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Sexual Heal… err, Fishing

Beauty and the Beast, the bones on which Shape of Water sits, never looked beyond the fairy tale world. By comparison, Shape of Water takes a snapshot of a country amid chaotic, uncomfortable change. It so happens to have fish romance in the center.

The villain in Shape of Water is a deeply conservative, narcissistic, biblical-inclined American agent. Michael Shannon’s mean streak invokes fear in those around him. He’s domineering and controlling. He regularly shocks a newly discovered amphibian creature with a cattle prod.

Around Shannon is some of the worst of American ideals at the beginning of the ’60s. Pre-Civil Rights racial bigotry filters into the story. The soft-hearted artist played by Richard Jenkins suppresses his feelings for a male diner attendant. Women mop floors or clack typewriters. Anyone other than a paranoid, nationalistic male is oppressed. The captured fish man doesn’t stand a chance, and encapsulates the world around him as chains keep him in a tank.

It’s a rare thrill to see a director have such a complete touch on their work

Shape of Water is a romance story. A weird one, certainly. That’s writer/director Guillermo del Toro showing through. It’s a rare thrill to see a director have a complete touch on their work. Shape of Water beams with del Toro’s exotic eye. Fantasy production design favors the decorative. Angular, single point cinematography showcases an otherworldly eye. The fish man glows, beautifully, while recalling the greatness of classic Universal Studios horror.

Much as Shape of Water is about love – in all ways – it’s also a romance of old Hollywood. Not only Universal, but a slew of MGM musicals and silent film performances. Sally Hawkins’ Elisa Esposito lives above a fetching widescreen cinema, beaming sword & sandal epics from its projector. Above, the TV pulls in classics of the ’30s and ’40s, a constant marathon of grand ol’ Hollywood.

The connection isn’t subtle. Despite the digital tinkering evident in all modern films, Shape of Water is faultless in recapturing the tone and feel of classic American filmmaking. It’s delightful, with a touch of realized reality – uncensored and freeing. Not for exploitation, but purpose. Nudity is used to show openness and language to instill raw anger.

For a film about romancing an aquatic missing link, there’s enormous subtly to Shape of Water’s composition. Sound creates continuity, sometimes with a wink and a laugh. Shape of Water’s deserves to be studied. The effort to give Shape of Water an immediate sense of place and tone is beyond textbook – it rewrites that text. The organically-led tale uses the best of screen fantasy to build an emotional bond, party with Sally Hawkins’ expressive mute act, and more so with the audience locking their eyes onto this luxurious story.

Video (4K UHD)

Stunning with an example of perfect black levels rarely seen to this consistency, Shape of Water showcases an intense display of depth. There is crush, part of the cinematography. It’s minor though, and compared to the overwhelming true black, worth a bit of loss.

This is a dark film, contained to underlit apartments and a dreary government facility. The impact of HDR is felt in those shadows discussed above, and with a mild brightness from ceiling lights. A few moments of daylight exteriors pounce on the chance to deliver heavy contrast. An old-style theater display bursts from the screen when the bulbs light up.

From a 2K source, Shape of Water still offers grand detail. Close-ups resolve refined definition. The creature suit worn by Doug Jones holds up under the additional resolution of UHD, with exquisite sculpting and textural qualities.

Shape of Water is held to aquatic-like hues, blues and teals in general. Flesh tones however survive the color grading process though, stout and natural against the purposefully skewed hues. It’s gorgeous in presentation despite the restrictions, offering a fantastic style.

Video (Blu-ray)

Wonderfully clear digital cinematography highlights this disc. Fox’s transfer installs no noise or other artifacts into the presentation, maintaining the crystalline clarity. That helps in presenting fine detail with bountiful texture.

Black crush is a definite concern. Shadows regularly smush characters into the shadows, with a heavy casualty to detail. That hurts. At least contrast is in control. Color too is pleasantly skewed, even with a touch of paleness in flesh tones.


DTS-HD 5.1 will suffice for this quiet story. Moments of separation fill the front soundstage rather than the rears. TVs hosting old musicals sweep through the soundfield with the camera movement. Chains holding the amphibian man clank as he moves about. Water of course splashes around.

Moments that need the surrounds use them for ambiance. Rain falls heavily into the positional channels and the soft score will perk up and spread around. A few moments of LFE activity pop up. They’re general accentuation of action and nothing of consequence. It’s a fine supporting mix.


A Fairy Tale for Troubled Times opens the bonus menu. This four-part, 29-minute peek into the production is typical and dry, with a handful of interesting tidbits. Two scene breakdowns offer del Toro’s commentary. Shaping the Waves look at James Jean’s artwork, an important piece of the film. That’s five minutes.

The best bit however is del Toro’s Master Class, a deep 13-minute conversation at a Shape of Water screening. It’s a shame this is edited down; the chat is insightful and full.

  • Video (4K UHD)
  • Video (Blu-ray)
  • Audio
  • Extras


Sally Hawkins’ mute performance is fantastic, elevating Shape of Water’s near perfect ’60s fairy tale flush with America’s turbulence.

User Review
4 (1 vote)

The 15 unaltered images below represent the Blu-ray. For an additional 25 Shape of Water uncompressed screenshots, early access to all screens (plus the 10,000+ already in our library), exclusive 4K UHD reviews, and more, support us on Patreon.

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