Waterworld – The Ulysses Cut
In 1997, the American television network ABC broadcast the premiere of the feature film Waterworld. What made this television premiere different was the film being shown across two consecutive nights because of the inclusion of approximately forty minutes of new and previously unseen material.
Since that night all those years ago, this longer cut has been televised every now and again on other channels such as the Sci-Fi Channel (as it was then known) but all using slightly different edits of the film.
Many years ago, a colleague at work had recorded one of these showings onto VHS tape and lent it to me. That was the first and last time I saw the extended edition until researching this article. I remember purchasing the widescreen VHS cassette of the theatrical edition for myself. Despite the generally negative press, I do enjoy the film. In the due course of time, I later upgraded to the DVD as well, disappointed that the only bonus content was the original theatrical trailer.
One day on the internet I happened to come across a discussion forum called originaltrilogy.com. This forum is primarily a band of dedicated fans that strive to protect and record all versions of the Star Wars saga including some very professionally made fan edits. Another section of this forum is dedicated to general film as well.
A discussion thread was started in the general film section in late 2005 (Link). A forum member asked if anyone had recorded any of the extended Waterworld broadcasts and had kept them for preservation purposes. It emerged that a video file weighing in at just under 1GB was circulating on the internet but it was encoded from a VHS cassette recording and the quality was described as watchable.
Jump forward two years and forum member McFly89 took on the challenge of creating the ultimate extended edit of Waterworld.
An invitation was posted online asking for any digital copies that other forum users had acquired. McFly89 was sent several copies and he also made different recordings himself from different channels that were broadcasting the film at the time.
Because each edit of the film was slightly different, McFly89 decided to create the longest possible version of Waterworld. Footage was also sourced from a Spanish transmission which originated from the Telemundo network. This was due to the fact it was the only extended cut that contained all the violence from the theatrical edit. All other television broadcasts, whilst extended, unfortunately, were censored for violence and swearing.
By the summer of 2008, McFly89 finished and released onto the internet, Waterworld: The Ulysses Cut. Spread over two DVDs with a running time of 171 minutes, this was the longest known version of the film.
I have acquired this release and held onto it for many years and have watched it again recently as part of writing this feature. So how does this longer cut compare to the theatrical release?
After an introduction to the Mariner (Kevin Costner’s unnamed character), he travels to the atoll to trade for goods. During this early sequence of the film is where a lot of the extended scenes have been reinstated.
The introduction to the atoll starts with added scenes that show survivors of this world who have not fared so well. All they have is a few essentials and a rowing boat. An old man, in particular, is begging to donate all his hair for just one cup of water, or hydro as it is known in the film.
Added dialogue reveals that the atoll is already overcrowded and they can’t let anyone else in. When the mariner arrives and they let him in, the other poor travellers are held at bay with the use of water cannons.
A short time later, the Mariner is captured because they believe him to be a Smoker spy and more is revealed about the way of life in the atoll. New footage reveals the Mariner’s boat is robbed and it is these stolen items that make a showing in a new extended version of a town meeting that is under way.
The items that were taken from the Mariners boat are being used as evidence to prove he is a spy. A clarinet is a spy listening device, a thigh master is for torture and a yo-yo is a garrote wire. I found this quite amusing and it also serves to tell us what has been forgotten over the hundreds of years since the ice caps melted.
The meeting turns to the subject of the little girl, Enola, it is made quite clear that she is not welcome on the atoll. The meeting soon turns ugly and it is decided that not only should they get rid of the Mariner but also Enola as well.
Helen, who cares for Enola, is obviously not pleased about this decision. The film then cuts to Gregor as he tries to make sense of the strange tattoo on Enola’s back. This extended version of the scene reveals that Gregor has a good idea of what the tattoo represents but can’t decipher it. Helen arrives from the town meeting to tell him of their decision.
The next morning, the Smokers attack and so commences the first big action set piece of the film. New shots of action can be found here including Smokers ransacking the atoll and looting what they can. Dialogue reveals that attacking atolls isn’t like the old days anymore. The number of atolls is dwindling and their way of life is dying.
I really enjoyed seeing these new scenes as it really allowed you to see how life in this world has evolved. People are struggling to survive and it makes you wonder how they have achieved this for so long on these floating villages. Extended footage reveals more of the atoll set and you can appreciate all the hard work that went into creating it.
Further along into the film and a new scene extension reveals the Mariner relaxing by listening to music from a CD player that is being powered by a small wind turbine. A nice touch that fits the aesthetic of the film but if you think about it too much, it raises too many questions.
It’s not just the good guy’s adventure that is expanded upon, more is revealed of the Smokers lifestyle. A new scene gives Jack Black more screen time as the seaplane pilot who attacked the Mariner, Helen and Enola on the trimaran.
We get to see how the Smokers are surviving in this world with scenes of them forging new bullets from scrap metal, which ironically, are pieces of their own boat.
There is one Smoker scene extension in particular when the Mariner kills one of the Smokers by riding a jet-ski into him. Restored footage reveals two mechanics that at first come to terms with what’s just happened and then they burst out laughing. While this does show the strange mentality of the Smokers, I thought it was rather odd and can see why this was originally removed from the film.
At the end of the film, when our heroes reach dry land, Gregor now gives the Mariner several bags of dirt to use for bartering. Gregor tells the Mariner that if he needs anymore that he can just come back as dirt is the second most treasured item in the lore of Waterworld after paper.
The Mariner replies that he wants to seek out more of his kind but he will send other travellers towards the island. Before the Mariner leaves, Helen gives him a present to which he replies, “there no such thing in Waterworld”. She gives the Mariner the name of Ulysses and explains to him the saga of Odysseus.
The finale of the film is extended with what is probably the most famous scene known about this longer edition. When Helen and Enola are at the top of the hill of the new found island, watching the Mariner sail away, they stumble across a metal plaque embedded in the ground.
They don’t understand what it means and go back to watching the Mariner sail away. The camera zooms in on the plaque so we can read it for ourselves and discover that they are standing on top of Mount Everest. A great little moment revealing how much the water level has risen is this apocalyptic vision of the future.
It was certainly interesting watching this longer cut and you can see why it was edited down for the theatrical release. One of the major points about this longer edit is also pointed out by McFly89 in one of the short features included on this DVD release. Once that point was in my mind, it was obvious all the way through the film.
In McFly89’s own words, “the Mariner is a dick.” All the way through the film it is quite clear that he is only looking out for himself. Even right up towards the end of the film where they find the last few survivors of the atoll attack, the Mariner steals a boat by force so that he can continue on his own. The Mariner obviously redeems himself by the end of the story but for the majority, he is a dick.
Maybe this is why the majority of the scenes were trimmed or removed entirely. You may recall from the first part of this Waterworld feature that the director Kevin Reynolds was removed from the project just a few weeks from finishing principal photography. Allegedly Kevin Costner finished filming and editing.
A big well done should go out to McFly89 for his hard work that went into creating this set. Not only is the film spread across two DVDs for quality and length reasons, but he has also included a few bonus features that demonstrate the hard work he has performed.
Waterworld – How It Went Down is a ten-minute feature narrated by McFly89 tells us why he decided to create this longer edit and the problems he had in creating it. He talks about his various sources for the footage, having to deal with advert breaks/animations and his attempts at removing the channel logos.
Waterworld – Wider Is Worser is the first feature on disc two and discusses why the picture is in a full frame aspect ratio (known as 4:3) rather than the theatrical widescreen size we are used to. He provides running examples all through the featurette such as the one below.
As you can see by overlaying the widescreen screen capture on top of the full frame version, more of the picture is revealed in the 4:3 aspect ratio.
The DVDs are rounded out with some fan-created trailers for this set including a nice one which only uses extended cut footage. Other trailers include the film’s theatrical trailer, one for the Universal stunt show and a foreign language television trailer.
McFly89 has done a fantastic job of preserving the longest possible edit of the film possible. The picture quality is great and the extras are a nice touch. I obviously can’t tell you how to get hold of a copy as fan edits are in a bit of a grey area when it comes to the legality of them.
As a side note, I’ll mention now that these fan edits are usually abandoned when an official release replaces it. You can purchase the extended edition on DVD which had an official release by Universal but it does not contain all the violence and swearing from the theatrical edit. In my opinion, this was a missed opportunity by Universal.
This Ulysses Cut shows that longer isn’t always better but it does give you a chance to explore more of the world created for this film. If you do like Waterworld as much as I do, then I highly recommend sourcing this copy out.
Written by John Abbitt | Follow John on twitter @UKFilmNerd
< Chapter One – Nothing’s Free In Waterworld | Chapter Three – The Quest For Dry Land >