Big Fish (2003)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

In cooperation with many of his past collaborators, Tim Burton has created what I believe will be another lasting masterpiece. Big Fish is the story of Edward Bloom (Albert Finney as the older character and Ewan McGregor as the younger) as related by both Edward and his son William (Billy Crudup). Edward’s life story is told via a series of flashbacks, with William attempting to understand his father’s life and personality.

The father and son seem antagonistic at the beginning of the movie. Edward is flamboyant, “larger than life” and an extroverted performer whose ambition leads him to make many choices that William finds difficult to even believe much less understand. Edward takes “the road less traveled”, while what we see of William leads one to believe that he has a far more conventional life. Edward is a risk taker and salesman, while William seeks facts as a journalist. There is a lack of rapport between them. They appear to have radically different senses of life.

Edward’s life begins with an extraordinary birth, but gets more interesting when as a preteen he encounters a witch (Helena Bonham Carter) and supposedly learns how he is going to die. After a superlative amateur sports career and reaching young adulthood in his hometown of Ashton, Alabama, he confronts a giant who is causing trouble for the residents of his town. He convinces the giant named Karl (nicely played by Matthew McGrory: "The Tallest Actor") to leave Ashton and seek out a larger setting where he will fit in better. Along with Karl, Edward also leaves Ashton where he has been a “big fish” in a little pond.

In leaving Ashton, Edward literally takes “the road less traveled” which leads him through a “haunted forest” to a mysterious village, Spectre, where he meets young Jenny (the 8 year-old played by Hailey Anne Nelson, adult Jenny by Helena Bonham Carter) and a poet: Norther Winslow (Steve Buscemi). Norther had previously left Ashton by the same route taken by Edward to also come upon the village. Norther has not achieved much composition of poetry while in Spectre, which seems to maintain a pleasant stasis. Eventually, Edward realizes he must leave to accomplish what he wishes in life.

After leaving Spectre, without his shoes, he reconnects with Karl the giant and they come upon a circus run by Amos Calloway (Danny DeVito). At the circus, Karl gets a job and Edward sees the girl whom he knows he will marry. In exchange for very slowly learning more about his future wife from Amos, Edward works at the circus on many onerous tasks. Eventually, Edward learns from Amos that his wife to be is Sandra Templeton (Alison Lohman is the young Sandra and Jessica Lange is the older character) who attends college at Auburn. Edward goes to Auburn to woo her.

The listing of credits for Big Fish is long and impressive. Tim Burton directs, with Danny Elfman scoring the movie with original musical work. The movie also uses hits from the 50’s and 60’s as well as more traditional American music. The soundtrack is excellent. The cast is outstanding and the direction some of Tim Burton’s best. If you obtain the DVD, take the time to watch the fine bunch of featurettes. The DVD itself is very cleverly done.

The screenplay was written by John August, who is also working on one of Tim Burton’s next movie offerings: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (based on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name, which was also the basis of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Mr. August collaborated closely with Daniel Wallace, the author of the novel on which the movie is based. Daniel Wallace appears in the movie as an Economics professor at Auburn (based on anyone we know?). The characters are all cast superbly with some of the best actors in the world today, especially those mentioned by name above.

The whole movie is a saga composed of many mythic stories as pieces. Fantasy and wonder are Tim Burton’s specialties and he doesn’t disappoint with this wonderful and fantastic movie. The movie is billed as “An adventure as big as life itself.” Indeed, that is Edward Bloom’s sense of life: it is a wondrous adventure to be lived to its fullest. As William learns more from others about his father, they come to a better understanding. If like Edward Bloom, you feel that life is an adventure to be lived to its fullest, then you will probably enjoy Big Fish in a way that few other movies will ever equal.

Related DVD

Related DVD

Soundtrack CD