Updated: Apr 17, 2018
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW
“THE SHAPE OF WATER”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD copy; 2017, R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and profanity; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: Multi-part making-of documentary
FROM THE opening moments of “The Shape of Water,” viewers are transported into another realm.
Producer/writer/director Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Chronos”) created this world – with equal parts darkness and light, goodness and evil, magic and realism – and it never disappoints.
Nominated for 13 Academy Awards, the film won four, including two biggies: Best Picture and Director, as well as Original Score, and Production Design.
The story, set in the early 1960s, is about Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a woman who can hear but not speak, who works as a cleaner in a dreary covert government laboratory. In one of the labs, Elisa sees and is fascinated by a newly discovered creature (a.k.a. “the asset”), which transforms her bleak life into one of excitement and romance.
The asset is an amphibious manlike being (Doug Jones), found and captured in the waters of South America, where he had been revered as a god. The creature was discovered by Col. Strickland (a deliciously nefarious Michael Shannon), who is determined to vivisect it, so as to glean information that might help America in their space race with the Soviets.
Elisa secretly develops a rapport with the creature and, with the help of her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and Giles (Richard Jenkins), her gay artist friend who lives in the adjoining apartment, hatches a plan to save the captive and release him into the ocean. A scientist named Dr. Hofstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) also wants the creature kept alive, but his motivation has to do with his true identity as a Russian agent. Hawkins, Spencer and Jenkins all received Academy Award nominations for their performance.
In many ways, “The Shape of Water” conforms to a tradition of classic monster movies, in which the “creature” is actually innocent and good, threatened by humans who are revealed to be the true monsters. But del Toro takes it much further, making it a work of art, as well as a touching, sensual love story. In his wonderment-filled, but at times nightmarish vision, he imbues every element with meaning, such as the crumbling, velvet-lined movie palace underneath Elisa and Giles’ apartments. With that, del Toro suggests a nostalgia for the time when movies had the power to completely envelop and captivate an audience – something he has brilliantly achieved.
Captured on 3.4K digital cameras (1.85:1 aspect ratio) mastered in 2K, del Toro and Oscar-nominated Danish cinematographer Dan Laustsen painted this stunning tale with a full spectrum of green, including lights, costumes, props. Occasional warm tones create an astonishingly rich visual palette. HDR contrast tones provide more depth, while the blacks are deeper, filmed mostly at night and in the confines of the secret lab.
The 4K sharpness and clarity are evident in the lettering of the opening credits lettering, the detail in facial closes ups, and del Toro’s trademark wide angle photography. What a beautiful painterly world del Toro has created.
The 4K and Blu-ray both include a standard DTS-HD six-channel soundtrack, encircling theater rooms from front to back with sound effects to the wonderful Oscar-winning score from Alexandre Desplat (his ninth nomination, now a win). Orchestral music is emotional, yet restrained using flutes to exemplify the sound of water. It projects the mood of 1960s scores from Bernard Herrmann and Henry Mancini.
The disc includes an interesting “master class” for film technicians conducted by del Toro; an interview with an artist who designed alternative posters for the film; and two “Anatomy of a Scene” featurettes.
The multi-part documentary, “A Fairy Tale for Troubled Times,” is quite comprehensive. Writer/director del Toro, along with members of the cast and crew, share their experiences and impressions. Spencer calls del Toro an “alchemist who makes everyday things seem other-worldly.” She says the film is about “the invisible people” and, like all of del Toro’s work, has “heart and morality.”
Del Toro talks about the U.S. in the early ‘60s, when there was a lot of “overt hate and racism … and everyone was obsessed with the future.” He explains the evolution of the merman, which began with his detailed drawings. He used his own money to have prototypes made by the best artisans in the business.
Jones, who plays the creature, calls it “handsome, in a fish-like way,” and describes being made up for the role, which took 2 1/2 hours. So that Jones’ makeup and costume didn’t become too weighty, they were enhanced with digital effects. The costume was like a sponge, however, and became very heavy when wet, making it extremely difficult for Jones to get out of the water. He praises del Toro’s “great notes” for his portrayal of the creature, which the director called “part Silver Surfer, part matador.” Says Jones of del Toro, “He can make immortal things happen on film.”
The production designer talks about the set for Elisa’s apartment, which has a theme of water and contains a mural based on Hokusai’s iconic “Wave” woodcut. The mural was rendered virtually invisible by over-layers of texture and paint. Only a “memory of it” remained, notes Hawkins.
Composer Desplat says he wanted audiences to “feel water flowing” during the film, via his score. Adds del Toro, Desplat “understands the essence, the soul, of the movie,” with music that “never underscores, always reveals.”
- Peggy Earle