Big Fish (2003)
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter
Plot: A story about a son trying to learn more about his dying father by reliving stories and myths his father told him about himself.
Genre: Adventure / Drama / Fantasy
Awards: Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Original Score.
Rating: NC16 for a fight scene, some images of nudity and a suggestive reference.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“A man tells his stories so many times that he becomes the stories. They live on after him, and in that way he becomes immortal.”
Big Fish is a small, quiet film by Tim Burton, one of cinema’s leading visual stylists. Often accused of indulging in more style than substance, Burton answers his harshest critics with a fantasy drama that is not only well-made, but perhaps one of the most balanced films in the director’s oeuvre of mostly offbeat works.
Based from a fictional novel written by Daniel Wallace, Big Fish’s biggest reward is only a solitary Oscar nomination for Danny Elfman’s beautiful score. Should it have garnered more nominations including a hopeful shot at Best Picture?
Albert Finney plays old Ed Bloom, a father dying of cancer. His son, Will (Billy Crudup), realizes that he has never really known his father all these years. After all, Edward has never told his son a single true story about his life. What he enjoys most is repeating his tall stories about his incredible adventures that he lived by when he was younger.
Like how he encountered a witch with a glass eye that could predict one’s death. Or a gentle giant who he befriended. Or how he parachuted down during a war mission in Korea and met two beautiful Siamese twins.
Burton explores these adventures with Ewan McGregor playing a young Ed Bloom. At times quirky and fun, Burton brings an optimistic outlook to the film with vivid colours and an assortment of cartoonish characters. He does it with a laidback style that focuses more on the relationships among the characters than the film’s visuals.
Granted, the visuals are still excellent; there is no better way to describe than calling it Burtonesque. One scene completely defines that word: Ed drives a classic red coupe in the midst of a torrential storm and suddenly winds up on a calm riverbed where a nude woman figure elegantly swims.
The relationship between father and son plays the pivot in which the whole film centers on. To Will, his father is a mystery. Are his stories factual or myths? By the end of the film, the enigma is gone and is replaced with a newfound revelation. Big Fish has all the ingredients to be a tearjerker.
But Burton does not want to sweep us away with a weep fest; he wants us to be buoyant and hopeful of the future. Ultimately, he wants us to measure life not in terms of its absoluteness but rather through the experiences it gives us. Big Fish is not Burton’s best work, but it may be his most heart-warming.
GRADE: B (7.5/10 or 3.5 stars)