[Note: This was an assignment for my Basic Reporting class in the Fall 2003 semester. I wrote it on November 19, 2003, after attending a preview screening at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, NY (which was part of an at-that-time complete Tim Burton retrospective). I only had a 350-word limit. In honor of tomorrow’s release of Frankenweenie, I’ve decided to post this 9 year-old review of Tim Burton’s 10th feature film.]
“Most men, they’ll tell you a story straight through,” says Edward Bloom. “It won’t be complicated, but it won’t be interestin’ either!”
Big Fish, the new film from director Tim Burton (Batman, Sleepy Hollow), is essentially a story about great storytelling. Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace, Big Fish tells the larger-than-life tale of an Alabama salesman named Edward Bloom (Albert Finney). Bloom is a teller of tall tales about his own life, impressing everyone except for his son William (Billy Crudup). After three years of not speaking to him, William learns that his father is dying of cancer. His mother Sandy Bloom (Jessica Lange as the older Sandy) asks William to return home in an effort to reunite father and son. Once he confronts his father, William agrees to hear his father’s tales once more to distinguish fact from fiction in order to learn who his father really is. The tales (with Ewan McGregor as the young Edward Bloom) include Bloom’s encounter with a giant, his unusual courtship of his future wife (Alison Lohman as the younger Sandy), his hilarious tour of duty in Vietnam, and his tireless efforts to save a bankrupt town.
The cast also includes Danny DeVito as a circus ringmaster, Steve Buscemi as poet Norther Winslow, Helena Bonham Carter as Jenny, Matthew McGrory as Karl the giant, and Robert Guillaume as the family doctor. John August’s screenplay is well-structured and balances the humor with the drama. Philippe Rousselot’s cinematography is awe-inspiring. The stunningly beautiful visual effects go hand-in-hand with Dennis Gassner’s magnificent production design, with sets ranging from the heavenly town of Spectre to a Vietnamese music show. The film’s music is composed of a few songs that reflect the time periods that the tales are set in and Danny Elfman’s beautiful original score. Tim Burton’s keen direction pulls everything together. If you enjoyed Forrest Gump, then you’ll enjoy this film, which deserves several Oscar nods, including Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Supporting Actor, Actor, Director, and Picture. As the film’s tagline puts it, Big Fish is an adventure as big as life itself.