Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment .
R4 . COLOR . 120 mins .
PG . PAL
This is one story that simply has ‘Tim Burton’ written all over it. And he is the one man who is able to give such a unique story creative justice. With a richly detailed fantasy world described in Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, director Tim Burton seizes this quirky novel and simply soars to rich cinematic storytelling heights.
I hope he's not allergic...
Written in 1998, Wallace’s novel is told as a series of mythical and legendary tales that all tie together based on a relationship between a son and his dying father. Screenwriter John August, the man behind the black comedy hit Go, has ever so slightly changed the format of Wallace’s novel to suit the screen better, but still holds on strongly to its warm essence of a story between a father and son. To date, Wallace’s novel is the only book that has been poignant enough to cause this reviewer to well up – sure movies do it all the time, but it had never happened with a book. Now by saying that, this means that the film causes this guy to do more than well up. Maybe it’s the strong story between a father and son, or just the melodramatic character within me breaking free, but this story is truly unique and absolutely captivating, colourfully decorating the screen for its entire duration. As far as the text-to-screen comparison goes, many stories from Wallace’s novel have been omitted, as well as the multiple “Take” chapters (saying any more would give it away), most probably due to timing and pacing issues, yet August’s screenplay reads like a book in its own right and holds a parallel completeness. This completeness between the text and screenplay, in this reviewer’s opinion, gauges how successfully the transition from text to screen is. And Big Fish succeeds admirably.
In some respects, Big Fish can be seen to contain threads of many other Burton films – the gothic nature of Batman, the horror elements of Sleepy Hollow, the quirky comedy of Beetlejuice and the fable-like quality of Edward Scissorhands. Told as a series of short tales which branch out from the father-son thread, Big Fish subtly unfolds on screen, building a cast of unique, interesting yet familiar characters who live in an extraordinary world. Some stories will make you laugh, while others will make you cry. This heart-warming combination finely threads the elements together, resulting in a remarkable cinematic achievement.
"In telling the story of my father's life it’s impossible to separate the fact from fiction - the man from the myth. The best I can do is tell it the way he told me."
Time stands still
Edward Bloom, played by Albert Finney, is renowned for telling his tall tales, vividly transporting his audience to his imaginative world full of giants, beauties, conjoined twins and a hidden paradise. His son, Will, played by Billy Crudup, simply can’t stand these tales, referring to them as lies – “amusing lies”. But now, Edward Bloom is dying. The story unfolds as Will returns home, where Edward has a tale for every occasion and every comment. These tales range from mythically unproportional stories to romantic fairytales, each marked with a unique clarity and vision that feels so fitting for Tim Burton. Through these stories we meet a young Edward Bloom, played by an excellent Ewan McGregor who simply captures the delightful nature of Edward’s stories and gives the character a real glowing edge, where we join him on is life journey and venture into this uniquely bizarre world. However, Will’s impatience with his father is ultimately tested when he must himself learn about the line between fact and fiction and understand his father’s feats and failings.
The film is worthy of its own journey, so requires little introduction. Filled with many Tim Burton regulars including Helena Bonham Carter, Danny DeVito, Colleen Atwood, Chris Lebenzon and Danny Elfman, Big Fish is simply a delight to watch from start to finish, an entire story told as smaller tall tales, with each as important as the next, and ultimately containing a rich warmth that hits you poignantly right inside. Big Fish is superb cinema in all respects, and quite simply belongs in any fan’s DVD collection.
Not the same Spectre as last time...
Presented in Big Fish’s original theatrical aspect of 1.85:1, this anamorphic transfer is a great representation of a visually-intriguing film, even if it is not entirely perfect. One of the first things you’ll notice with the transfer is the colours. These are heavily saturated, resulting in solid, vibrant tones which work well as an emotional tool dealing with contrast. These hugely saturated colours appear to be oozing with life, and have been mastered so as to convey the huge amount of visual contrast throughout the film, a directorial effect. Blacks are solid, yet at times the image can appear a little dark. Shadow detail is generally good during the lighter scenes, however when a sequence is set in utter darkness, the shadows appear rather murky leaving the image a little ill-defined. During one or two of the dim scenes, a slight wash of grain can be seen, yet this stealthily sneaks past. Edges are nicely defined, without showing excessive unsightly edge enhancement, and film artefacts are absent. On vertical details, some slight digital noise reduction artefacts can be seen, with a slight ‘jumping’ appearance, but to be annoyed by something like this you’ll really need to be looking for it. Subtitles, whilst only selectable from the menu, are neatly presented with near 100% accuracy. The layer change, placed at 88:20, is so discrete the player didn’t so much as flick as the change sneaks past. Perfectly placed in all respects, this is how a layer change should be. Tim Burton’s creative vision is brilliantly brought to life on screen with many magic moments, exquisite framing and beautiful imagery, and what better way to view this beauty than on this stunning transfer?
Pure Burton genius
Out of the collection of audio tracks supplied, the ideal film option is the Dolby Digital 5.1 English track, showing how exciting a dramatic soundstage can be. Dialogue comes from the centre channel, with barely any discrete peeps to other channels, and generally sounds pretty good. At times, however, the dialogue does sound a little artificial, such as Amos at the Circus when Edward and Amos first meet. Surround action is rather restricted due to the nature of the film, however when used, the 5.1 soundstage simply brims with life, with rich and active rear channels, discrete front left and right channels, and a healthily supporting bubbling woofer. The score, written by Tim Burton regular Danny Elfman, is simply gorgeous, hugely orchestral with warm, heart-melting cues and dramatic brass progression, adding so much to the fairytale-like quality of the film. Accompanying Elfman’s score is a handful of songs – including Twice the Love sung by Ping and Ling during the film, and Golden Globe-nominated Man of the Hour written by Eddie Vedder and performed by Pearl Jam, obviously including Eddie Vedder. If you’re an Elfman fan, this is one soundtrack for your collection that features a unique, moving and flowing score as well as a small collection of tracks written for the film, plus classics from Buddy Holly and the Vogues to name a few.
Big Fish leaps off the screen with absolute richness - a taste of what's to come.
Columbia Tristar have provided us with their usual high standard of animated 16:9 menus, which are suitably toned to the film with the poster image going through seasonal phases, quite fitting for the story. From the menus, you have access to these great features, as well as an Easter Egg, but you know where to look to find that one.
Up first is a prize feature-length audio commentary by Tim Burton, and as always it is simply an informative delight to listen to. This time, however, an interviewer, who’s name is mumbled too quickly, fires questions at Burton throughout the film, making Burton reveal much insight into Big Fish itself as well as many of his other projects. This unique approach to the commentary is wise and hugely informative, especially given some of Burton’s previous rather ‘silent’-ish efforts – and what’s better than learning about Tim Burton when watching the stunning imagery of Big Fish? This is by far Tim Burton’s best commentary to date.
The Character’s Journey
This first collection of extra features contains three featurettes looking at the characters of the film. Edward Bloom at Large, running for 8:46, takes a look at Edward’s character, primarily from McGregor’s point of view, and how enjoyable Bloom is as a character to play. Amos at the Circus (4:38) gives us brief insight into Danny DeVito’s character and where particular influences came from, as well as Burton’s respect for the actor. Fathers and Sons (7:21) focuses on Albert Finney (Senior Edward Bloom) and Billy Crudup (Will Bloom), and their connection and emotional story. All three of these featurettes, and the following, are presented in a full-frame aspect with stereo sound.
The Filmmakers’ Path
This next collection of featurettes takes a look at the crew side of production with great insight into the creative making of the film. Tim Burton: Storyteller, running for 6:45, looks at Tim Burton as a director, with positive appraisal from the cast involved. A Fairytale World, 9:33, gives us great insight into the world of, believe it or not, fairytales, and how Burton used these mythological symbols and threads in the film, as well as a brief look into the makeup of the witch. For such a beautiful woman, it’s funny that Helena Bonham Carter gets the roles that require heavy makeup in Burton films – the witch in Big Fish and Ari in Planet of the Apes. Creature Features (6:26) takes a look at the magic of Stan Winston and his team, the crew behind the creatures and critters in the film. This talented studio is brilliantly shown off in both the film and this featurette, and really shows the raw talent of Winston and his team. Finally, The Author’s Journey (7:58) features an interview with Daniel Wallace and John August where the pair discuss the transformation of the novel to the big screen – a rare and informative special. Together, this collection of seven featurettes are a superb inclusion on this feature-packed DVD, and offer great insight into the characters and many aspects of the film’s creation.
Fish Tales is an added user branching viewing mode which, when switched on, places a funky hat icon on the screen which will take you to further relevant information. The extra information is exactly the same as the featurettes described above, as specified by the following chapters and timestamps:
Chapter 2 – 8:33 – Edward Bloom at Large
Chapter 3 – 14:41 – Fathers and Sons
Chapter 6 – 26:20 – Tim Burton: Storyteller
Chapter 9 – 35:49 – A Fairytale World
Chapter 11 – 44:16 – Amos at the Circus
Chapter 14 – 54:30 – Creature Features
Chapter 16 – 64:14 – The Author’s Journey
While watching these featurettes you can play The Finer Points: A Trivia Challenge, or you can also play this in a direct question-after-question format. If you turn this feature on, when watching The Filmmakers’ Path featurettes a key icon will appear on the screen and lead you to a question. The questions, some of which hold some pretty good Tim Burton trivia, and one slight trick question for those not 100% thinking, are limited to ten, sadly with very little replay value. A correct answer for each question leads the audience to a 1:59 clip of the making of the technically astounding circus scene, presented in a letterboxed widescreen aspect. Don’t worry if you get one wrong, select 'Try Again' and give it another shot. For those curious, the hotspots in the featurettes can be found in:
Tim Burton: Storyteller – 0:53, 3:30 and 6:28
A Fairytale World - 2:06, 3:45 and 6:13
Creature Features - 0:46, 1:23 and 4:11
The Author’s Journey - 4:54
Three trailers have been included to complete the collection, including the superb theatrical trailer for Big Fish, anamorphically enhanced with a duration of 2:16. The two remaining trailers are for Radio and Mona Lisa Smile, both anamorphically enhanced with durations of 1:46 and 2:11 respectively.
Being a Tim Burton fan, there is a certain amount of bias that comes with a review such as this. But Big Fish just has so much going for it, centred around a hugely successful conversion of Daniel Wallace’s novel to the screen. This disc definitely deserves a place in your DVD collection for simply wonderful, rich and imaginative storytelling with a neat, yet not perfect, transfer to boot. The swarm of extra features are great for fans of Tim Burton, offering a technical, trivial and informative insight into the making of the film, with the highlight being the complete and packed audio commentary. While the list may not be long, the quality of the content is well above this reviewer’s expectations.
This is, quite simply, an amazing film from the simple storytelling point of view to rich, creative imagery from the mind of Tim Burton. There’s nothing stopping you now – a great film with a neat transfer and a heap of informative extra features. Big Fish deserves a proud place in any fan’s collection.