Big Fish

January 28, 2012 10 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Tim Burton has long been known as a dark director, he even resembles (or did) Robert Smith of “The Cure”. His movies are original, dark and inventive. Audiences and critics alike all adore them, though he has had his setbacks. He’s probably best-known for helming the first two “Batman” movies with Michael Keaton; it wasn’t until after Burton left that Joel Schumacher all but ruined the franchise. Burton’s blend of dark humor, good storytelling and visual effects are what make his movies unique. He’s ambitious and not afraid to take chances on movies (as evidenced by “The Nightmare Before Christmas”). His teaming with Johnny Depp (“Edward Scissorhands”, “Ed Wood” and “Sleepy Hollow”) have all resulted in fantastic films and only now is Depp considered to be mainstream. Burton’s prior outing as a director was the ill-fated remake of “Planet of the Apes”, this time with Mark Wahlberg in the Charlton Heston role. Clearly it was time for a return to the inventive and “Big Fish” was just the movie for that. The casting of Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney (two Europeans) and the rest of the cast an ensemble, made for what looked to be an interesting movie. And it was.

“Big Fish” is a storybook come to life. We hear the words “…once upon a time” and then are visually greeted with the story as it happens. Family is at the very heart of the movie as Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) tries to reconcile things with his dying father (Albert Finney). Ed Bloom (Finney and McGregor as his young self) was something special. He was the guy who scored the winning touchdown, made a three-pointer at the buzzer and hit the winning home run. To say that Bloom’s life was interesting was, naturally, an understatement. Edward told stories to Will as entertainment, though they were supposedly stories from his own life. Stories of a giant man, Siamese twins and a lost town somewhere in the middle of Alabama. Will outgrew these stories as he aged and resents his father for not being there enough. Will is now married and expecting a child of his own and has just learned that his father is not well. The story of Ed is told through visual interpretations of the stories and though it might seen complicated, it does a pretty good job at telling the story of one’s life. As kids we want to believe that time can stand still when you meet the woman of your dreams or that giants and witches really do exist. But for the Bloom’s, everything was always a part of another story…

As with most Burton films, this is rather difficult to put into words, but he manages to do so very well. Jessica Lange has a supporting role as Will’s mother as does Helena Bonham Carter (“Fight Club”) and Alison Lohman. It’s hard to say what really makes the story work, the effects, the story or the acting. Ewan McGregor has emerged as a validated Hollywood talent and Finney has reappeared on the scene since his performance in “Erin Brockovich” a few years back. I felt that this one of the more original movies I’d seen, but I did catch a few subtle hints of “Forrest Gump” in it. For example when a story is told, we see it acted out as in “Gump” we see it digitally inserted into archived footage. Maybe I’m totally off the mark here, but that’s the conclusion I came to. In any case, fans of Burton will be right at home here and though it lacks Johnny Depp’s presence, it’s one of the better films I’ve seen in a while. This should have value for the whole family as well, though there are a few scary spots; it’s not something that would scare kids; as mentioned before it’s like a storybook come to life. And that’s what movies are for, to make the impossible possible.

Video: How does it look?

“Big Fish” is presented in an anamorphic aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Burton sometimes uses a wider frame for his work (“Planet of the Apes”, “Sleepy Hollow”) but this one was not. I suppose it doesn’t really matter, though I tend to prefer films of a wider scope. In any case, the included transfer is nothing short of brilliant. The colors are bright and vivid and the level of detail is amazing (I could see every freckle on McGregor’s face). As we might expect with a movie of this nature, plenty of special effects are included and they’re represented with the utmost clarity here. Nighttime scenes look better than expected and no artifacting or edge enhancement could be detected. The visual presentation exceeded my expectations here and for a single disc (with additional featurettes and commentaries to boot), I was impressed by the way this looked on DVD. No complaints here.

Audio: How does it sound?

Not to be outdone by the video, the Dolby Digital 5.1 is rather robust as well. The track has several discrete effects that I didn’t pick up until later in the movie. The sound moves from front channels to back and vice versa. Dialogue (Alabama dialogue at that) is clean and well-reproduced, too. The subwoofer didn’t get a lot of use, but the front channels house most of the action (as we might expect). The surrounds, when used, more than got the job done. I really didn’t know what to expect here, but I was pleasantly surprised. The scene with the giant stands out as being excellent, all of your speakers will be used to their fullest extent. And, as per usual, Danny Elfman’s score is a welcome treat in 5.1 sound.

Supplements: What are the extras?

We start off the supplements with a Tim Burton audio commentary. Burton is rather talkative during this track and not a lot of new information is learned. He tells of the casting, the shoot (essentially the usual stuff) and his passion for the film. Burton is one director who can deliver great tracks and his movies are so interesting that these are almost required viewing, er – listening. We then have a series of featurettes under two main headings. First is “The Character’s Journey” which starts out with “Edward Bloom at Large”. Ewan McGregor guides us through the life of Edward Bloom and what it was like to play such a character. He tells that it was like working on twenty different movies at once as the stories shifted so frequently. Next up is “Amos at the Circus” as Danny DeVito (who plays Amos in the movie) takes us through the Calloway Circus. DeVito was perfectly cast here and though the subject matter isn’t that interesting, it’s worth a look nonetheless. “Fathers and Sons” tells of the “dynamic of fathers and sons”. This was the center of the story and a natural subject for a short segment like this. They tend to be a little dramatic, but it’s a nice featurette nonetheless. This now brings us to the second batch of featurettes called “The Filmmaker’s Path”. This starts out with “Tim Burton: Storyteller” in which Burton’s career highlights are shown and how the concept and movie of “Big Fish” materialized. Next up is “A Fairytale World” that tells us of the central part of the movie: fairytales. We see how these were incorporated into the film and how they were recreated. “Creature Features” is like an advertisement for Stan Winston studios. Stan Winston, the authority in make up, talks about the effects used in the film. Lastly we have “The Author’s Journey” with author and screenwriter Daniel Wallace. He tells of how he came up with the idea and what it took to bring it to the screen. We have “The Finer Points” which is a trivia quiz about Burton’s films. If you get all the answers right, we get an easter egg (and even if you get them wrong, it lets you keep guessing until you get it right). Also included is a trailer for this and about a dozen other recent Columbia/Tristar films.

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