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Big Fish Print E-mail
Friday, 01 June 2007

Image William Bloom (Billy Crudup) has always been overshadowed by his larger-than-life father, Edward (Albert Finney), who has regaled family and friends with tall tales of his fanciful adventures for decades. When Edward finds out that he’s dying, William returns home with his wife, to care for his father and to try to find some resolution to their strained relationship. His father, finding a new audience in William’s young wife, relates the fanciful tales of his life to her. William, angry at his father for not telling him the honest truth about himself and his life, pushes him to come clean and to cease spinning wild stories.

“Big Fish” is a sweet, charming film which finds director Tim Burton working with a much more personal story (his own father died prior to filming) and stretching his style a little further. As the elderly Edward Bloom relates his story, we see those sequences with Ewan McGregor as the younger incarnation of the character. Such magical sequences are familiar to Burton, and they’re lovingly realized with as much warmth, mystery and spirit as one could hope for. They’re also given an extra dimension with some terrific CGI effects sequences, such as the “time standing still” sequence. The film and the tales themselves harken back to works such as “1001 Arabian Nights,” “Grimm’s Fairy Tales,” and others, and as with other fables, there are life lessons here, about of listening to your heart, pursuing your dreams, about the dangers of becoming too settled. These tales are given a personal emotional spin.

While the fantasy sequences are lovely, Burton seems slightly uncomfortable in the heavier dramatic scenes. They’re fine, and work well dramatically, but you do get a slight sense that he’s not quite sure what the emotional pitch should be. Performances are excellent across the board. Jessica Lange (as Ed’s wife, Sandra) doesn’t have enough to do, but she has some fine moments, including a tender bathtub scene with Albert Finney. Ewan McGregor finds just the right combination of gumption, innocence and charm necessary for his character and his scenes are the backbone of the movie. Frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman delivers a touching and appropriate score for a challenging film. It’s not a major work, musically, but it ably supports the fantasy sequences and quietly accompanies the more naturalistic ones, without overpowering them. The script by John August is based on the book by Daniel Wallace. It’s a solid enough script, but one yearns for a few scenes of the newly married Edward and Sandra, their life prior to the birth of William and immediately after. It’s a thematically important part of the story and relevant to many later events, and the film feels like it needs another story sequence before the finale. The finale itself is both tender and thought-provoking. It manages to be moving, fantastical and relevant to the human experience. Fantasy and realism are hard genres to combine, but Burton and co. have done an exemplary job here. Its reputation will only grow with time. Highly recommended.

“Big Fish” is an odd choice for an early Blu-ray release. The film has been tweaked via a digital intermediate, to increase the contrasts and give the film (especially the non-fantasy sequences) a darker, flatter look. The whole picture has been digitally futzed with, making the image prone to large and unpleasant grain. Each shot is constantly crawling with grain, and there’s one particular close-up of McGregor outside the cave that is so grainy it looks like a super 8mm blow-up. Colors are bright and saturated, but reds are a bit smudgy, particularly in the parachute sequence, rendering the title of Bloom’s phrase book hard to read, killing that sight gag. “Big Fish” looks pretty much as it did in the theater, but it’s not much of a showcase for high definition. The only area where it’s noticeably sharper is in facial details and close-ups. The majority of the time, the visuals are comparable to a standard def DVD.

The uncompressed PCM sound is terrific, though. It’s a fairly active mix, with frequent use of the surround channels. The mix places the viewer in the center of the aural soundscape for an enveloping experience. The dialogue is crisp and well-balanced and the effects have a distinctive presence and a great deal of punch.

Sony has once-again omitted most of the extras included on the standard DVD. The sole exception is the audio commentary with director Tim Burton, moderated by the editor of “Burton on Burton,” Mark Salisbury. It’s a solid track, and Salisbury keeps the questions flying, though one does occasionally wish he’d wait for Burton to exhaust his train of thought before jumping into the next question. Burton openly discusses his emotions regarding doing the story, the challenges the production had, alternate casting suggestions, and differences between the book and the film. There are some wonderful bits of trivia along the way. For example, in the Spectre scenes there’s a sight gag when Edward Bloom enters the town. He passes a man playing banjo on the porch, who plays the first few bars of “Dueling Banjos” from “Deliverance,” surely a sign of impending rural troubles. It turns out that that the man is the actual banjo playing kid from “Deliverance,” who was located in a town near the Alabama filming location and brought in for this scene and others. Sony’s failure to port over the DVD extras, so the causes the commentary participants occasionally refer to extras that are not included. If you don’t own the standard DVD and won’t miss the extras, than the Blu-ray is the way to go. If you already own the DVD, than there’s little reason to upgrade.

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