Big Fish

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Tim Burton is perhaps the most idiosyncratic and quirky director working in Hollywood today. His films may fail to satisfy you, but even the most critical of viewers would agree that they are fascinating.

Big Fish, starring Ewan McGregor, tells the story of Edward Bloom, whose exaggerated stories about his own life are loved by everyone else except his son Will, played without any grace by Billy Crudup. (For a while, I confused Crudup with Christian Bale, a far superior actor). This conflict between Edward’s fables, which his son sees as lies, and his son’s refusal to believe them is the theme of the movie.

The stories that make up Edward’s life include: A circus owner, played by Danny Devito, who becomes a werewolf by night; the heaven-like town of Spectre which has grass pavements and where no one wears shoes; a naked mermaid, who appears as the object anyone wishes for; a pair of conjoin Korean twins; a witch played by Helena Bonham Carter in whose eyes the viewer can see the exact manner of his death; and a thousand other scenes which serve as Burton’s big excuse to show off the special effects.

We don’t quite know until the end if the stories are all true. Edward’s wife played by a lovely looking Alison Lohman (who matures into Jessica Lange) tells her son that not all the stories are entirely fabricated.

But somehow, the Burton touch, while clearly there, doesn’t work its usual magic. That’s probably because this is a very pointless story just like those told by its protagonist played in old age by Albert Finney. At one point, Edward’s doctor tells his son that he chose to believe the stories because they were always better than the truth. But the movie doesn’t delve deeper into this subject. Are fables better than truth? Burton doesn’t ask.

The title of the movie is from one of Edward’s stories. This is the fish Edward is catching when his son is born and the fish that he turns into in the movie abysmal climatic sequence.

This is a feel good film with its moments. Like like the one where Edward runs into the poet Norther Winslow (a cameo by Steve Buscemi) just as he is robbing a bank.

The darkness that was so present in Burton’s earlier movies like Sleepy Hollow is missing here. Never mind that the quality of this film is nowhere close to Edward Scissorhands, the effort that made Burton internationally known.

I love Burton movies and consider myself a fan. If you don’t like him much, don’t watch this movie.

10 responses to “Big Fish

  1. Hi Nandhu, I didn’t mind ‘Big Fish’ when it was released because it was the beginning of a phase when there was thrash and only thrash coming out of Hollywood. I do believe that the general standard of cinema does influence individual filmmakers’ desire to raise the bar. Although Burton tends to work in isolation, I think his stock has fallen owing to the same reason.

    Also, his dependence on special effects has shot up rapidly from the days when he made the brilliant ‘Ed Wood’ and ‘Beetle Juice’ apart from the two films you have cited. Lastly, filmmakers are fantastic filmmakers before they cross 35. Apart from John Frankenheimer, I am yet to come across an English-language filmmaker who did not allow age to influence his art.

    Actually, I believe it has less to do with age — but more to do with the power of youth. That’s when we all have the stories to tell. Spielberg, Kubrick, Scorsese (Nothing compares to ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Raginbg Bull’), Woody Allen, et al — their storytelling prowess came in their late 20s.

    I think Burton has crossed that mark, although I would highly recommend his animated feature film called ‘Corpse Bride’. Nice story… nicely rendered.

    And finally, your reviews are wonderful… provocative. I envy your trait to be able to deconstruct the story and state its building blocks lucidly. Try as hard as I may, I cannot do that. It requires clarity… and your reviews do make for excellent reading.

    Cheers,
    Kunal

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  2. thanks for the generous praise. your words never fail to enthuse me. now I again know someone out there is reading and liking this!

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  3. Hi Nandhu,

    I am a big fan of Tim Burton too, and Edward Scissorhands is one of my fav movies . I really liked Big Fish and have watched it a couple of times.

    I agree when you say that it did not have the soul that Ed did, but it did bring a smile and tear to my face when I saw it.

    I felt that Ed Scissorhands was a more genuine attempt by Tim Burton, in the sense that none of his other movies had that innocence that Ed did. Ed spelt magic and I think has been inspirational behind the making of several Bollywood films, such as, Kal Ho Na Ho, Iyarkai by Janardhanan, and Saawariya (Sanjay Leela BHansali’s sets in this movie remind me so much of Tim Burton), although Saawariya was crap and made me hit the stop button after 10 minutes.

    I love your eviews too, yea so to cut a long story short, Big Fish was a good attempt and a very heart felt film, but I dont think Tim Burton will ever be able to recreate the magic and simplicity with which he made Edward Scissorhands.

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  4. news is, Kanchana, that he may have recreated his old magic with his new movie. i didnt exactly hate Big Fish. it certainly had some Burtonesque moments. i wished he just had gone deeper. he certainly has the talent. i wish he hadnt settled for a feel good, uplifting kind of film. the climax i thought was quite ghastly. it was a total cop out from the crisis between father and son he had set up.

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  5. Yeah, true. I too had loads of expectations from da ending and I should say I was a wee bit disappointed.

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  6. ah I finally found your blog !…nice review mate…but I kinda liked Big Fish more than you did..it was fascinating to watch..I wouldnt want to compare it with his previous movies but I still loved the movie…ya really think Sweeny Todd is coming to chennai? been ages since we’ve had any good english movies releasing..these theaters have sold out badly to the local stuff !

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  7. No mention of Albert Finney? Wasn’t he a lot more adorable than McGregor? Somehow the old age Bloom seemed a lot real to me.

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  8. Sweeny Todd is getting released in Inox for sure and probably Satyam as well. it’s a major movie. besides I saw the posters.

    I liked Finney. Didnt know if he had to act act. he just kinda occupied the space of that character.

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  9. ah but I saw the posters for Big Fish too(when it was supposed to be released) ..in sathyam..it never got released 🙂 …anyway I guess having Depp will ensure that they will release it…

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  10. wasn’t it? i remember the big promos. i presumed it was. dont remember really. hope sweeny todd gets released. they did release Sleepy Hollow.

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