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Big Fish (2003)

  Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: John August, Daniel Wallace
Starring: Helena Bonham Carter, Billy Crudup, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Ewan McGregor
Links: Big Fish on the IMDb, Official site, Buy the Soundtrack, Buy on DVD, Buy on Video, Buy the Book
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 7.33 (3 ratings) Ranking: Ranked equal 95th of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

Big Fish (2003) is also mentioned in mino's review of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004).

"So very Burton" - a review by mino

Normally, I'm not the sort of person who has a preference for the ‘style’ of one director over another, for the simple reason that I usually don't even notice the hand of the director at play. Partially, this is because I'm not exactly 100% sure of what a director even does; but partially because I often feel that the best thing a director can do is to not impart a style at all. When I do notice a director's work, it's usually because they've screwed something up: not noticing their hand in things is a good sign that it's all done well.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. One is Terry Gilliam; another is Tim Burton, director of Big Fish. Both directors produce work which is so indelibly stamped as theirs, you could easily walk into a film by either, not knowing who directed it, and instantly recognise their handicraft. From Beetlejuice (1988) to Batman (1989), there's no mistaking Burton's work: his crazy imaginings are second to none, and he can transport you to another world like no-one else can.

Big Fish, therefore, is right down Burton's alley. It's a tall tale about tall tales, with Albert Finney playing dying family patriarch Ed Bloom. Ed is renowned as a stretcher of the truth, always ready with some outlandish and fanciful story of his younger days as a roving adventurer. This grates with his son Will (Billy Crudup), who is sick of his father's ‘lies’, and just wants to get to know the real Ed.

The movie is basically a sequence of stories from Ed's life, interleaved with the modern-day scenes of Ed's last days. At first, I felt that the modern-day scenes were a little pointless, just an excuse to bookend unrelated stories together; as the movie goes on, though, the importance of these scenes grows and you realise how important they are (and how much they would benefit from having a better actor than Crudup involved). It's the flashbacks to Ed's supposed earlier life, though, that really make this movie — not because of the presence of Ewan McGregor as the younger Ed, as he is nothing special (though a surprisingly good match for Finney), but because of the obvious delight Burton takes in telling them.

Some scenes are so outlandishly bright they hurt your eyes: they're jammed against dark, foreboding forests and twisted, hyper-real circuses. With Burton's usual crazy characters, nifty but not overdone effects, and beautiful scenery, these scenes are a treat to watch — frankly, they're so lovely to look at that it doesn't even really matter what happens in them. The most distinctive Burtonesque feature, though, is the fact that these scenes are absolutely larger-than-life in every way, in the way that Burton does so well — they're almost ridiculous in parts, but so engaging that you really don't care. (They're literally larger-than-life, too, in the case of Karl the giant, who is one creepy Paul Dempsey-lookin' mother).

Some of the tales are better than others, needless to say, but on the whole they're consistently good, with only the ‘wartime’ tale sticking out as possibly one that could have done with being pruned. It all builds to an ending that could be described by some as way too sickly-sweet, but I thought was just right for the story.

Add in the best incidental role given to Steve Buscemi since Billy Madison (1995), and you've got a charming little story that, while not quite up there with some of Burton's more impressive work, certainly goes some way towards wiping the grievous wrong that was Planet of the Apes (2001) off Burton's otherwise clean copybook.

mino gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Mon 15 Mar 2004

"Shiny happy people holding shoes" - a review by pearly

Tim Burton's films are usually dark, and possibly macabre. They're creatively brilliant, with exciting things to look at all over the place, and bizarre things going on all about. Big Fish has this creativity, but utilised differently: it isn't all that dark.

The closest resemblance to other Burton films is the character of Jenny (the witch - played by Helena Bonham Carter), and her crooked little house. It's like seeing a house from Sleepy Hollow (1999) in the middle of The Wizard of Oz (1939). The quirkiness of other Burton films is still present in Big Fish, but it's all smiles und sunshine, rather than frowns und cobwebs.

Is this a good thing? Maybe. It could definitely have been done in such a way as to make it as wonderful as any other Burton film - and moreso, because if you do something unexpected, and do it well, then it's an even more pleasant surprise. I would have been all for this, because with Burton's creativity, I'm sure he's totally capable of making a unique film that is at the same time quite different to what people expect from him. Unfortunately, Big Fish doesn't quite make the grade. Sure, it's a good film, but it coulda been better.

Firstly, I wasn't overly fond of either of the two younger male leads: Billy Crudup as Will, and Ewan McGregor as the young version of Will's father Ed. Both were workable in their parts, but neither deserved two thumbs-up, and as we all know from Burton's work with Johnny Depp, he's quite capable of getting brilliant performances out of his actors. Albert Finney, on the other hand, was wonderful. Alison Lohman was like a gem in the rough too, but her role needed to be a bit bigger before you could take any real notice of her. And then, of course, there's Matthew McGrory, who plays Karl the giant, who would be able to stand out no matter what!

And then, there were some bits which just seemed to be trying too hard. I enjoyed the bright and cheery quirkiness, but some of it didn't work very well. Plus, it all seemed to be building to a gigantic ending that I wasn't sure would be able to be pulled off: it was, somewhat, but it did leave a little nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach, and that is immensely annoying.

But I whinge too much. An enjoyable film.

pearly gives this movie 7 out of 10.
Review created on Fri 13 Feb 2004

"Big fish, old recipe" - a review by citizenjoe

There are very few directors that I look forward to as much as Tim Burton. He has a style that is quite unique and a view of the world that is fresh and splashed with a sense of innocence that is always worth watching.

Big Fish is a film that suits Burton down to the ground. It has a fabulous cast that includes: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Billy Crudup and Helena Bonham Carter.

The story is about a son (Crudup) trying to find the truth in amongst the tall tales that his dying father (Finney/McGregor) has been spinning all his life. And in doing so perhaps find out the person his father really is.

Ah, foolish boy, he should have realised that this is a Tim Burton film where reality and fantasy are often intertwined. For example, take Edward Scissorhands (1990). Burton has made a trademark of being able to turn off the soup before it becomes syruppy and unpalatable.

Oops. Something smells a little over cooked.

There is something about Big Fish which to me doesn't quite sit right. It feels like Burton doing a Burton. It all feels too expected and too, ... too ... Burton.

Perhaps it's just that such fine English actors as Finney and McGregor have such "Down-South" accents that every time they open their mouths, their tall tales just seem ridiculous.

I think it also has to do with the fact that this Burton lacks an element that often makes a Burton movie: Johnny Depp.

Billy Crudup almost looks like Depp, almost sounds like Depp, but he just isn't Depp enough for the part.

Big Fish should be seen by lovers of Burton movies. Even if it's just to witness what happens when you put too much syrup in the fish stew.

citizenjoe gives this movie 7 out of 10.
Review created on Tue 23 Dec 2003

Movie review statistics

Number of reviews: 3
Average rating: 7.33
Lowest rating: 7 (by pearly, citizenjoe)
Highest rating: 8 (by mino)
Rating Percentage

Reader comments

  1. Tim Burton is amazing. I love all of his movies, especially Edward Scissorhands. The whole idea of the movie is bizarre but it's just so amazing you want to be apart of the movie and the characters. I agree that he's missing Johnny Depp but it was casted great, also. So two thumbs up to it!

    Rating given: 9

    A comment from Michelle on Sat 17 Jan 2004 14:11 #

  2. Big Fish is probably my favourite movie of the past two years. The father and son dynamic in the movie touched me deeply and I found myself weeping by the end of the movie. I think Big Fish was made to bring to surface this relationship and is great for the general audience, but the male population will take even more from this film.

    Rating given: 10

    A comment from kim on Sun 07 Nov 2004 20:00 #

  3. this has got 2 b 1 of burtons best films, tho the best burton film is the nightmare before christmas, people that dnt think burton is gr8 must b badly mixed in the head, big fish was kinda confuzzlin at the end, tho the witch was gr8

    Rating given: 10

    A comment from katie on Wed 20 Apr 2005 04:00 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 9.67 (3 ratings)

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