Liner Notes: Scoring The Shape Of Water

Updated / Wednesday, 21 Feb 2018 14:21

By Aedín Gormley

Director: "So Alexandre, I need a soundtrack for this film I’m making called The Shape of Water. It’s about a girl who falls for a mysterious but highly intelligent amphibious humanoid creature and he for her. Sally Hawkins plays Elisa, a shy mute woman who works as a cleaner on the night shift at a military research facility in the 1960s. Unexpectedly, Elisa and the Amphibious Man meet and begin to bond. So, musically Alexandre, what are you thinking?"

Composer: "Mmmmmmm……."

I’m trying to imagine the conversations about music between Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro and prolific French composer Alexandre Desplat.

Desplat is a master of movie music who has quickly risen to Hollywood's A-list with scores for such hit films as The Grand Budapest Hotel, The King's Speech, The Imitation Game, The Queen, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Fantastic Mr Fox and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 & Part 2

Richard Jenkins and Sally Hawkins in The Shape Of Water

This is the first time Desplat and Del Toro have worked together. The director has worked with a selection of composers including Marco Beltrami (Hellboy), Danny Elfman (Hellboy 2), Javier Navarrete (Pan's Labyrinth) and Fernando Velázquez (Crimson Peak).

Without managing to be a fly on the wall for their conversations, I feel sure that Del Toro and Desplat understood each other perfectly when it came to collaborating on The Shape of Water. Desplat created a perfectly judged score and totally entered into Del Toro’s vision for what this film was to be.

Composer Alexandre Desplat

In an interview with Deadline Hollywood, Desplat explained his approach.

"I tried to capture the sound of water—or the feeling of water, more importantly. What does it feel like to be surrounded by warm water? I lived in the Caribbean, actually, when I was in my teens; I went to school there, and the sensation that you have when you put your body into this lukewarm water is something very special. The way love and water play in the film gives you that sensation, because love also has this warm feeling. When you fall in love, when you see the person you love, there’s something warm that [emerges] inside you. Also, when you miss somebody you love, there’s a longing—there’s a little pain that mixes with that warmth, so it’s all these sensations that come from my experience that I tried to transpose to music"

The composer created a melody that creates waves, orchestrated in a way that evokes the sensation of being underwater. Despite some darker moments, the tone of the film is, on the whole, one filled with magic and wonder. Desplat gives us melody and light with instrumentation that includes twelve flutes, strings, piano and harp. A French ambience is created by the use of the accordion, and this totally works.

In the main theme, you also hear Desplat himself whistling, capturing Elisa’s voice in her carefree happy moments

Elisa and her neighbour, brilliantly played by Richard Jenkins, sit down and watch old Fred Astaire movies together and Desplat also touches on this musical element style in his scoring. Elisa is shy and vulnerable and yet sure of herself when it comes to her love for this creature and her kindness towards him. Listen to the beautifully dreamy track Underwater Kiss:

The soundtrack album also showcases You’ll Never Know, a new arrangement by Desplat of the Mack Gordon/Harry Warren song, given a jazz vocal performance by opera superstar Renée Fleming. It's the perfect song to convey Elisa’s inner turmoil.

The Shape of Water has already won a Golden Globe and a Bafta in the Best Original Score category for Alexandre Desplat, and my money is on him taking home an Oscar next month.

Listen to Movies and Musicals with Aedín Gormley, RTÉ lyric fm, Saturday 1-4pm