Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Splash

Written (for the last time?!? GOD I hope not!) for the series hosted by Nathaniel R. at The Film Experience.

1984 is the year I was born. So naturally, I'm not particularly well-versed in the films that came out around that time. It's nothing against those films, it's just that at the time I was far more interested in eating and pooping and didn't know what movies were. For a long time, though, I just sort of assumed that Amadeus was the greatest film ever made ONLY because it won Best Picture for 1984. Thankfully, it didn't disappoint one bit when I finally saw it years later.

But we're not here to talk about Amadeus. Oh, no. We are here to talk about that OTHER classic from 1984, Ron Howard's fish out of water tale Splash, starring the supremely unlikely couple of Darryl Hannah and Tom Hanks. I had seen bits and pieces of Splash over the years, but this was my first time seeing it all the way through. I have to admit, my reaction to it has somewhat soured knowing that the film was originally written as the story of a mermaid trying to adjust to life in Manhattan, but no one greenlit the script until they flipped it around and made the man she falls in love with the main character. Now, by all means, the original idea might have been the worse movie, but especially in today's cultural climate, I can't help but being a bit annoyed by it... OF COURSE the story originally had a female lead and OF COURSE no one would make it until they changed it to a male lead. AND, to make matters worse/more interesting, the recently announced remake starring Channing Tatum (of all people) in the Darryl Hannah role is said to be based off of one of the earlier versions of the script, meaning that once again the main character is going to be male.

Sorry for the tangent. I just really had to get that off my chest.

Because really, Splash is a perfectly fine film, one that plays just as well today as I'm sure it did back when it was initially released. Sure, Hannah is a little stiff, but that's partly the character, and she really shines in the gorgeous underwater close-ups Howard and DP Don Peterman (aka the guy who shot my beloved Flashdance) give her:

And she also gets a pretty amazing entrance, surrounded by nature the likes of which we haven't seen in the film yet, already leading us to suspect that she is "different" (if somehow we didn't know what the film was about):

Which brings me to the thing that impressed me most about Splash: Ron Howard's sense of staging. Every single shot in this is staged perfectly, especially for the comedy. He holds on certain shots JUST long enough so that when the cutaway to what we knew was going to happen finally comes, it gets a big laugh by virtue of the build-up. And he holds certain other shots at just the right length so that important things enter the frame from unexpected places, like when we suddenly switch from walking with Allen and Madison to watching Eugene Levy's scientist get out of his car and follow them with buckets of water (to prove she's a mermaid, natch), or like this shot, the first one where it's "revealed" that Hannah is playing a mermaid:


Or my absolute FAVORITE moment in the film, when our two little lovebirds are just walking down the street...
...and out of absolutely NOWHERE, she just starts playing with a mug full of pencils...
...which it takes him a good few seconds to notice:
THAT, my friends, is how you get a laugh.

But that's not my pick for Best Shot, though. My pick is one that actually isn't very funny at all. It comes at the point in every rom-com where one of the lovers (in this case, he) asks the other to marry them when said other party either isn't ready, or isn't in a good mood, or any number of other stupid reasons, so they run away. But in the movies, we can see how close people are even when they're far apart, and I have to admit I have a big weakness for shots like these. But this is still a pretty perfect example of it:

It's not just that this shot is linking them in any number of ways even though they're not together, it's how packed it is with character information: Madison is small in the frame, because she feels small, and alone in this big wide world above the sea, and she's torn between going back home and staying on land (it's not an accident she's standing near a bridge). Meanwhile, Allen is much larger in the frame, because his grief at being turned down by Madison is mountainous, and because he's part of that big scary world in which Madison may or may not decide to stay. It's really a beautiful moment, and not just aesthetically.

...AND there's also the meta-textual reading that he's bigger in the frame because the film just HAD TO BE all about the MAN's story because NO ONE cares about WOMEN... GAH! WHY MUST YOU DO THIS TO ME, YOU OTHERWISE LIKEABLE MOVIE?!?!?!?

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ALSO: I kinda love that the very last shot in Splash is of King Triton's castle from The Little Mermaid, seeing as how this was a Disney movie (released by their Touchstone division) and all...


  1. I screencapped your best shot in case I wanted to use it (I didn't). So yay!

    Also that pencil scene was fantastic. I also almost went with that.

    1. I actually had to pause the movie during the pencil scene because I was laughing so hard.

  2. Nice choice of shot and reasoning behind it.

    This movie is a charmer and if a stronger actress with more presence (Diane Lane was offered the part but turned it down-her I could see having the punch to put it over) had been cast as the mermaid I'd agree that the shift in focus was wrong. But Daryl Hannah pretty girl though she may be doesn't possess the force of personality to carry the lead, she's very good in her winsome scenes but the heavy lifting of the story is handled much better by Tom Hanks. And John Candy is so wonderful as Tom's brother. I haven't watched it in years but now I'll have to give it another look with the composition of shots in mind.

    My only real problem with the movie is that it popularized the name Madison as a viable option as a girl's name! Ugh, suddenly there were zillions of them! Fortunately the craze for it seems to have passed.

    1. TOTALLY agree with you about Diane Lane. She would have had the something extra that Daryl was lacking. John Candy. Absolutely HATED him and the character in his first couple of scenes, and after that he COMPLETELY turned it around. I don't recall ever having such a complete turnaround in opinion of a secondary character/actor in a movie EVER. Kind of amazing.

      I can only LOL at the "Madison" name craze. Pop culture at its strangest!

  3. I was 20 when this film came out and I saw it in the theatre. I'm lucky that I didn't know the original lead was a female so none of this created a shadow for me. I just enjoyed the show and loved John Candy! They probably made the male the lead because they had Tom Hanks even though he was at the beginning of his film career, he was more well known than Darryl Hannah.

    1. Well, Tom Hanks was also MUCH better in this than Darryl Hannah, so at least it was the right choice for the cast they had. And when I'm able to look past the history of the piece, it is quite an enjoyable film.