Big Fish review by Mike Long

Long ago, I learned to avoid movie "spoilers". By doing this, (hopefully) the important elements of the film will be surprising, and will thus make the movie more enjoyable. And while it's challenging to know nothing about a movie these days, it's impossible to forget about the movies that one has seen in the past. Taking this "cultural baggage" into a new movie can often be worse than plot spoilers, as the viewer will constantly find themselves comparing the film with others that they've seen in the past. Such is the case with Tim Burton's latest opus, Big Fish.

According to his stories, Edward Bloom's life has been full of big adventures. As a young man (played by Ewan McGregor), he owned his own business, befriended a giant, found a hidden town, joined the circus, and wooed the woman of his dreams. Edward (played as an older man by Albert Finney) has spent his life spinning these yarns for anyone who would listen. However, his son Will (Billy Crudup) has never enjoyed his father's stories and feels that his dad has ignored the reality of his own family in exchange for these larger than life stories. But, now Edward is old and ill, and Will is given one last chance to get past the stories and get to know the "real" Edward Bloom.

While watching Big Fish, it's impossible to not think about Forrest Gump. Even if you've never seen that Tom Hanks classic, you'll probably know enough about it to say, "Hmm...this is probably a lot like Forrest Gump." While the overall stories in the film are different, their narrative style are similar. Both deal with men from Alabama who go through life experiencing extraordinary events. The difference is that Forrest Gump was a simple man who encountered amazing events and didn't understand the enormity of what he was experiencing. In Big Fish, Edward Bloom is a man who leads a rather mundane life, so he spices it up with stories of incredible events. The other main difference is that the stories in Big Fish often take on a very fantastic tone, often bordering on fairy-tales. In this sense, the film is vaguely reminiscent of movies like The Princess Bride. It would be a crime to accuse any Tim Burton film of being unoriginal, but many elements of the film felt like they'd been done before.

These points aren't meant to imply that Big Fish is a bad movie. Much of the film is very enjoyable and the movie does a fine job of mixing comedy, drama, and wonder. There are some truly funny moments here, and one scene from the circus had me rolling in the floor. The mini-stories within the film are often creative and the various characters which Edward meets are all very memorable. Aside from the elements noted above, the real problem with Big Fish is a lack of heart. Will Bloom is a "cold fish" and throughout the film we never know the "real" Edward Bloom, so it's tough to get attached to the characters. However, the film's finale is an emotional powerhouse, which can be compared to the conclusion of Field of Dreams. This ending is the perfect capper to Big Fish and truly brings the story together. As is to be expected, Burton has lent some great visuals to Big Fish, and it's an interesting mix of his trademark dark look (Batman, Sleepy Hollow) with the pastels of Edward Scissorhands. Big Fish may suffer from a case of "seen it before" in many respects, but the film is still entertaining in its own right. The story is intriguing and the acting is very good. This is one fish which is worth catching.

Big Fish flops onto DVD courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer looks great, as the image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no outstanding grain and no defects from the source material. The colors are fantastic and the dark scenes are well-balanced, as the black-tones are very realistic. The image has true depth, which adds to the mythical wonder of the story. Edge enhancement is evident, but not to the degree that it will bother most viewers. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which more than matches the video quality. The dialogue is always clear and audible. The stereo effects are fine, but the surround sound and subwoofer action will blow you away, as the movie is filled with unusual scenes in which all of the speakers come into play.

The Big Fish DVD is filled with extra features, but many of them are disappointing. We start with an audio commentary featuring director Tim Burton and "Burton on Burton" author Mark Salisbury. This is a pretty good chat, as Salisbury's questions keep things moving along and Burton discusses the story, the actors, the locations, and his own personal connections to the film. Burton has always been an iconic and somewhat distant filmmakers, but he comes across as appealing and human on this talk. The DVD offers two sets of featurettes, falling under the headings of "The Character's Journey" and "The Filmmaker's Path". All of these segments are made up of clips from the film, behind-the-scenes footage and comments from the cast and crew. "The Character's Journey" opens with "Edward Bloom at Large" (9 minutes), in which Burton, McGregor, and Finney discuss the Edward Bloom character. In "Amos at the Circus" (4 minutes), Danny DeVito talks about his ringmaster character. "Fathers and Sons" (7 minutes) is very similar to "Edward Bloom at Large", as it examines the Edward & Will Bloom characters. "The Filmmaker's Path" starts with "Tim Burton: Storyteller" (7 minutes), odd segment in which Burton makes random comments about Big Fish, while others praise his talent. The look of Big Fish is explored in "A Fairytale World" (10 minutes), as the filmmakers comment on the "folk tale" nature of the movie. We are given a look at the production design, the costumes, and how the giant effects were done. Stan Winston introduces "Creature Features" (6 minutes) which offers a behind-the-scenes look at how the fantastic creatures in the movie were created. (It's interesting to note to the refreshing lack of CGI in Big Fish). Finally, "The Author's Journey" (8 minutes) profiles novelist Daniel Wallace and offers comments from screenwriter John August. This may be the greatest featurette ever, as it contains footage from the University of North Carolina campus. The extras are rounded out by the trailer for Big Fish, which is 16 x 9 and letterboxed at 1.85:1 and a Tim Burton trivia game, which rewards the viewer with a 2-minute segment on the special effects of the circus.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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