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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 38.79%
Just Average: 7.88%
Pretty Crappy: 1.82%
Sucks: 1.82%

11 reviews, 99 user ratings

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Big Fish
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Burton goes sentimental."
4 stars

'Big Fish' is the sort of autumnal, eligiac tearjerker you expect from a director in his sixties, not from Tim Burton, who's forty-five. It may be a little too early in his career for glowing odes to the power of storytelling -- its transportive magic, its warming and benign delusions.

That said, I enjoyed Big Fish more than any film Burton has been involved with since maybe Nightmare Before Christmas. Working from Daniel Wallace's slim, anecdotal novel (adapted by John August), Burton allows himself clearer, purer access to emotion than ever before. He actually pays attention to "normal" characters this time, integrating them seamlessly with the misfits that have always been his stock in trade.

This is also the rare tearjerker that may inspire debate afterward. The main character, Edward Bloom, played in old age by Albert Finney and by Ewan McGregor as a young man, regales anyone who'll listen with outlandish tales of his life. There are skeptics in the film, including Edward's grown son Will (Billy Crudup), who wishes his father had told him something real about himself just once. What we see in flashbacks, as Burton faithfully dramatizes Edward's stories, is most likely at odds with what actually happened -- or is it? Is this the story of a sad, self-deluded man who told whoppers to make his life more interesting, or the story of a man with a wild imagination who simply created a world he wanted to live in? Burton obviously leans towards the latter.

We follow young Edward in his travels -- to a carnival, accompanied by a giant (Matthew McGrory); to a suspiciously idyllic town called Spectre, which may or may not be Heaven itself; to the Korean War, where he meets a Siamese-twin singing act. These colorful yarns -- acted by McGregor with his trademark shining grin and disregard of irony -- are contrasted with latter-day scenes of the dying Edward in his sickbed, attended by his adoring wife Sandra (Jessica Lange in a somewhat thankless role -- Burton seldom pays much attention to women in his work) and badgered by Will into telling the truth. But it becomes apparent that Edward's stories are his truth.

A plotless compendium of tall tales, with many differently-bodied people to detain the camera eye, Big Fish comes close to being Tim Burton In A Nutshell. Whatever manic gothic energy distinguished his early films (Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, parts of Batman) is gone, replaced by smooth, unobtrusive filmmaking, as if Burton had finally developed the patience to let a movie unfold (to be fair, 1994's Ed Wood pointed towards a new, mature style for him). Edward's stories ramble, and so the movie does, too. Helena Bonham Carter, who I'm beginning to think does her warmest work for Burton (she was the humanistic heart of his Planet of the Apes remix), turns up in two roles, as a one-eyed witch (whose glass eye tells you how you're going to die) and as a native of Spectre who benefits from Edward's generosity. It's typical of the movie that it never quite tells us whether the two characters are really the same person.

In his travels, Edward bumps into the likes of Danny DeVito (as a carny barker) and Steve Buscemi (as a poet whose work is eternally "in progress"). Really, pretty much everyone Edward meets is a kind of storyteller, or a character out of a fairytale. Are they real? The final scene tells us but doesn't tell us. After a career of literal-minded ghoulies and phantasms, Tim Burton has discovered ambiguity.

The filmmaking shows the assured control of a master summing up his filmography at the twilight of his career, which may be why I balk at Burton doing something like this at age forty-five. I'd hate to think there isn't more where this comes from.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8377&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/01/07 20:26:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/16/12 obnox brilliant, awesome, remarkable...yesssssss 5 stars
1/15/12 hurdygurdy man Not sure who's this for...maybe w/some good Acid?? 3 stars
3/05/10 cutie_b's this movie made me realize that clowns should ALWAYS carry guns. 5 stars
12/01/09 Troy The best movie I've seen in 10 years. Just awesome 5 stars
7/27/09 iloveEM i loved this movie ewan mcgregor did an amazing job with a great accent 5 stars
8/02/08 Shaun Wallner Such a Happy Story! 5 stars
7/27/08 The Dork Knight I don't get it. 3 stars
5/07/08 chamorro awesome 5 stars
2/17/08 SamanthaP it was really sweet and imaginative and sad at the end (good sad) 5 stars
6/16/07 Bopo A phenomenonally creative feel good movie. Easily one of my favorites. 5 stars
2/16/07 Vip Ebriega A great story with a moral agenda. 3 stars
11/10/06 David Pollastrini very funny 3 stars
7/24/06 R.W.Welch Not flawless, but highly imaginative, funny and touching, too. Close enough. 5 stars
12/30/05 tony BORING 1 stars
8/27/05 Quigley ewan ruled int his, as he always does. its surreal atmosphere is great and enjoyable. 5 stars
8/05/05 Zack GREAT! 5 stars
7/15/05 Charlie Alison Lohman is great in this flick, just like in Matchstick Men. 5 stars
4/30/05 Alyson A magical and enchanting movie. Favorite actor and director. 5 stars
3/12/05 Alice Colwell allright 4 stars
3/01/05 Pinthestripeonthegoat Tales of a catfish hunter 5 stars
12/24/04 Red Sox Still Suck Great movie. Tim Burton rarely disappoints. See it by all means 5 stars
12/14/04 Tom Benton Beautiful, moving, clever and often funny drama, Burton's "Forrest Gump"; McGregor is great 5 stars
11/30/04 lolalaloca13 1 of top 5 fave films 5 stars
11/26/04 Matt Carson looking forward to seeing it again 5 stars
11/22/04 luis i like it but the 2 chinnesse girls they werent join? 5 stars
9/23/04 denny the parts were better than the whole 4 stars
9/12/04 Edgar Well, it manipulated my feelings, but in a clever well done way... 5 stars
9/07/04 JeffK Very enjoyable 5 stars
8/25/04 Anthony G good times 4 stars
8/20/04 DM Tied with Ed Wood as Tim Burton's best movie 5 stars
7/28/04 tristan tim burtons best since edward scissorhands 5 stars
7/27/04 Mike Devans Nothing spectacular. I expected more out of it 4 stars
7/20/04 AngeFaitore Forrest Gump Acid Trip! 3 stars
7/08/04 Ruth Ann Farver Overblown, Mundane, Cutesy, Junk 1 stars
7/06/04 Taylor Fladgate Unforgetable 5 stars
7/03/04 Ionicera good all around but too sentimental near the end 4 stars
6/14/04 Gerry Ditrich Bloody Brilliant!! best film by Tim Burton so far 5 stars
6/11/04 Larry We live on by the way we are remembered. Seems simple, yet this is done so beautifully! 5 stars
6/07/04 palaboy101 unforgettable and excellent! 5 stars
5/26/04 Russell Watson Wonderful Movie 5 stars
5/24/04 DMF Incredibly affecting. If you have (or had) a parent, see it. 5 stars
5/21/04 Gretchen Ross this was a beautiful film in terms of story and acting; very creative as well 5 stars
5/19/04 Matthew Tim Burton's best effort since "Ed Wood"! 5 stars
5/10/04 Efrain Vivas a masterpiece 5 stars
5/06/04 Mermaid's Pedicurist Overblown tribute to the fetish that flaky and offbeat is automatically good. 2 stars
5/06/04 Maryclaire Becan LOVE THIS MOVIE 5 stars
5/02/04 blue absolutely magical 5 stars
4/16/04 A Reader Strikes right notes of fantasy, whimsy, sentimentality; the town of Spectre will haunt you. 5 stars
3/26/04 S-P Sweet Movie..similair to FG, but not as interesting. 3 stars
3/23/04 Chloe Brody THis was so sweet - how gorgeous was Edward??? 4 stars
3/19/04 kari dennis great movie 5 stars
3/16/04 Holly Beeman ...The most beautiful story ever told. :~) 5 stars
3/01/04 Wendranh strange plot...different 3 stars
2/28/04 alien assasin "Forrest Gump" with a quirky twist 4 stars
2/26/04 Troy Butler Not Burton's best, but highly entertaining nonetheless!!! 4 stars
2/25/04 susan lee liked use of VO... diff burton style ..ewan rocks! 4 stars
2/23/04 Naturezrevenge Whimsical, magical and loaded with innuendo, this is Burton at his best. Rich and tasty. 5 stars
2/23/04 FrayLo I wasn't sure about this movie at the beginning, but the ending sealed it for me. 4 stars
2/21/04 Phyllis Joy Very good movie. Stunning visuals and an interesting storyline. "Almost Awesome." 4 stars
2/17/04 Joe So good 5 stars
2/16/04 Chris I thought this was a nice good movie but the ending made it terrfic. I loved it alot. 5 stars
2/09/04 Caiphn Great film. 5 stars
2/08/04 Whatevr The only sucking this movie does is sucking you in. 5 stars
2/07/04 Smitty Great performance by Finney. A visually stunning film reminiscent of Fellini in his prime. 4 stars
2/07/04 ThriceRise beautiful movie. 5 stars
2/07/04 john bale A modern fairytale that proves to be poetic Cinema of the Wizard of Oz quality 5 stars
2/06/04 Brendan What a story and what a telling. I'll see it again. 5 stars
2/02/04 Matt One of Tim Burton's best! 5 stars
2/02/04 Monday Morning Disappointingly manipulative. 2 stars
2/02/04 Heath Entertaining and imaginitive! 5 stars
1/31/04 STUFU McGrego and Finney are great, but Crudup gives a boring performance. Great overall. 5 stars
1/30/04 Chopper3 Very nicely crafted indeed 5 stars
1/26/04 Helen Bradley McGregor great; confusing plot too long 2 stars
1/25/04 Lord Chu Very, very nice 5 stars
1/24/04 chris. excellent film...better than the other crap they want us to see 5 stars
1/19/04 disaffected daughter too forgiving of remorseless bad parenting 4 stars
1/18/04 yeahboy Forrest Gump meets Baron Munchausen!! 4 stars
1/18/04 Nicole Very entertaining 5 stars
1/18/04 Bemused Often Brilliant; although I would love to see Burton transcend his own style for a change 5 stars
1/17/04 steve andrews 2003's Best! 5 stars
1/17/04 Ayatolla of Rockinrolla The best movie of 2003. Similar yet better than Forrest Gump 5 stars
1/17/04 jcjs fantastic 5 stars
1/16/04 Agent Sands Too unbelievably entertaining for words! Fantastic! 5 stars
1/14/04 Todd Bertuzzi What a beautiful movie....expected great...got great. Wow...very, VERY good. 5 stars
1/14/04 Betty White Pleasant, charming Burton flick; Lange & Finney are wonderful. 4 stars
1/13/04 Jon Lyrik One of the best films of 2003, and Burton's best since Ed Wood. 5 stars
1/13/04 AH I've only cried that hard one other time at a theatre, but I was so happy at the same time 5 stars
1/13/04 syrius speechless 5 stars
1/12/04 Gray the most beautiful death scene ever filmed 5 stars
1/12/04 KingNeutron Burton's best film, IMHO. Helena Bonham Carter's char stole the show for me. 5 stars
1/11/04 HorrorScribbler That Tim Burton, he make-a me cry! 5 stars
1/10/04 T. Hall Has there been better casting this year? 5 stars
1/09/04 jcjs wow, under the infulence, captivating, transforming, telling, delightful, clever etc. 5 stars
1/06/04 JT Finale made my GF cry! 5 stars
1/02/04 chris 1 movie has ever made me cry. this is the second. one of my top 5 favorites 5 stars
12/28/03 Eric S. Good movie, nice ending, unique 4 stars
12/16/03 - Fantastic superb. 5 stars
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  10-Dec-2003 (PG-13)
  DVD: 08-Nov-2005



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