What Does Shape of Water‘s 12.8 Release Mean?

Guillermo del Toro and I did breakfast at the Hotel Majestic during the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. He was serving as a juror. While our chat was off the record, I think it’s fair to mention that he said he was tiring of making big, effects-driven movies (i.e., Pacific Rim) and that he wanted to tone it down and go in a more personal vein. I took that to mean he wanted to make more films in the vein of Pans’ Labrynth, The Devil’s Backbone, Chronos, Mama, The Orphanage, etc. (The last two he produced but didn’t direct.)

I’ve been presuming all along that The Shape of Water, a period fantasy-adventure which he directed and co-wrote, would be one of these. But will it be? The fact that Fox Searchlight has announced a 12.8 release date indicates a belief in its award-season potential. Or does a December release mean all that much when we’re talking about GDT’s fantastical realm? I’m saying in the most respectful and laudatory terms that GDT doesn’t do “Oscar friendly” as a rule. I mean that as high praise.**

Logline: “An other-worldly story, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1963. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of silence and isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment.”

Fair question: We are told over and over in Hidden Figures, which is set in 1961 and ’62, that brilliant, go-getter African-American female mathematicians (Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae) encountered racial resistance and considerable stress when it came to being valued and properly titled for their work. Not as high-level technicians, remember, but in a second- or third-tier capacity as math whizzes. But in The Shape of Water, which is set one year later, Octavia is working in a high-security government laboratory involved in a secret classified experiment. In other words, the bureaucratic government mentality that made her life difficult in ’61 and ’62 has evaporated in ’63, allowing Octavia to work at a much higher level and on a very touchy secret project. That’s progress.

** A friend writes that Pan’s Labrynth “was nominated for six Oscars and won three. It should have been a Best Picture nominee if not the winner. That’s pretty Oscar friendly if you ask me.”

My response: “Yeah, but you know what I mean. Guillermo is brilliant, world-class genius type, but he’s made more popcorn-friendly movies than any serious director I can think of. His imagination is way out there, and he has this thing about monsters, and he tends to be more into production design and comic-book elements than your average stodgy Academy member has the patience for.”

  • Patrick Murtha

    The Devil’s Backbone doesn’t get nearly enough attention. I would be happy to see del Toro working in that vicinity again.

    • AstralWeeks666

      Exactly. His best work is his early Spanish arthouse fantasy/horror material so anything that gets back to that terrority is good news. And while I wouldn’t expect people here to dig it, Del Toro’s recent Netflix kid’s cartoon series is really quite good. I’ve been watching it with my nephew and it has an 80’s Amblin film feel to it that that I find a lot more entertaining than a grown adult possibly should.

    • It’s still his best!

  • “Fair question…In other words, the bureaucratic government mentality that made her life difficult in ”61 and ’62 has more or less evaporated in ’63”

    So either a black woman has no business playing a highly-placed scientist in 1963, or else it means racism was fixed? Dude.

    Wells’s reaction if they ever make a Charles Drew biopic:

    • Aaron B

      “I get Sally Hawkins falling in love with a fish-man, but I just can’t get over how Ocatvia’s character supposedly landed this job in the 60s”

      • gruver1

        Early ’60s.

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  • SlashMC

    December releases are also picked to cash grab the holiday season movie-goers who have time to waste and money to burn….are they not?

  • Professor Wagstaff

    Studios release films during the first two weeks of December when they don’t know what to do with them (In the Heart of the Sea, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Out of the Furnace, The Tourist, Brothers).

    • RossoVeneziano

      What about Black Swan?

      • Professor Wagstaff

        Only looked at wide releases, though I suppose this could open limited.