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Splash (20th Anniversary Edition)
Splash, Ron Howard's 1984 film about a man, a mermaid, and a throwaway ditty about mangos, stands out as a pretty groundbreaking film for a bunch of reasons. It was the inaugural release for Touchstone Pictures, Disney's new brand of films that were meant to "break out" from the Disney mold, provide for more adult, sophisticated fare, and attract more diverse and talented actors, writers, and directors to the studio. Up until this point, Disney's live action films were - for the most part - disastrous. Since the heyday of Mary Poppins and The Love Bug, two of the highest grossing films of the 1960s, Disney's live action output was, with a few exceptions, fairly abysmal. Sure, they released Escape to Witch Mountain, The Apple Dumpling Gang, and Freaky Friday, but does anyone honestly even remember $1,000,000 Duck, Superdad, Unidentified Flying Oddball, and host of other awful movies that were released between 1970 and 1983? Disney's live action product pretty much bottomed out with 1979's The Black Hole, their $20 million answer to the Star Wars phenomenon. The film flopped, leaving many industry pundits wondering whether or not Walt's company could ever regain their footing in a culture that likened them to cheesy, non-offensive, non-engaging fare seemingly targeted at your average fourth-grade field trip.
So Splash was Disney's first foray into more "adult" filmmaking, although really; Splash's PG rating is hardly scandalous nowadays. Then again, listening to a character in a Disney movie call another character a schmuck, or copious shots of Daryl Hannah's naked derriere, or even a throwaway mention to getting a letter published in the Penthouse Forum or the mere mentioning of a character's12-inch manhood (in Swedish!) are hardly elements you might find in typical Disney product. I'm pretty sure I never saw The Fighting Prince of Donegal or Johnny Tremain blow off work to have amazing sex with a nubile and sexy young blond, and believe you me no one's more pissed off about that then Hal Stalmaster and Peter McEnery!
But anyway, back to Splash. Yes, the film was groundbreaking in that it was Disney's first step into producing more sophisticated fare. It was also a make or break moment for director Ron Howard, who proved his filmmaking chops with 1982's beautifully hysterical Night Shift but was still somewhat stigmatized by the "Little Opie Cunningham" label. The film's principal characters included two relative unknowns: a tall, striking blond woman whose most memorable role was as a replicant in the little-seen (at the time) Blade Runner and a leading man who, if he even was remembered at all, was best known for his role in the rather ridiculous Bosom Buddies sitcom. Only SCTV regulars John Candy and Eugene Levy were perhaps most recognizable to audiences, and even they were relegated to supporting roles.
So by all rights, Splash was primed for failure. Few were convinced that Splash could escape the "Disney" stigma, especially for a film directed by a former TV star and romantic comedy/fantasy featuring two unknowns as the lovestruck pair.
Yet it didn't quite turn out that way. Splash was an unqualified smash. The $8 million film grossed a healthy $62 million and launched Tom Hanks, Daryl Hannah, Ron Howard, and Touchstone Films into prominence. After watching Splash for the first time in probably the last 15 years or so, it's easy to see why. Hanks brought out his own charm, humor, and charisma so effortlessly that, even in 1984, it was easy to tell that this was the birth of a major movie star. He had to play the straight man, the role without the wittiest lines, goofiest expressions, or wittiest comebacks, and yet he still remain the funniest and most endearing guy in the movie. As Madison, the mermaid who falls in love with Hanks, Daryl Hannah is absolutely luminous. Sure, she looks great (really great), but she also brings wonder, innocence, and personality to the part. Other than the titular character in Roxanne , this might be her most convincing role.
The supporting cast is also top-notch, with John Candy and the always-entertaining Eugene Levy both strong in their element. But most of all, Howard's fine direction along with a great script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel make Splash one of the sweetest, most enjoyable romantic fantasies ever created. One can easily dismiss the film as fluffy, lightweight material - no one is ever going to confuse the film with Magnolia - but you'd have to be one hell of a crusty curmudgeon to not enjoy this sweet, gentle tale.
Splash is featured in its original theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and the transfer has been anamorphically enhanced for your widescreen-viewing joy of joys. The transfer looks pretty dated throughout; this is definitely a film of the 80s that has seen some wear. Grain structure is evident throughout the film, retaining a somewhat film-like appearance. Image sharpness and fine detail is average. Some scenes look relatively sharp, while others display some obvious softness. Colors are stable and well rendered for the most part, although a few scenes display some bleeding and, other times, fading. Blacks are deep and strong, and contrasts are mostly fine, although some darklit scenes come off weaker than others. I failed to notice edge-enhancement or pixellation noise. Overall, the film looks very good - easily better than I've ever seen it - but not perfect.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1; a French 5.1 track is also included for your Continental Convenience. Splash isn't the type of movie that requires a raucous, deeply aggressive and immersive surround-sound experience. That having been said, the soundtrack is fairly involving. There is solid use of surround activity when necessary, but for the most part the soundfield is heavily focused around the front and center. Dialog sounds warm and natural without major issue. Directionality is somewhat flat, but again there is little need for pronounced discrete imagery. What's left is a perfectly good and sustainable soundtrack that serves the film well without fuss or muss.
The E-ticket extra is a feature-length audio commentary with director Ron Howard, producer Brian Grazer, and writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. The foursome is pretty lively and engaging when they are offering up their comments, but there are some noticeable gaps throughout as they often pause to watch and laugh with their film. They are a pretty enthusiastic gang, and do go into great detail about the making of the film, making this an overall enjoyable commentary.
Making A Splash runs for 24 minutes, and reunites Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Daryl Hannah, Eugene Levy, Babaloo Mandel, Lowell Ganz, and Tom Hanks as they reminisce on the making of Splash. There is even some archival footage of the late, great John Candy as he reflects on his experiences on the film. Some of the information gleaned from the commentary track is repeated here, but overall this provides a decent, non-"fluffy" look at the making of the film. I especially enjoyed learning that Hanks came to Howard's and Grazer's attention after appearing on an episode of Happy Days - long after Howard had left the show!
The Audition Tapes contain archival footage of both Tom Hanks's and Daryl Hannah's original auditions for Ron Howard. Howard also provides an introduction to the audition footage. Together, they run about 24 minutes at length, and make for a slight but enjoyable extra feature.
Finally, Disney has included some Sneak Peaks, trailers for Hope Springs and Calendar Girls.
Harlan Ellison, in a rave review of the film, once likened Splash to a modern-day retelling of the Orpheus myth. The film's ending, while hardly unpredictable and certainly crowd-pleasing, contains some deeper, darker undertones that add a rich sense of poignancy to the movie's final moments. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, or perhaps I'm too much of an Ellison fanboy to disagree. Whatever. Splash is still, twenty years later, one heck of a fun little film. In fact, in retrospect the film is much more "Disney" than the creators probably imagined at the time. And believe you me, I say that in the best possible way.
The DVD is a fine release of a beloved film. The transfer, while not quite a slam-dunk, is still satisfying and agreeable, and the extras are of good quality. For Splash fans everywhere, your prayers have been answered; this DVD definitely merits a Recommendation.