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Thread: Deep Six This One!

  1. #1
    Inexplicably Undiscovered
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    Jun 2007
    next door to the lady in the vinegar bottle
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    Deep Six This One!

    This weekend the 2017 movie which won four Academy Awards including the one formerly called “Best Picture” premiered on HBO. Well, either I’m getting really, really old or totally out of it, but I think The Shape of Water is all wet.

    This latest offering from director Guillermo Del Toro doesn’t seem to capture the imaginative heights and historical resonance that Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) manages to do. While wading into dark waters, the earlier film never sheds its sense of childlike wonder, starkly contrasting with this latter movie, which thrashes around in the shallows, never anchoring upon a recognizable tone: thriller, horror, satire, drama –-what?

    The effect is one of pure Camp –and not because a gay character plays the caring neighbor of the female lead, Eliza, played by Sally Hawkins. If anything, Richard Jenkins's down-on-his-luck illustrator , along with Eliza’s co-worker, Octavia Spencer, are the only relatable humans in the entire movie. No, the campiness is flamboyant because none of the characters seems to acknowledge the downright silliness of the situation – a preposterous premise in which a creature--half amphibian, half human --is transported from a South American jungle to a top secret government facility. Oh what fun a comic master, say Mel Brooks in the original Producers, mode could have had with that plot!

    This is not to say the movie is screamingly funny, but, alas, the comedy is completely unintentional. If I hadn’t known about the Oscar nods , I would have thought I was watching an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Or maybe a sequel to the 2018 version of Fahrenheit 451, since we see Michael Shannon once again playing a hard-butted, tightly-wound authoritarian figure.

    Though set in Baltimore, the philosophy is pure Hollywood. The movie wastes no opportunity for drippy sentimentality, milking Eliza’s disability for all that it’s worth. Not to mention the creepy love story between Eliza and the creature for those who like to have their ick reflex teased. And if you like James Bond-type intrigue, you got it with a half-baked subplot about a Soviet double agent.

    For an expensive production, the gaffes are glaring, even to someone who doesn’t work in the Industry, such as yours fooly . The movie is supposedly set in the full Cold War year of 1962, yet World War II posters cover the locker room walls. The tv flashes patronizing nods to Civil Rights protests, but to make the movie relevant to today’s “Me, Too,” movement, there’s a gratuitous sexual harassment scene. (Gee, Michael, hate to be the one to break this to you, but she prefers the lizard man over you.)

    A pet peeve of mine is that production designers spend millions to ascertain that costumes, cars, and props accurately reflect the era, but today’s scripts are infiltrated by linguistic anachronisms– idioms that are common today and not used in the specific era in the film. For instance, a general uses the term “at the end of the day” and refers to “alternate universes.” Nobody said anything like that in 1962. (I know. I was there.)

    And I haven’t even mentioned what the editors of Little Magazines would scribble on rejection slips returned to aspiring writers –“Your material is derivative.” Which is a nice way of saying “rip off.” This movie is shameless in its skimming everything from The Creature from the Black Lagoon to The Effect of Gamma Rays on the Man-in-the Moon Marigolds. And speaking of other SF fare, last spring Siren, the relatively low-budget series about mermaids on the Freeform network had better production values –and more heart.

    So, if you’ve got access to HBO, watch Succession or Funny People or Insecure. But in my ever increasingly humble opinion, send The Shape of Water out to sea.

  2. #2
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Jan 2007
    Eugene, OR
    It does seem strange that such a slight send-off won the Academy award. Here's what I wrote about it (in the "movies" thread) before it won:

    "The Shape of Water" -- Guillermo del Toro's science fiction fantasy is good fun. It's set during the cold war and involves Russian spies, CIA heavies, and a strange creature from the amazon who resembles a man wearing a scuba wetsuit and mask. Sally Hawkins, a mute janitor at a D.C. secret military facility, foils the evil U.S. military's plans to dissect the creature, with the aid of a Russian spy. This film is more of a send-up of 1950s sci-fi movies than anything else, but it's entertaining.
    Obviously, I agreed with most of what you wrote about the movie (although I enjoyed the movie). I didn't think the humor was "unintentional". Clearly, the movie was meant to be a lampoon.

    I don't remember "Pan's Labyrinth" well enough to comment (although I saw it in the theater when it came out). I do remember I thought it was pretentious and overrated.

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