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The Shape of Water (Blu-ray Review)

Thinking about writer/director Guillermo del Toro’s work, it easy to see how much effort he puts into every aspect of his films. Del Toro’s best movies are ones that feel like a symphony of ideas all brought together brilliantly by his love for fantasy and horror. The Shape of Water is the latest example. This movie finds the director using the talents of himself and others to craft a beautiful love story with no shortage of multi-layered characters, detailed sets and attention to the latest weird creatures del Toro and co-writer Vanessa Taylor have come up with. The results show off the magic of cinema and have been accepted by many in a way I could not have predicted, as the film was awarded several Oscars, including Best Director and Best Picture of the Year.

Film:

For this film, del Toro offers up a steampunk-influenced science fiction story as if Douglas Sirk told it. The Shape of Water is essentially a vibrant melodrama that blends a monster movie with a fairy tale. The resulting emotions could be hard to take in were a lesser director involved. With del Toro, the film manages to be romantic, violent, scary, comedic and more. But enough of the sappiness, let me get to the mute woman and fish face.

The story is set in 1960s Baltimore, during a time when Cold War paranoia has taken over. Sally Hawkins star as Elisa Esposito, a mute janitor, working at a government research facility. She and her co-worker and friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) clean up after the scientists who conduct mysterious tests and experiments.

There is plenty to already treasure in the design of both the facility Elisa works in, as well as her apartment. Happy to let all his influences run together, del Toro has crafted a scenario where Elisa lives above a movie theater and next to her friend Giles (Richard Jenkins), a closeted artist. Routines are quickly established, as far as how Elisa gets through living life as a curious mute. It appears to be lonely, and Hawkins deserves all the credit in the world for conveying so much through expressions and sign language. However, her world is soon thrown off balance by another arrival.

A new test subject is brought into the facility. It is an amphibious creature (an elaborately costumed Doug Jones) that calls to mind The Creature from the Black Lagoon, let alone Abe Sapien from del Toro’s Hellboy films. The “asset” is being researched by Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) and tortured for the sake of cooperation by Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon). Elisa interacts with the creature by chance and finds her own way to connect with it. Both are curious but tortured souls without the standard way of communicating. A relationship forms.

This is a heightened scenario, no doubt, and the film has less to say about the literal pairing of a woman and a creature than it does about two souls finding each other against the odds and what is perceived as the accepted standard. In letting the film show off this romantic development, there is a true beauty to be found in del Toro’s staging of scenes. A couple montages create a charming familiarity. The main set pieces show the levels of creativity out there to explore based on the settings we are made used to. We have seen unique worlds created by del Toro before, but The Shape of Water finds excellent uses of familiar places such an apartment to build into the fairy tale being told.

Fitting for del Toro, however, the good times had by Elisa and the creature must be balanced by the darker side of this fairy tale. Shannon embodies evil here through intolerance and violence. His agenda to preserve specific values makes him a relevant figure. Through all his posturing there is also a watchable presence to behold. It speaks to the man’s talents as a performer, but Shannon has proven again and again his effectiveness. His lanky features and odd timing (like a younger Christopher Walken) make him just as strange as an amphibious creature with razor-sharp claws. The difference is seeing how his action and the justifications for them play out.

Not looking to simplify things, The Shape of Water is also set on approaching the other characters with endearment and respect. It is no coincidence that the two leads are incapable of speaking, while the black woman and the gay man have a majority of the dialogue. The types of voices who would usually be silenced by authority get to express themselves in ways that make them stronger. Zelda is more than just a janitor. She’s a smart friend, devoted wife and her own kind of authority figure. Giles shares a sense of loneliness with Elisa, but finds confidence when needed and puts himself out there when he sees fit. Both Spencer and Jenkins are terrific, and the way this story folds them into everything else speaks to the film’s effectiveness.

With this setting, del Toro also gets to have a lot of fun building his world. He’s handled films set all over time, so it’s not surprising to see just how great his take on the Cold War is, but there are times when The Shape of Water practically feels like a mad scientist making all the right connections to find success. Stuhlbarg’s character could even be seen as a del Toro surrogate, given the empathy he has for the creature, while also being an outsider with no intentions of putting violence over the beauty of creation.

With such an elegant handle on all the moving pieces, it’s worth noting the excellent cinematography by Dan Lausten, another fantastic score by Alexandre Desplat and hats off to everyone else involved. In designing a film that speaks to so much that is loved about cinema, The Shape of Water really does feel like a film capturing a lot within a story that has a relatively small scope. That should be why it’s worth acknowledging the energy put in by all.

The Shape of Water is the rare film that feels like all of its aspects have stemmed from an auteur in a near-perfect manner. It helps that del Toro’s ability to bring his imagination to life as well as successfully collaborate with many yields such terrific results. That’s only made better by a story that truly resonates in so many ways. There’s a deep romantic drama unfolding in front of us, but it’s also this weird, serio-comic fairy tale involving a movie monster. With the combined efforts of incredibly skilled filmmakers and excellent performances all-around, it’s also one of 2017’s bests and my personal favorite.

 

Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail: Part of the wonder that comes from this film has to do with del Toro’s ability to craft such a magical film on a $20 million budget. Thanks to excellent production design, makeup work, some minor CG tinkering and beautiful cinematography, The Shape of Water looked fantastic in theaters and continues to impress on Blu-ray. There is such a great level of detail to be found in the variety of worlds we visit in this film. From the labs to the apartments, you can take in all the work that went into creating a specific modern design for all that we come across.

Depth: Plenty of help in recognizing the level of depth comes from the excellent production design once again. An apartment hallway and the long lab hallways, in particular, do a fine job of letting one see everything presented and not have any element feel flat. A few scenes in the rain also do a great job of showing off how spacing really shows.

Black Levels: Black levels are deep and inky. There are lots of darkly lit scenes, nighttime sequences and shadowy moments. The contrast is great, and there is no instance of crush to be concerned with.

Color Reproduction: The Shape of Water does a wonderful with color. Different colors and tones are applied to different characters, and that comes through here. Green is a big deal with the labs and Shannon’s character, for example. The apartment is a very warm environment. We see all of this register cleanly. There no issue with the transfer in this regard.

Flesh Tones: Facial textures register properly throughout. And, while not real flesh, the design of the creature plays well on Blu-ray, further emphasizing how great character detail looks on this transfer.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

 

Audio:

Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English Descriptive Audio 5.1, Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Dynamics: The opening scene comes at you with the beautiful, Oscar-winning score by Desplat, and the film doesn’t let up when it comes to the audio. All the audio elements play terrifically throughout the film, whether it’s the score, dialogue or sound effects. It registers cleanly through a home theater setup and never has a misstep.

Low-Frequency Extension: Thanks to the sounds of thunder, gunshots and other big moments, you get some solid uses of the LFE channel here.

Surround Sound Presentation: Good work done here to balance what is being presented. The center channel does the majority of the work, but the front speakers have plenty to add, along with some ambient sounds registering well with the rear. It’s a well-balanced mix for sure.

Dialogue Reproduction: Every man, woman, and fish creature is heard loud and clear.

 

Extras:

There’s a nice collection of extras here, but let’s be real, I can’t imagine this being the last time we see a Blu-ray release for the Best Picture winner. Criterion is a fan of del Toro, and the director loves putting together great commentaries and extras for his films. The features here are all nice EPK-type stuff, but surely we’ll get more in the future.

Features Include:

  • A Fairy Tale For Troubled Times (HD) – A 4-part behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, featuring interviews with the cast and crew. Divided into sections that dissect what went into the making of The Shape of Water, this is a worthwhile look at how it all came together.
    • Love In An Age of War (HD, 5:49)
    • Summoning A Water God (HD, 9:58)
    • Shape, Form, and Function (HD, 9:41)
    • Aquatic Melodies (HD, 3:25)
  • Anatomy of a Scene: Prologue (HD, 3:14) – A look at how the opening sequence of the film was assembled. Del Toro provides a good explanation for why this was essential to the story and what it took to make it work.
  • Anatomy of a Scene: The Dance (HD, 4:50) – A look at another key sequence in the film, with del Toro explaining why this was important for both characters.
  • Shaping the Waves: A Conversation with James Jean (HD, 5:05) – This featurette focuses on the man behind the images, specifically the illustrated poster, created for this film.
  • Guillermo del Toro’s Master Class (HD, 13:27) – Guillermo del Toro hosts a discussion of the film, with focus on the technical design. He is joined by some of his team and an audience happily on hand to listen.
  • Theatrical Trailers (HD)
  • Sneak Peaks (HD)
  • DVD Copy of the Film
  • Digital HD Copy of the Film

 

Summary:

Something great about The Shape of Water is looking at its status as a Best Picture winner and noting how it was the safe bet to pick as a winner. Given that this is a fantastical sci-fi horror romance about a woman falling in love with a monster, things have certainly changed if The Shape of Water was the likely winner of an Academy Award for Best Picture. I’m not alone in my love of this film and am very happy it was del Toro’s year to shine. Additionally, the Blu-ray looks and sounds fantastic. While I expect another edition to come along at some point, there are still enough extras to make this package worthwhile. Still, you get a great film no matter what here.

 

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

1 Response to “The Shape of Water (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Gerard Iribe

    I want further excursions into the Bleak House. 😉