The Shape of Water (2017): A Transcendent Romantic Fairy Tale

   “The Shape of Water” might end up being my favorite film of the year. This is a film that is beautifully told and reminds me of “Beauty and the Beast,” meets “Amelie” but with so much more going on than either of those stories. This is a film where every character, whether minor or major matters and out of it we get a compelling love story that is so much more. This is a story about characters who aren’t given a voice (both literally and metaphorically) finding their voice and from there, a level of transcendence or change within themselves or their situation. The cast was wonderfully done and for my non-spoiler thoughts…I can’t wait to watch it again. This is easily one of Guillermo del Toro’s best work, and given that he was co-writer and co-producer as well as the director, this story was clearly his vision and it is beautiful. Seriously, check this film out if you get the chance.

The film was directed, co-wrote and co-produced Guillermo del Toro, co-written by Vanessa Taylor and co-produced with J. Miles Dale.

The story follows Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman who works at a secret government agency with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and sharing an apartment with her closeted friend Giles (Richard Jenkins). Her world is soon changed when a government agent Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings in a mysterious “asset,” a creature who changes Elisa’s life forever.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is that of the 1950’s of the United States but with fairy tale, fantasy and sci. fi. elements…both in how the story is presented and the amphibian man being so central to the plot, as well as the abilities he has. It is also a world full of twists since spies and government agents inhabit this cold world universe and the secret lab where most of the action takes place.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of this film. From Octavia Spencer’s Zelda, who is Elisa’s translator and calls out how bad their situation is (as the help no one notices or cares about them, just takes them for granted), Giles, who understands Elisa’s love for the creature and helps protect them and both rescue the creature from the lab and getting them both the docks. He is the narrator. Michael Shannon’s Colonel is unhinged and broken and is sympathetic in that, even though he never stops being a threat and monster. Elisa’s and the creature’s romance drives the story and it is awesome. I loved how confident Elisa is in her sexuality and her attachment to the creature as well as the creature’s humanity slowly being revealed as he opens up to her. Doug Jones once again owns this alien type role he is in. I can’t wait to buy this movie when it comes out.

The Soundtrack and Cinematography – The soundtrack has a fairy tale and jazz feel to it, intermixed with this dark foreboding when we are at the lab and the Colonel is on screen. The cinematography is amazing too, it reminded me of “Amelie” with the use of color contrasts but focusing in on Elisa’s perspective. Alexandre Desplat did a great job on the soundtrack and I loved Dan Laustsen’s cinematography.

The Romance – The romance is the main drive of the story and it is beautifully done. It starts with Elisa and the creature touching hands separated by glass, to her leaving him eggs, to eating in his area with him and teaching him sign language…to his rescue and eventually having to let him go as he dies not being in the salt water but has given Giles back his hair and healed a wound he caused on Giles accidentally. The romance is the core of the film and because it illustrates different aspects of the characters and the world they inhabit.

Surrealism and Fairy Tales – The Fairy Tale element is revealed most profoundly in the opening shot where Giles is giving the premise of a monster who turned two lovers’ world upside down…as we see a drowned how with Elisa floating, as if sleeping in the water. There is other imagery like this that gives the film a surrealist element and from that the fairy tale elements of the love story are given more power in their presentation. I love stories like this (“One-Hundred Years of Solitude, most Haruki Murakami, etc.) and this is one of the best presentations of this type of story.

Fighting Adversity and the Voice of the Voiceless – This is a film about giving voice to the voiceless in both the literal sense (our heroes being a mute and an amphibian creature who cannot speak), Zelda, who is black lady with an oppressive husband and Giles being in the closet and kept out from the wealth he once bad before as the marketing world just sees him as a has been. Each of them are trapped (the monster) or oppressed in different ways in a society that ignores them and it is the rescuing and finally freeing of the monster that Zelda finally speaks up against her husband and calls the cops on the Colonel, Giles fights and defends the monster and Elisa and Elisa transcends as she sacrifices herself to save the creature and her cuts she received as a baby are turned into gills, she is reborn by the creature and free to be with the creature, something that would have never been possible before. It is also her drive that helps the others to change their lives too, as she is directly fighting to system by freeing their “asset.”

Okay: First Act Goes a Little Long – The only real criticism I could find with the film is the first third of the film does go on a little long, but it picks up the moment the rescue plan is put into action by Elisa and after that, it doesn’t stop…and it does a good job setting up the world so I can’t put it is a con.

I highly recommend “The Shape of Water.” This film is going to make my Top 5 films of 2017 and if you are looking for a film where you will notice more each time around, as well simply enjoying a beautiful fairy tale that gives voice to the voiceless and has wonderfully compelling characters, who each get full arcs. I cared about where each their arcs were going, even the villain as no one was as simple as they first appeared to be. The film was all about layers and reveals, both in the nature of the characters and the creature and the payoff of their arcs. Check this film out, if you haven’t yet. Guillermo del Toro has done it again and I can’t wait to see what masterpiece he makes next.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 4, Episodes 5-6 – “Adventures with Droids Arc” – R2 and C-3PO Fairy Tale Adventures

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    These two episodes were a fun adventure that played tribute to a lot of fairy tale tropes and R2 and C-3PO do have great chemistry together which creates a great dynamic. I honestly didn’t expect to like these episodes but was pleasantly surprised when I did.

     “Mercy Mission” was directed by Danny Keller and written by Bonnie Clark. “Nomad Droids” was directed by Steward Lee and written by Steve Mitchell and Craig Van Sickle.

    The story begins with R2 and C-3PO being sent on an aid mission to Aleena and things soon get crazy as they discover a world beneath the ground. After solving the issues on this world their ship is attacked by Grievous which leads to them crashing on further world as their power dies.

The Pros: The Aleena Arc – The Aleena arc was cool. The little Aleenas had sharp teeth and worshiped the fairy like creatures who were causing earthquakes to get rid of the air above that was killing them. The arc is complete when R2 and C-3PO close the manhole.

Patitite Pattuna – This arc was like “Gulliver’s Travels” as we have the droids captured by little people and after they accidentally kill the little people’s corrupt leader bring Democracy to them which ends in chaos as they leave. It’s really funny as they worship their leader but when he is killed they celebrate. The species is very passionate and changes their mind on things quickly.

R2-D2 and C-3PO – R2 is enjoying the adventures but C-3PO is the one who listens to others. This creates a great dynamic in the situations where R2 is trolling with C-3PO tries to talk them out of the situation. These two went great together and I didn’t expect them to carry this arc.

Okay: The Pirates and Hidden Droids – There are two other arcs that were okay. The Pirates arc where they were having the droids fight in arenas. This ended with the robots being insinerated by the Separatists and R2 and C-3PO just escaping when the Republic attacks and the Hidden Droids where Droids were manipulating the locals to create a being that looked like a God and R2 reveals them. This could have been a lot better but was still decent.

The Cons: General Grievous – He attacks the Pirate ship for target practice and loses once more to the Republic. Another wasted day with the General. I should create a section for every time Grievous fails as an antagonist.

If you are looking for a fun adventure, you will probably enjoy this arc. R2 and C-3PO have great chemistry and the little fairy tale situations make for some great moments and some really creative art done by the graphics team. I’d recommend these episodes for sure.

Final Score: 7 / 10

Princess Mononoke (1997): A Fairy Tale about Humanity and Nature

Princess Mononoke
Princess Mononoke

“He is life itself. He isn’t dead, San. He is here with us now, telling us, it’s time for both of us to live.”

-Prince Ashitaka “Princess Mononoke”

First, I have to admit that Hayao Miyazaki is one of my favorite directors. He tends to choose great themes for his movies that always answer the “So what?” Question as well as being beautifully animated with fully realized characters. This one is truly one of his classics for a reason. Now to go into the reasons why.

Pros – The characters are all fully realized…even those who would be viewed as Antagonists like the leader of Irontown, the Hunter or the Wolves. All of them have motivations that are realistic and are following the basic tenant of survival while dealing with their own flaws of character.

Another pro is the animation which is flawless and beautiful. It is fairy tale like in how surreal it is which plays into the narrator’s introduction which says this is a world of Gods and Demons living with man. It is a mythical place and the animation style captures it perfectly.

The story is another pro, the dialogue is real and everything that happens has consequences. There is no magic reset button and all characters who do not perish grow from the events they experienced. It also turns a romance trope of the main protagonists must hook up on it’s head. It shows that you can be of opposite genders, be attracted to one another and still remain friends without it becoming romantic. The message the story tells is also one that is still real today. If we destroy the Earth we will destroy ourselves. We need it to live and without it we will be destroyed.

Okay – The soundtrack. I thought “Spirited Away” and “Porco Rosso” (the other Miyazaki films I’ve watched, had better soundtracks. The soundtrack worked, it just wasn’t memorable, which is why it is in the okay area.

Con – The story actually. The movie starts out pretty slow and I found myself wishing Miyazaki had made this a mini-series. There are so many different characters and factions that even though they were explored as well as they could be with the time restraints of a film, were not explored enough. I wanted to see more of the politics of Irontown vs The Emperor and the how the factions of spirits interacted with one another and the relationship between forests and Mononoke’s adopted family vs biological family, and what about the Prince’s village…they were destroyed by the Emperor in the past but survived? Tell me more. This is the only con I really found since both the Prince and Princess save one another throughout the film. It isn’t sexist and treats all the characters with respect.

I would highly recommend this film. I give a 8.75 / 10. Not my favorite Miyazaki film, but definitely one of my favorite films after today.