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The Shape of Water (2017)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
4K UHD Released: 3/13/2018

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/12/2018

Guillermo del Toro has a lot of fans. And why shouldn't he? He's a gregarious guy who truly loves horror and science-fiction cinema, and it's clear that he wants to see these films studied, promoted, and celebrated. But, that's del Toro, the person. What about del Toro, the filmmaker? Well, he still has plenty of fans, but this becomes a little harder to justify. Over the past 25 years, he's directed less than a dozen films and the results have ranged from over-rated to very over-rated. He has made some good movies, but has yet to make a great one. It would appear that this trend has ended with his latest outing, The Shape of Water, as it garnered a Best Picture Oscar and a Best Director award for del Toro. Has he finally mastered the craft or is it simply more of the same?

The Shape of Water takes place in 1950s Baltimore. Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) works as a cleaning woman in a government oceanic institute. A mute, she communicates through sign language with her co-worker, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), and her lonely neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins). Elisa's world is turned upside-down when a new specimen is brought into the lab, accompanied by tightly-wound government agent, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). The specimen is a humanoid-like aquatic creature, and it immediately gets Elisa's attention. One day, she shares part of her lunch with the creature and they begin to form a bond. Overhearing that experiments are to be done on the specimen, Elisa decides that she must do something to help it.

del Toro's early films, such as Cronos, The Devil's Backbone, and Pan's Labyrinth, and even something like Mimic, which he didn't help write, all had storylines with a distinct thread of originality. However, as his career progressed, he seemed to lose his flair for unique stories and began to make movies which played more like homages to other movies, such as Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak. And yet, he is still praised by many for his originality. Well, those who claimed that The Shape of Water is original must have never seen any other movies, as this plays like a greatest hits from previous films. The basic premise is essentially the same as Splash, except instead of having a human man fall for a beautiful mermaid, we have a human woman falling for a scaly merman. The second half of The Shape of Water is nearly Splash note-for-note, write down to Michael Stuhlbarg taking over for the Eugene Levy character. The production design in The Shape of Water bares a strong resemblance to the look of Alex Proyas' Dark City. The creature bears such a strong resemblance to Abe Sapien from Hellboy (which del Toro directed, but didn't create) that when the first trailer for this film appeared, fans thought that it was an Abe Sapien stand-alone film. Elisa is very reminiscent of Amelie. And...wait a minute...Michael Shannon is playing an uptight government employee who has weird sexual tastes? Is this Boardwalk Empire? And Octavia Spencer is playing a sassy cleaning lady? Thank God someone is finally taking advantage of her range. (And none of this takes into account that a playwright and a French director have both come forward stating that The Shape of Water has similarities with their individual works.)

This palpable lack of originality is paired with a story which never finds its groove or any genuine emotion. There are certainly moments here which don't feel complete. Elisa lives above a movie theater and briefly acts out movies with Giles. Is she a movie lover? We never learn. The Giles character is very under developed and it feels as if he's simply there to be another lonely person. Beyond the fact that both feel like outcasts, the relationship between Elisa and the creature never has any real depth and therefore, it's never truly emotional. If she wanted to rescue him for humanitarian purposes, that's one thing, but to truly fall in love is something else entirely. The movie apparently wants to be moving and engrossing, but it simply doesn't work hard enough at this.

In the end, what we have here is basically E.T., but this time, E.T. and Elliot have sex. So, why did this movie win Best Picture? I have two theories on this. Hollywood loves anything which romanticizes old movies and The Shape of Water certainly does this, right down to a non-senscial dance number. Much in the same way which La La Land earned undeserved praised for being a throwback, The Shape of Water has no problem playing the nostalgia card. My other theory is that this movie truly spoke to truly lonely people. I'm sure that there are people out there who could relate to Elisa and if that's the case, then I guess that I'm glad that they found a kindred spirit. Everyone else is going to find a movie in which Amelie and Minny Jackson work in a lab in which Nelson Van Alden is attempting to kill The Creature from the Black Lagoon. And they are going to wonder how in the world this movie won an Oscar.

The Shape of Water must have gotten a kickback from either Jello or the pie industry on 4K UHD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at an average of 50 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, as the film is bathed in green tones, and the image is never overly dark or bright. (The brief scene involving a Technicolor film looks great.) The level of detail is excellent, as we can make out the textures on objects and the depth looks great. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. While this isn't a big action movie, it's always disappointing when a 4K UHD doesn't have a 7.1 track. Still, we get good surround sound effects here, most notably when Elisa is in the rain. The sounds in the lab also come through the rear channels and we get some good bass at times. The film's score also sounds fine and doesn't overpower the actors.

The extras for The Shape of Water are found on the accompanying Blu-ray Disc. "A Fairy Tale for Troubled Times" contains three sections. "Love in an Age of War" (6 minutes) is a general overview of the film's themes and look, focusing on love and futurism. "Summoning a Water God" (10 minutes) has del Toro stating "I wanted the creature to be of a different shape and a different color than any other amphibian creature ever made." Then why didn't you do that? He goes on to say, "I spent hundreds of thousands designing the creature..." to which I say, "I hope you kept the receipt." The rest of this piece takes us into the workshop to show the creature being created. "Shape, Form and Function" (10 minutes) takes us on-set to see the sets being designed and built. The piece also looks at the color design. "Aquatic Melodies" (3 minutes) profiles Composer Alexandre Desplat. "Anatomy of a Scene: Prologue" (3 minutes) and "Anatomy of a Scene: The Dance" (5 minutes) take us behind-the-scenes and give us brief breakdowns on how the scenes were conceived and shot. "Shaping the Waves: A Conversation with James Jean" (5 minutes) who created an alternative movie poster for the film. "Guillermo Del Toro's Master Class" (13 minutes) takes us to a Q&A the director and his team, who talk about the technical aspects of the movie. The extras are rounded out by three TRAILERS for the film.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long