ninth symphony films - movie reviews

BIG FISH (2003)

DIRECTOR  -  tim burton

RATED  -  pg-13

GENRE  -  comedy

LENGTH  -  110 minutes

RELEASED  -  10 december 2003

DISTRIBUTOR  -  columbia pictures

OFFICIAL SITE  -  big fish

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $70,000,000
big fish - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from big fish at

buy the dvd from big fish at

bout "william bloom" who tries to learn more about his dying father by reliving stories and myths his father told him.

steven spielberg was once slated to direct.


picture from big fish

picture from big fish

picture from big fish


four out of four possible stars

Tim Burton has made a career out of telling stories of the strange, urbane, and unique and has gained a fairly loyal fan-base. And his latest effort, Big Fish, is probably as close to "normal" as Burton is ever to get. With this fascinating, yet seemingly familiar story, Burton puts his own personal stamp on novel writer David Wallace's story (Wallace wrote the book of the same name), yet makes it rather easy to drag out the box of tissues round about the third act. But rather than feeling emotionally manipulated, you'll probably leave the theater with a bounce in your step and a smile on your face.

It's rare that a film can be emotionally satisfying without the viewer feeling the push and pull of the editor, director, and writer, gently encouraging (or enthusiastically forcing) those emotions to appear. If, as a viewer, you hear the strains of a weepy violin score come in at just the right moment, the filmmakers haven't done their job in trying to truly sweep you off your "feet," as it were as they've presented their story to you. The basic, underlying story in Fish: that of a son trying to come to terms with the father he never quite understood, is very basic on the surface, and this theme of reconciliation is probably the basis for half the films in production today (the other half inevitably deal with revenge).

And Burton even presents his story with familiarity in mind. But somewhere along the way, the director's signature creativity sucks you in with its utterly engrossing visuals and you just forget that Big Fish is just a simple melodrama with top-notch production design. It's not necessarily any one of the individual vignettes concerning Edward Bloom's life that pepper the film that makes it impossible to lose an ounce of interest in the story. Rather, it is the overall combination of cinematography, performances, dialogue, and production design that make the unapologetically uplifting story so captivating for the viewer.

Burton and his design crews have gained a reputation for creating the most unusual visuals and "feels" to their films and when the entire package has succeeded, cult followings have formed around those films. Critics may argue (and fans as well) that Burton has had as many misses as hits in his varied career (the argument over the superiority of a film like 1989's Batman over 2001's Planet of the Apes needs no endless debate), but Big Fish might invoke a different type of argument. With the tall tales and exciting visuals in this film, can one really say it's a departure from Burton's normal fare? Or has Burton finally come upon the incredible merging of a timeless story told in a way that only the director could create?

I would tend to argue the latter, and would hope that all directors would strive toward this goal. Creating a movie that is palatable to the largest possible audience (which Burton seemed to attempt with Apes) usually fails to please the critics and is passed over by more discerning audiences. And making a film that is so entirely eccentric (take Ed Wood, for example) might earn but partial approval from both audiences and critics. But Big Fish seems to encompass both the usual and the unusual in filmmaking, allowing for a refreshing theatrical experience. It's not an art-house film, despite it's leanings toward the unusual, but neither is it a movie geared toward ages two to ninety-five.

Not that the film isn't capable of entertaining anybody of any age, because it certainly is. And given the unaffected and genuine performances of the cast, it's difficult to imagine any other actors playing these roles. Each character is seen at different times in his or her life, and though the story is primarily that of "Edward Bloom," played by Ewan McGregor as the younger and Albert Finney as the elder (two men from the UK playing somebody from Alabama), every character is in the hands of a memorable pair of actors. McGregor, in particular, gives his role a dose of warmth and honesty that might have come off as being fake in a different film, but with the magic-infused script of Fish seems entirely appropriate. Jessica Lange and Allison Lohman, who each play wife "Sandy" in different time periods also infuse their role with a welcome sincerity. Rounding out the major players, Billy Crudup, who has tackled and mastered the art of the understated performance, plays "William Bloom," the Blooms' only son.

One of the most remarkable things about the movie is the large amount of supporting players who all give the story a piece of themselves but who never really step on the importance of the major players performances. Helena Bonham Carter, who can usually be counted on to fetch descriptive terms like "memorable" and "eye-catching" for her appearances again earns those titles by playing multiple roles in the film. Steve Buscemi and Danny DeVito, both tacking on heavy Southern accents onto their characters, make good impressions as well, thanks in part to the ingenious dialogue from screenwriter John August.

One might wonder how much of the dialogue of the film came from August's head and how much of it was written originally by novelist Daniel Wallace, but whatever the case, the trip from the written page to the silver screen seems to have been a successful journey. And the same could be said for all the elements of this film. From Danny Elfman's languid scoring to Philippe Rousselot's appropriately epic cinematography, this picture owns not only a cast of fine performers, but a talented crew as well. All the elements of magnificent filmmaking are present in Big Fish and whether you love or hate the oddball director, you'll be hard pressed not to fall in love with the characters and story of this enchanting film.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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