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Before Splash, everyone thought of Ron Howard as “Opie Cunningham” from his television acting days on The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days; Tom Hanks was just some guy who was on an obscure sitcom called Bosom Buddies; and Disney was a fading studio on life support. Splash could not have come at a better time for all three, as illustrated in Touchstone Video’s 20th anniversary edition of the movie.

Fish out of Water

Hannah, Hanks, and Disney each made a Splash in 1984
Hannah, Hanks, and Disney each made a Splash in 1984

Hanks plays Allen Bauer, a lonely workaholic who has taken over his family’s New York-based produce business. His older brother Freddie (Candy) is a playboy who makes disastrous cost-cutting decisions and is more interested in getting his letters published in Penthouse than in running the company. Bauer has just broken up with his girlfriend because he thinks that he is unable to feel love, even though he wants a wife and children.

On a caprice, Bauer rents a cab to Cape Cod to gather his thoughts, even though he experienced a childhood incident there that gave him a fear of the ocean. In a flashback sequence that opens the movie, a young Bauer leaps off a ferry boat and meets a young girl underwater, leading to love at first sight. Bauer is pulled out of the water before he finds out that the young girl is really a mermaid.

That same mermaid has been hanging around Cape Cod for the next 20 years, and she again rescues Bauer from a boating accident and places him safely on a nearby beach. This mermaid can change her tail into legs when she goes onto dry land, and when Bauer comes to and asks her who she is, she kisses him and runs away. She finds his wallet left behind and seeks him out in New York, getting arrested for showing up naked at the Statue of Liberty.

The police contact Bauer and the two are reunited for an immediate relationship that seems too good to be true to Bauer. The mermaid learns English by watching television, is very inquisitive to normal everyday objects, and names herself Madison after spotting the Madison Avenue sign. These seem odd to Bauer and he knows that she is holding something back. Meanwhile, an obsessed marine biologist named Walter Kornbluth (Levy) pursues Madison to prove to his peers that he is not a crackpot.

“Nobody Says Love’s Perfect”

What makes Splash so effective is its unusual interspecies love story. Hanks and Hannah commit themselves emotionally so well that you can take them seriously as lovers even though she’s a mermaid and a lot of what happens in this movie makes little sense. Candy’s irreverence and Levy’s buffoonery give the story enough comic relief that you cannot take the story too seriously, though.

For a movie made 20 years ago, Splash has aged wonderfully; one could make the same movie today even without CGI effects. The only parts of the movie that seem dated are the outfits Hannah wears as a human.

Picture and Sound

The picture is not very sharp; it looks like it was transferred from a VHS copy, and the sound has the same feel to it. The transfer is not terrible, but Touchstone could have done a better job since the sound effects in the menu screen and the two trailers for upcoming DVDs sound better than the movie itself.

DVD Extras

“Making a Splash” consists of typical documentary fare with sound bites from the surviving actors and filmmakers. These are mostly superficial, but you still learn some interesting tidbits about the production. The best parts are the ones that involve Candy, who showed up on the set hung over several times. You can also see a prerecorded statement from 1984 where he deadpans on how much he hated working with the crew except for Hannah, with whom he never shared a scene!

A scene involving a “Sea Hag,”who explains the rules of Madison’s excursion to the surface world, is briefly mentioned and a few seconds of footage is shown, but it would have been nice to have learned more about this character. The DVD includes no deleted scenes.

The audition tapes of Hanks and Hannah are interesting. They not only show how well they nailed their parts but you get a taste of how the dialogue changed from early drafts of the film. The auditions seem a little long at times and the video quality is VERY poor, but aspiring actors might enjoy them.

The best extra by far is the audio commentary by Howard, Grazer, Ganz and Mandel. They have fun watching their movie and poke occasional barbs at Grazer, who is now one of Hollywood’s most successful producers. They are not afraid to point out their mistakes and continuity errors and admit that some parts of the movie — like installing a huge fountain in an apartment bedroom using only a dolly — defy logic, but Howard states that if the story is good enough, the audience will not care.

They also provide copious behind-the-scenes information about the film, such as Hannah’s reluctance to eat a lobster in the famous lobster scene since she was a strict vegetarian at the time, or how she was such a good swimmer that they used her for 99.9 percent of Madison’s stunts.

History Lesson

In watching Splash you witness Howard’s and Hanks’ movie careers take off, but what the movie really signifies is Disney’s decision to expand its studio to more than just “the Mickey Mouse House” that only produced family entertainment. Disney had released PG-rated movies a few years before, but Howard and Grazer were concerned that the more adult-oriented romantic fantasy that involved some brief nude scenes of Hannah would cause Disney executives to balk at approving the project. The response was for the studio to introduce “Touchstone Pictures,” a separate label that allowed Disney to eventually release R-rated features.

That’s a historical reason to own “Splash,” but the story and audio commentary also make he disc worthwhile, that is until the 25th or 30th anniversary edition is released. Maybe then we will see more of the Sea Hag.