It’s either a sign of Guillero del Toro’s genius or the lackluster slate of films (or both, of course) that Shape of Water has become the film du jour in Hollywood’s pre-Oscar hysteria.
The odd fairy tale has already racked up seven Golden Globe nominations, a raft of other nods, and it’s expected to be among the titans when the contenders for the Academy Awards are announced are announced January 23. After seeing the film’s trailer, Kevin Smith tweeted he was embarrassed to call himself a director. It even received what is surely del Toro’s proudest honor, a HollywoodBowles Oughttabe for The Most Beautiful Film of 2017.
But in all fairness (despite what President Orangutan tweets, most media prefer truth), we must admit: As beautiful and worthy as Water is, it’s still the most blatant ripoff in Oscar’s history since Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture.
That’s not to say Water doesn’t deserve the praise — or the laurels — it will inevitably garner. Being derivative doesn’t make entertainment any less worthy. If anything, it’s more remarkable, for it’s elevating a genre whose path has already been cut.
And del Toro, an avid and open nerdboy (he owns more action figures than I do, somehow), is absolutely blunt about his love of The Creature of the Black Lagoon, the 1954 film that he concedes was the inspiration for the monster in his own movie.
What he failed to mention was that its sequel the next year, The Revenge of the Creature, laid the foundation for everything else, from aesthetic to attitude.
I wouldn’t have noticed it myself, had I not been such a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the 10-year series that made fun of awful films (in some ways, the boys at MST3K were the snarky harbingers of social media).
MST3K is my Ultraman, my TV American cheese food, the crap that slops over my entertainment nachos. Confession: If given the choice between a documentary on the universe’s creation or a rerun of MST3K, I’ll often choose the latter. Frighteningly often.
And it was in that embarrassing choice the realization came. The guys were riffing on Creature one evening when two epiphanies struck:
- This actually isn’t a bad movie (it features Clint Eastwood in his big-screen debut).
- This is The Shape of Water, with but a single plot twist.
The twist, of course, is something of a whopper (spoiler alert): The creature and the beauty want to be together.
Aside from that, though, there is frightening little that separates the two movies. They monsters look near identical. The creature in both films wears an oversized, near-comical chain preventing love. Creature and beauty have the same meet-cute, through the pane glass of a makeshift aquarium, both are allegories for a Cold War paranoia.
And it’s easy to see how go del Toro got the inspiration; with a simple question of movie logic: What if King Kong and Fay Wray liked each other? We all know twas beauty that killed the beast. But what if they just wanted to get it on?
What if, indeed? Screw originality. We live in a nation that wants to reverse the old-fashioned, outdated principles of overthought and inner debate.
Long live the beautiful heist.