Big Fish

73 ratings (68 Epinions reviews)
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Tim Burton's 1001 Stories of Imagination from a Blow-Hard

Oct 25, 2004
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Action Factor:
  • Special Effects:
  • Suspense:

Pros:Burton's Direction, Script, Look, Music, & Performances.

Cons:A Bit Inconsistent at Times.

The Bottom Line: "Big Fish" is an Evocative, Moving Return-to-Form effort from Tim Burton. (4.5 out of 5)


Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.


Tim Burton is a director whose quirky, offbeat vision has been beloved by many filmgoers. Whether it was the world of an overgrown child in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”, the dead dealing with death in the hilarious “Beetlejuice”, or a guy with scissors in “Edward Scissorhands”. Along with the first two “Batman” movies with Michael Keaton in the role, Burton has been a director who always had a strange imagination. After 1994’s “Ed Wood” about the B-movie director, Burton reached a peak as a director but 1996’s “Mars Attacks!” and 1999’s “Sleepy Hollow” didn’t reach the heights of Burton’s earlier films. In 2001, Burton did a remake of “Planet of the Apes” which despite some good box office was hailed as a low point for Burton. In 2003, Burton decided to go back to his familiar territory of elaborate, quirky visions based on Daniel Wallace’s book of a young man trying to deal with his dying father and the tall tales he told when he was child and wondering if they were true entitled “Big Fish”.

“Big Fish” is a whimsical, heartfelt story filled with elaborate settings and eye-wielding imagination that only Tim Burton could truly capture. With the adapted script by John August, “Big Fish” is a multi-layered story set back and forth into present time as an old man named Edward Bloom tries to tell his adult son William about the stories he told to William, as a child, that they were true. With William wanting to discover more truths and with a child on the way for himself, it’s a story of a young man trying to find anything about himself through his father. Starring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Helena Bohnam Carter, Marion Cotillard, Robert Guillaume, Steve Buscemi, and Burton regular Danny Devito. “Big Fish” is a true return-to-form effort from the always imaginative Tim Burton.

For long as he could remember since childhood, William Bloom (Billy Crudup) has always felt the stories his father Edward (Albert Finney as the older Edward) were always exaggerated. Though he enjoyed them as a child but over the years as an adult, William no longer believes them and refuses to talk to his father for three years while living in Paris with wife Josephine (Marion Cotillard). Then one day, William receives a call from his mother Sandra (Jessica Lange as the older Sandra) that Edward is dying. William and Josephine fly to William’s home in Alabama to be with him while consulting doctor Bennett (Robert Guillaume) that Edward doesn’t have a long time to live. William decides to stay home taking care of Edward while he was force to endure one of Edward’s stories.

Edward tells the story of his birth where at 10 years old (Perry Walston), he met a witch (Helena Bohnam Carter) who had a mysterious that played to the fate of everyone who has seen it. Edward was a peculiar child who was starting to grow very big and by 18 (now played by Ewan McGregor), he grown into adult size and was considered a town favorite because of his accomplishments and heroics. Then one day, a giant was stalking the town and Edward went to confront the giant named Karl (Matthew McGrory), who he befriends as he and Edward decided to leave the town of Ashton, Alabama.

On the way to the big city, the two split where Edward comes across a mysterious town called Specter where he meets its leader Beaman (Loudon Wainwright III) and his wife Mildred (Missi Pyle) and a shoe-stealing kid named Jenny (Hailey Anne Nelson). He also meets an old poet from Ashton named Norther Winslow (Steve Buscemi) who hasn’t left the quaint, perfect little town since arrived there. Edward realized he arrived a bit early but while he liked the place, he had to leave since he knew he needed to see Karl. After leaving, he finds Karl again where they go on their way to the big city.

Back in present time, Josephine watches old Edward for the night as she asked how he met Sandra and their marriage. Edward says he met her (Alison Lohman) at a circus where after getting Karl a job, Edward wants to know who that girl was. He takes a job for nearly nothing working for circus ringleader Amos Calloway (Danny Devito) where every month, he gives Edward information about Sandra. Learning that Amos has a secret, Edward finds out and when Amos realized what Edward has learned, he gives full information. Edward finally meets Sandra only to learn she’s engaged to Edward’s Ashton rival Don Price (David Denman). Edward continues to win his love for Sandra where he won the girl despite a beat down from Don. Josephine was amazed by the story but William still doesn’t believe that his father stories are true.

With William and Josephine helping out Sandra cleaning out some files, Edward discovers one about a house deed Edward gave to a woman. Sandra recalls the story of how Edward, after their engagement was sent to serve in the Korean war where he was nearly presumed dead but came home secretly while getting two Siamese twin girls named Ping and Jing (Ada and Arlene Tai) to America. Edward had decided to become a traveling salesman where he meets Norther, who left Specter, who had become a bank robber. After a somewhat successful heist, Edward gives Norther something to invest where he became a millionaire and in return, Norther gave him money to buy a home and start his business.

William decides to go find this woman Edward had made a deed to assuming that Edward had an affair but learned that it was in the town of Specter where he met an old woman named Jenny (Helena Bohnam Carter). During one of his business trips, Edward came across Specter only to be found as ruined and disintegrated. He bought the town to renovate with help from Norther, Amos, and circus friends where the town got back its beautiful, prestige look. One house Edward came across that he never found belong to the little girl who stole his shoes who has now grown into a woman. Jenny at first, didn’t want to have the house be bought by him and be signed to her but seeing Edward’s generosity, she realized how much of a good man he was even though he loved Sandra and whatever feelings he had for Jenny couldn’t happen. With Edward now near death, William comes to realization and tries to come to terms with the kind of man his father really is.

While the film’s non-linear structure from screenwriter John August only suffers in its inconsistency, “Big Fish” is still a story that is very easy to follow thanks to Tim Burton’s masterful, imaginative direction. The way Burton captures a certain image or offbeat world through his camera is filled with spectacular visions that are elaborate and very story-like. Burton truly knows how to captures an emotional moment not just through images but also getting the actors to hit certain emotional chords. With production designer Dennis Gassner and the film’s art directors and costume designer helping Burton capture that quirky, dreamy look of the film, the movie has a distinct style that truly plays well to Burton’s cinematic style.

Helping Burton capture that even more is cinematographer Philippe Rousselot who brings an evocative, colorful cinematography that is wondrous in its lighter scenes while bringing a dark, blue green in night scenes concerning young Edward’s adventures. Then there’s Burton’s longtime collaborator Danny Elfman who brings a lush, uplifting score composition filled with lovely arrangements and textures while Pearl Jam contributes the song “Man Of The Hour” that plays well to the film’s imaginative story.

Then there’s the film’s rich ensemble cast which features wonderful small performances Loudon Wainwright III, Missi Pyle, David Denman, Ada & Arlene Tai, Hailey Anne Nelson, and Perry Walston as the child version of Edward Bloom. One small role that really stood out is Matthew McGory as the gentle giant Karl who manages to display depth into his character without looking like some freak or something peculiar often seen in a Burton film. Instead, McGory throughout the movie is treated like an equal along with some of eccentric characters. Robert Guillaume is also wonderful in his small performance as Dr. Bennett where in the third and final act; he offers some great insight into believing elaborate stories or real ones.

Steve Buscemi is also excellent in his ubiquitous way as poet-turned-robber-turned-millionaire Norther Winslow where Buscemi got to be eccentric while sympathetic at the same time. Danny Devito also shines as the mysterious Amos Calloway with his oddball ideas and his secret where Devito got to be a good-natured man who also serves as a loyal friend to Bloom. Helena Bohnam Carter is excellent in her dual role as the one-eyed witch and as the older Jenny with her warm smile and childlike innocence while the latter grows into a woman who is grateful for Edward’s generosity despite her feelings towards him as she plays a woman who accepts her fate.

Marion Cotillard is wonderful as Josephine in the role of William’s wife who tries to learn about not only her husband but also the kind of man he could be through Edward where she and Albert Finney have a wonderfully touching scene as Finney discusses his own love life. While Alison Lohman’s role was small as the young Sandra, she does manage to bring a beauty and regality to the role that is well complemented while Jessica Lange truly shines as the older Sandra with her vivacious smile and undying loyalty to Edward. Billy Crudup is excellent as William Bloom despite the fact that his character didn’t have any humor but Crudup still manages to bring a depth to his character and his role definitely evolves thanks to Crudup’s understatedly, subtle performance.

In the role of Edward Bloom, the film features two great performances from Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney. Both British actors not only do a fine Southern accent for their performances but also bring in nice similarities to interplay with each other even though they’re not in a scene together. McGregor brings a boyish, innocent charm to his approach to the young Edward Bloom along with a determination and generosity. This is by far one of McGregor’s best performances as he brings more of likeability to the more blow-hard approach of Finney. Finney is truly a revelation as the older Edward Bloom as a man who chooses to believe in his own stories despite their exaggerations while he also brings that nice innocent charm McGregor had in a more flirtatious way. Finney and McGregor are truly the film’s most brightest and touching performances.

“Big Fish” is a remarkable, spectacular film from Tim Burton helmed by a great cast led by the dual performances of Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney. With a nice production look, cinematography, Danny Elfman’s score, and John August’s screenplay, “Big Fish” stands as another winner for Tim Burton. Though it’s not great in comparison to his earlier films, it’s still an essential film from the multi-talented and imaginative Burton. “Big Fish” is also his most moving, as it’s a movie that makes you believe in strange imaginations and stories, even if they’re exaggerated at times. “Big Fish” stands as a return-to-form for Tim Burton who still got it as one of the best cinematic storytellers of the past 20 years.


Recommend this product? Yes


Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older

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