Written by Brian Grazer, Bruce Jay Friedman, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel
Directed by Ron Howard
It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been thirty-five years since the release of the movie Splash – the film that launched Disney’s Touchstone Films division. I can distinctly remember the buzz about the film when it was released. Watching it again recently, I realized that to really appreciate the film, there’s a need for an understanding of the times.
Tom Hanks was fresh out of his Bosom Buddies sitcom, where he portrayed a man dressing as a woman to have a decent apartment. Ron Howard was known for being Opie on The Andy Griffith Show, and Richie Cunnigham on Happy Days. The sexual revolution was still going strong. AIDS hadn’t reached headline status. Crime was a huge problem in New York, and people were afraid to ride the subways for fear of it. This fear of crime went hand in hand with an underlying problem of racism, which wasn’t really acknowledged by New Yorkers until an ugly incident in Howard Beach made many turn and look at our perceptions of our fellow man. Of course, it still hasn’t changed for many, but I believe that most have stopped pretending it doesn’t exist.
Into this climate comes Splash, a film about a mermaid who harbors a life-long love for a man who as a young boy fell off of a boat and into her arms. Tom Hanks is Allen Bauer, a produce supplier who has a series of relationships that are leaving him less than satisfied. There’s no one he feels he truly loves. When his last girlfriend moves out of their apartment, he feel inexplicable called to Cape Cod, where he falls in the ocean to once again be rescued by his old friend (portrayed by Darryl Hannah).
The mermaid follows him to New York, where she wanders, naked, up to a tour at the Statue of Liberty. Since she doesn’t speak English but carries his wallet, the police phone him, and he takes her back to his apartment, clad only in an I Love NY t-shirt. By the time they are in the elevator, she is all over him.
As a fairytale romance, it’s quite sweet. Allen falls in love with “Madison”, as she names herself after New York’s Madison Avenue. Her innocence of being on land and experiencing many of the things we take for granted in our every day life is quite sweet to watch. However, there were a couple of things which coming from the perspective of twenty years later bothered me probably a great deal more than they probably did back then.
The first would be the fact that they have sex everywhere and anywhere before Madison learns to speak English. It’s every man’s dream, I know. Here we have a woman who doesn’t speak so she can’t bitch, moan, complain, nag, etc. Just have great sex and not say a word. I’d like to think that he had a better relationship with women he could communicate with in the same language rather than just someone he gets to have sex with all over the place anytime he wants. Again, though, the times were much different.
The other is a brief scene where Madison is in Times Square, dazzled and overwhelmed by all the brightness and images around here. There are a few men standing on a corner with hip-hop music blasting out of a boom box. Madison hears music for the first time and goes over near them to dance. They stop what they are doing to watch her, not looking menacing or making any sort of threatening moves. However, Allen reacts in a way that is so fearful of them that it shocked me.
In this respect, the film is quite dated, which is my one complaint. Things which we understood as being funny back then (such as the Crazy Eddie commercials and Richard Simmons) will probably mystify anyone under the age of 25. There are several jokes which don’t play as well now as they did twenty years ago either.
What saves this film is the acting. Tom Hanks shows his tremendous talent as a comic actor here, something that I feel he’s never gotten enough credit for. His portrayal of Allen Bauer is quite dry and deadpan. This is a contradiction to his brother Freddy, portrayed by John Candy. Candy gets some of the better lines, and shows why he was considered to be such a great comic actor. Eugene Levy is also in the cast as a scientist determined to uncover Madison’s secret. In the commentary, Ron Howard refers to him as “the coyote” and it’s a good analogy for all of the fans of the roadrunner and coyote cartoons.
There are some beautiful shots of New York here, depicting what the skyline looked like back then. The night shots especially look very good and are crisp with no color bleeding from the lights. There are also some great underwater shots which were filmed in the Bahamas. Not a single northeasterner would mistake that clear blue water for anything that’s off of this coast. What’s amazing is the amount of special effects done in an age before there was computer generated imagery, and how well it’s done. The film has held up quite well for twenty years and I thought it looked quite beautiful with few flaws.
Making a Splash featurette where the cast & crew talk about how the film came about. It’s very interesting to see the steps a film like this has in getting made, as well as some of the scenes and plot points that ended up getting jettisoned for whatever reason.
The Audition Tapes for Tom Hanks & Darryl Hannah with an introduction from Ron Howard.
Audio Commentary with writer/producer Brian Grazer, director Ron Howard, writers Babloo Mandel & Lowell Ganz. This was very entertaining as there’s both an introduction and a wrap-up from the four providing the commentary. Again, it provides great insight into the filmmaking process, as well as the fears Ron Howard had about what would happen to this film under the Disney label.
This is a sweet film that, while dated, is quite a bit of fun. It’s rated PG, but probably would be PG-13 now. If you can look past a few of the glaring plotholes and enjoy it in the context in which it was written, it will provide some terrific laughs. If nothing else, you’ll get to see Tom Hanks standing naked in a tank of water.