- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Guillermo del Toro’s mature fairytale debuts in ultra-high definition to give movie lovers a chance to relive his Academy Award-winning masterpiece in The Shape of Water (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, rated R, 123 minutes, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, $39.99).

This slightly macabre romance set in Baltimore, right in the middle of the space race and cold war, just won best picture, best director, best production design and best original score.

In the tale, viewers learn about a mute and average fair maiden named Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) working an overnight cleaning shift at a government research facility.

She encounters an intelligent amphibious humanoid creature (Doug Jones in the make-up) nicknamed the “asset” that is kept prisoner and mistreated by the corrupt military official Col. Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon).

Both Elisa and the asset bond with one another. After witnessing moronic government officials torturing it into submission as well as preparing for its demise, she hatches a daring plan for her new fishy friend to escape.

Mr. del Toro embraces his love for classic monster movies while offering a sympathetic version of “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” that’s sure to tug at a heartstring with viewers.

Performances shine throughout, led by Miss Hawkins, Mr. Jones and Mr. Shannon (acting as the real monster). They get ample support from Michael Stuhlbarg as a devoted scientist, Octavia Spencer as Elisa’s co-worker and Richard Jenkins as her helpful neighbor.

It’s worth mentioning that fans of Mr. del Toro’s work will find the gill man oddly similar to Abe Sapien, a character he brought to the silver screen during his pair of “Hellboy” films. Those fondly remembering Abe might even consider “The Shape of Water” a bit of an origin story for the paranormal investigator.

Viewers should also note that the “R” rating denotes nudity and a few strange sexual encounters during the film make it not appropriate for younger viewers, no matter how much they whine about wanting to see this really cool sea creature.

4K UHD in action: Mr. del Toro with help from his creative team, especially effects and production design artisans and “Crimson Peak” cinematographer Dan Laustsen, paints a cinematic masterwork filled with swirling camera movements.

The director’s work is worthy of repeated inspection by home theater viewers due to a richly saturated full-screen presentation and 2160p, upscaled visuals derived from the 2K-source material.

Notable is the obsessive aqua-green color scheme awash over the entire production. The high dynamic range enhancements allows viewers to experience nearly every shade of the emerald color ever invented as seen in such items as florescent lighting, key lime pie, cleaning outfits, lettuce, chalkboard, a polished teal Cadillac, a tweed coat, timecards and even translucent-green dessert gelatin.

For 2160p detail, one need only embrace the marvelous, eye-catching design of the sea creature with its moist, scaly skin, veined musculature, slowly opening gills, translucent dorsal fins and hand webbing and, stunning every time seen, its skin that will occasionally illuminate with blue stripes.

The overall visual designs culminated for me in two segments highlighted by a nude Elisa and her pal submerged in a bathroom filled with water and the creature looking though a rain-battered window.

And, by all means turn up the sound system to appreciate the DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track and really enjoy Alexandre Desplat’s Academy Award-winning score.

Best extras: Sans a commentary track from the director, viewers must move to the Blu-ray version of the film to first embrace 13 minutes of the director addressing moviemakers at the Zanuck Theater in Los Angeles.

He dives into the production weeds with help from his key creative team including Mr. Laustsen, production designer Paul Austerberry and visual effects maestro Dennis Berardi.

Suffice it to report, I could have used more from the director and his pals as they discuss what Mr. del Toro calls the Michelangelo’s David of creatures.

Next, viewers can learn more about the film through a four-part, 28-minute overview that works best when Mr. del Toro speaks about his film and creature. It’s not so informative when cast and crew keep gushing about the director.

It’s interesting to learn that he financed the design of the creature himself, used sets from the television show “The Strain,” and that he purposely sprinkled red into the film’s color pallet at key times to denote passion.

Also worth watching is Mr. del Toro briefly offering his motivations as he deconstructs two scenes, the prologue and an unusual dance number near the end of the film.

Listening to the man speak throughout reveals Mr. del Toro’s meticulous creativity for detail and makes him what I consider a gift to modern-day cinema.

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