DirectorGuillermo del Toro
Release Date(s)2017 (March 13, 2018)
Studio(s)TSG/Double Dare/Fox Searchlight (20th Century Fox)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C+
Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a simple soul. Mute from childhood, she dreams of dancing and water. Elisa works as a cleaning woman with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) in top-secret government lab during the Cold War. At night, she comes home and cooks for her neighbor and fellow romantic, Giles (Richard Jenkins), an out of work advertising illustrator. Once day, a military colonel named Strickland (Michael Shannon) arrives in the lab with a dangerous and top-secret asset, a strange “amphibian man” (Doug Jones) kept in a tank. But as the lab’s scientists, including Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), begin to study the creature’s biology to gain a lead in their space race with the Soviets, Elisa discovers that it’s a smart and gentle being. She starts to share her food and music with the creature in secret… and soon falls in love.
That The Shape of Water was even made and released by a major Hollywood studio feels like a minor miracle. The fact that it won Best Picture in last year’s Academy Awards is an even more unlikely outcome. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, this is a dark and evocative fairy tale romance that updates the classic Beauty and the Beast story by way of Creature from the Black Lagoon. The cast is as remarkable as it is unexpected. Hawkins and Jones give performances that mirror one another in both awkwardness and innocence. Shannon is tightly-wound and coldly creepy in his precision. Spencer grounds the story with lovely frankness and energy, while Jenkins embodies the charm and sadness of dreams unfulfilled, and Stuhlbarg adds a strangely noble purity of purpose. It’s a genuinely eclectic and yet somehow perfect ensemble.
To be sure, The Shape of Water is an artifice that’s never going to have a universal appeal, but it’s an exquisitely crafted one that is full of heart, depth, and humanity. As fans will know, del Toro is an artist first and foremost, one who sweats every aspect of his films. You see it in many things here, little touches that include a man with a half-eaten birthday cake sitting at a bus stop, the precision cut of the colonel’s suit, and the way raindrops run towards Elisa on window glass. From the production design, to the costumes, and even his careful use of color and light, del Toro’s telling his story on multiple levels at once. Every detail is impeccable; together, they breathe life into a tale of otherwise invisible people conspiring to challenge authority for a good cause. To the extent that this film has a flaw, it would be that it’s a bit too predictable. But even if the outcome is somewhat obvious, the journey getting to it is a delight.
The Shape of Water was shot digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (at 2.8 and 3.4K) using ARRI Alexa cameras and was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate. It’s been upsampled and given an HDR10 color grade for its release on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, which presents the film in its 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Overall image detail is very good – not quite as defined as you’ll see on the best examples of this format, but that’s okay because the film’s liberal use of on-set atmospherics softens it a bit anyway. Still, The Shape of Water is all about textures and those shine here, remaining crisp on the subject of each shot, while the extreme foreground and backgrounds fall just a bit out of focus to create lovely depth in the image. Every portion of the frame is alive with subtle nuances in fabrics, paints, weathering, and set decoration, all of it specific and hand-crafted. The HDR10 grade really enhances the effect, with very deep shadows, boldly-bright highlights, and rich, painterly tones visible in every scene. Given the strong role that color plays in all of del Toro’s work, it would be hard to imagine a film that benefits more greatly from High Dynamic Range than this one. This is a striking and lovely visual presentation, just as it should be.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is included in a lossless English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix of fine clarity and quality. The sound field is lush and smooth, with a medium-wide soundstage, satisfying bass, and impressive atmospherics. There’s a somewhat rich and thick quality to the sound here that matches the visual style perfectly. Composer Alexandre Desplat delivers one of his most interesting scores here, adding flowing and evocative tones to the sonic experience with music that’s both vintage and timeless at once. You also get English 5.1 Descriptive Audio, as well as Spanish, Czech, and Polish 5.1 Dolby Digital and French, Castilian Spanish, German, and Italian 5.1 DTS. Optional subtitles include English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Latin Spanish, French, Castilian Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Czech, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, and Polish.
There are no extras on the 4K Ultra HD disc itself, but the package also includes the film in 1080p HD on Blu-ray, a disc that adds the following bonus features (all in HD):
- A Fairy Tale for Trouble Times (in 4 parts – 28:55 in all)
- Anatomy of a Scene: Prologue (3:14)
- Anatomy of a Scene: The Dance (4:50)
- Shaping the Waves: A Conversation with James Jean (5:05)
- Guillermo del Toro’s Master Class (13:27)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:32)
- Red Band Trailer (2:03)
- Red Band Trailer 2 (2:19)
This may not seem like a lot of material, but it’s still good and strongly revealing of del Toro’s process and craftsmanship. The most irritating note here is that English subtitles automatically come on for some of these extras by default. Presumably, the studio felt that mainstream audiences wouldn’t be able to understand del Toro when he’s speaking. Fortunately, you can turn these off easily enough. The package also includes a Digital Copy code on a paper insert.
Despite its many accolades, The Shape of Water isn’t del Toro’s best film; that honor still lies with Pan’s Labyrinth. But its charms are many and, if you’re open to them, you might be surprised by just how deeply affecting they can be. Fox’s 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray adds to the viewing experience significantly with High Dynamic Range that greatly enhances the visuals. If you love The Shape of Water, 4K is without question the best way to see it.
- Bill Hunt