By Megan Bianco
As with most of his films, Guillermo Del Toro’s acclimed The Shape of Water was a long time coming and equally long anticipated by his fans. It currently has the most nominations for this year’s Oscars, and already a few wins in other awards contests. But when audiences aren’t marveling over the Old Hollywood art direction, or the sea creature’s special effects, or the cinematography, they’re also noticing that the plot is a bit…familiar.
This is pretty common with very popular films. Ideas are cheap and anyone can come up with a boy-meets-girl plot or good-versus-evil story. Last year, movie fans saw the same thing with the pastiche La La Land (2016) being compared to past musicals like Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and New York, New York (1977). And now people are making quite a few comparisons to The Shape of Water, which is about a mute female janitor (Sally Hawkins) who forms a bond with a sea creature captured by the government and housed in the building she cleans. (Forewarning to readers who haven’t seen the film yet, there will be a few spoilers by the end of this piece.)
The most talked about similarities to Water are the 1969 short story Let Me Hear You Whisper by Paul Zindel, the short film The Space Between Us (2015), and the 1928 novel Amphibian Man by Alexander Belyaev. Personally, I kept seeing similarities to Beauty & the Beast (1991) and E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).
The female human paired with a male fantasy creature is taken right from the original fairy tale. Moreover, Water’s main villain, played by Michael Shannon, seems almost a psychotic take on Gaston from the Disney musical, with the character wanting to harm the sea creature and also feeling attracted to the female lead. The E.T. elements are that the sea creature has the ability to heal wounds or fix physical imperfections, much like the friendly alien in the sci-fi family movie. And then there’s the entire last act of each film in which the lead and friends try to rescue and save the creatures from evil government agents.
So with all the similarities and homages running through Del Toro’s feature, is it still good enough to be unique? Well, with the film still in the top 10 at the box office almost two months into its release, getting decent reviews, and of course all of those Oscar nominations, I think the answer is clear. The film’s visual spectacle, if not its less-than- original premise, has definitely made an impact on cinema.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.