous film by Kevin Reynolds.

10 things you might not know about Waterworld

It is the story of a destruction. Of a demolition that began even before the film was released. As soon as it entered production, journalists, lured by the prospect of chronicling a disaster, dubbed Waterworld, “Fishtar” (with reference to Ishtar, money pit and historic oven). It was probably unfair, but in this year 1994, the news from the Pacific was not very reassuring. The production chose to shoot all the scenes of this maritime adventure film on the waves, for real. And to build the monstrous “Atoll” in real size, a floating metal city as big as a football stadium. A stone’s throw from Hawaii. A heterogeneous circular city of a thousand tons of steel on which was going to turn a big battle scene inspired by the attack on the refinery of Mad Max 2: The Challenge sees the light of day on the ocean. In logistical terms, of course, the sea made everything complicated and above all more expensive. But if the film’s budget literally exploded, it’s also because water world has become over time the megalo project (the English say vanity project) of its star, Kevin Costner. Originally, its screenwriter, Peter Rader, close to Roger Corman, wrote it in the mid-1980s thinking of shooting it for a modest sum. The singularity of its script was in the action which took place on a futuristic Earth, entirely covered by the ocean, instead of a great burning desert like all the post-apocalyptic films of the time. But Rader underestimates the cost of the project and it gathers dust, despite the interest of Norwegian Nils Gaup (nominated for the Oscar for best foreign film for The passer in 1988). It was not until 1991 that Kevin Costner and Kevin Reynolds came across the script for the film, each on their own.

While water world should have been shot as a modest B series, the arrival of Costner which capitalizes on the success of Robin Hood (second biggest hit of 1991 behind Terminator 2 – Judgment Day) turns the film into a war machine. Universal, originally a simple distributor, must support the entire budget of the film, initially estimated at 100 million dollars. “The studio knew the risks and assumed the costs”says Kevin Reynolds in Maelstrom, the formidable documentary devoted to the shooting and available in the superb Blu-ray edition released in March 2019 from the English publisher Arrow. From the beginning, headwinds blew on the project. “Don’t Spin on Water”, Steven Spielberg would have advised Reynolds who, despite everything, embarks for Hawaii. And the costs escalate immediately. The construction of the Atoll takes seven months, you have to buy two trimarans at a million dollars each to build the hero’s ship… As far as the script is concerned, it’s the same thing: Rader’s scenario, largely rewritten by David Twohy (future author of Pitch Black) and Marc Norman (future co-author of Shakespeare in Love), stripped of mystical and religious references, satisfies no one. The star and the production are obviously not in agreement. When Costner wants “an ecological fable”the producers are calling for a film “more cyberpunk”. At the last moment, Joss Whedon will have to come to the rescue. The creator of buffy the vampire slayer will rewrite the dialogues of the villainous Deacon (Dennis Hopper). But the result is relentless. Even before the end of filming, the disastrous rumors reached the Hollywood press. A first teaser was edited a little too quickly with the existing material, and screened at Christmas 1994 before street fighter with Jean-Claude Van Damme. It is an announced disaster.

The end of filming does not mean the end of the confusion. The editing will prove to be particularly painful, the extent of the rushes being monstrous. Tired of fighting with the studio to impose his vision of the film, Reynolds ends up dropping the case and, as for Robin Hood which Kevin Costner is rumored to have overseen the final cut, the actor takes the reins. In particular, he discarded the music of Mark Isham, deemed too dark, to replace it with a score by James Newton Howard. The film editing of waterworld, which arrives in American theaters on July 28, 1995, lasts 2 hours 16 minutes. And the film will indeed be profitable: it will bring in 264 million dollars worldwide for an estimated cost of 175 million. However, it does not work in the United States, where summer is largely dominated by Apollo 13 by Ron Howard. As usual across the Atlantic, a longer version of forty minutes was broadcast on TV in 1996. But the story did not end there. In 2005, an Internet user nicknamed McFly89 set himself a funny challenge: to edit the most complete version of Water world. Thanks to a correct copy of the TV edit, he puts together a 2:51 edit that he calls Ulysses Cut, restoring the violence and swearing absent from the TV version. The three montages, cinema, television and Ulysses Cut, are offered on this Blu-ray. And if this “Ulysses edit” (whose name refers to the pretty original final scene, restored for the occasion) does not change much in the film, it does however give it another rhythm, richer, slower, and ultimately more epic.

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