Review: Big Fish (2003)


I once thought I caught a big fish, ended up an old tire that was hooked to the bottom of the pier!

Screenplay By: John August
Directed By: Tim Burton

I was fully into the first half, maybe a bit more, of Big Fish, then the film started to change and I didn’t like where it went. The first half of Big Fish is full of imagination and doesn’t feel the need to bog itself down with real world dynamics. The first half feels very much like, and is, a fable of the highest order. Then for some reason the story turned towards the realistic and felt the need to definitively tie down what was truth and what was exaggeration. It also became far too sentimental and syrupy, but I am more forgiving of that than I am of the wrong turn taken by the story.

With any Burton film you know that at the very least you can fall back on his flare for visuals. Big Fish is no different, both the fantasy realm and the real world have a plethora of images that are pleasing to the eyes and display a hearty amount of craft. As weird as it is to say, at this point in time Burton is actually being hurt by how good he is with visuals. I know what he can do with the camera when it comes to titillating me, now I need to see him get back to putting a cohesive and well laid out narrative on the screen again. He always has those visuals to fall back on, but that leaves him in the realm of a good director instead of a great one.

Within the narrative it is that split between the first and second halves of the film that cause the most displeasure. In a lot of ways Big Fish bears resemblance to a film that was released the following year, Finding Neverland. Both touch on the imagination, the great heights of the mind, but the two are radically different in finding a resolution for their story and in blending truth with fantasy. Where Finding Neverland is stellar at both, Big Fish falters and cracks. The story in Big Fish actually feels too clean and tidy in the end, it feels all too real. The first half is pure fantasy, we don’t care if what he says is the truth or an exaggeration, it’s a fun ride and each story helps to further the gulf between father and son. The second half of Big Fish wants to connect all the dots and drive home the “reality” of the story, but in doing so it loses most of its whimsy and its draw.

Acting wise Big Fish doesn’t have a weak link. It is a varied cast who fully inhabit their roles. There have been complaints about Billy Crudup being too laid back. He could have been more earnest, but he gets across the disconnected son just fine in his laid back tone and mannerisms. There were severe age differences in the appearances of some characters and the make-up department on Big Fish did a grand job of keeping a cohesiveness between the young and the old.

I am a fan of fantastic tales done right and that is why despite its flaws I am a fan of Big Fish. The first half is truly inspired film making that can overcome the majority of the second half. But, that leaves you with an uneven picture and that unfortunately has become the norm for Burton in his recent pictures. Still, I’ll take an uneven, but good somewhat fantasy tale any day of the week and in that regard Big Fish does come through.




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