Is Guillermo Del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” a ripoff of this award-winning student film?

This won’t be adjudicated here, unless the screenwriters want to fess up in the comments. Or make a blanket denial.

And it might not ever go before the Writers Guild of America or the courts. Even if it made that far, who’s to say that the striking similarities between two films, books, etc. aren’t just a coincidence? There are only so many ideas in fiction, and only so many variations on any given plot, and as few as seven (and as many as 36) basic plots.

Two films show up at Sundance, one about a TV news crew that goes missing, another about student filmmakers who disappear in the woods of the Blair Witch? It happens.

So unless you’ve caught Jim Jarmusch red-handed stealing your script for “Broken Flowers,” or you’re Art Buchwald, willing to go to court to sue Paramount and Eddie Murphy for “Coming to America,” well…

But with all the over-heated awards buzz for Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” the video below has been making the rounds. You don’t have to see “Water” to realize the startling similarities (just watch the trailer) to make the connection that at the very least, they’re movies operating from the same font of inspiration.

A romance spun off “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.”

“The Space Between Us” (nothing in common with the lame teen romance of last spring with that title) is a widely-circulated 2015 student film from The Netherlands. It was actually released in June of 2015, but had been festivaled, etc. before that.

Marc S. Nollkaemper‘s film is strikingly similar in look, story, themes, setting and tone.

“The Shape of Water” has had Oscar buzz since Toronto. Film festival/fanboy groupthink makes it another of those wildly over-rated effects-driven features on a par with “Logan,” “Wonder Woman,” “Alien Covenant,” “Colossal,” “Thor: Ragnorak” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

Only nobody is calling those popcorn pictures Oscar contenders.

Every single one of those movies earned effusive reviews upon release, but are mysteriously absent from top ten lists and awards season buzz. Call it pandering to the audience’s tastes or simple grade inflation from the new generation of critics, but a four star review doesn’t mean what it used.

I enjoyed but was underwhelmed by “The Shape of Water,” with its broad archetypes, obvious plotting, even more obvious casting, with unnecessary violence, superfluous scenes and characters speaking painfully phonetic “Russian” as part of its Cold War subplot.

The thought that this obviously not-the-most-original picture isn’t even as original as might first appear doesn’t help.

And now there’s a lawsuit over a 1969 play, “Let Me Hear You Whisper,” with the estate of the playwright making claims that the similarities are too numerous to be a coincidence.

All, of course, making my case that this fable is unsurprising and over-familiar, genre to the point of “generic.” I guess I wasn’t feeling the magic.



About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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