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January 13, 2004

{     Big Fish     }    

For those of us who've been holding our breath since 2001, it's time to breathe a little easier. Fans of Tim Burton have been wondering what the director's next move would be- whether playing in to the big-budget sci-fi splendor of the rather tepid Planet of the Apes or drawing back to tell the dark, often goofy, more character-oriented stories that won him the loyal fanbase and cult-icon status he's known for. With 2004's Big Fish, Burton seems capable of striking a true balance between the two. You'll hear lots of things about this film, one of which being that Tim Burton has finally matured with this picture. Don't let that sour you. You'll also hear that there is significant Oscar buzz surrounding this movie. No matter how much you hate Hollywood and the institution thereof, don't let this turn you off either. The only thing you're going to have to worry about is that you may have to wait in line to see it. Big Fish does what many Burton films accomplish individually, but it does them all at once. You'll laugh like you did the first time you saw Pee Wee's Big Adventure or the scene in which a young Jack Black gets vaporized by Martian death rays in Mars Attacks!. You'll cry harder than you did while watching the end of Edward Scissorhands or even during that really touching scene in Batman Returns when all the penguins sacrifice themselves to save Danny Devito's chubby, pasty ass. (Speaking of which, that chubby pasty ass has a cameo in Big Fish that will leave you uncomfortable yet strangely aroused.) You'll find yourself swept away by the highly-detailed period costuming and scenery as you did in Sleepy Hollow, though now it's the 1950's, 60's and 70's you'll find lovingly recreated. Much like Beetlejuice, this film involves the sometimes unforgiving intrusion of fantasy upon reality, though it's tempered with the hope and sensitivity (and a bit of the camp) that Burton brought to the screen in Ed Wood. You're even treated to a cast of characters as diverse as those imagined in The Nightmare Before Christmas, from giants to werewolves, to conjoined lounge-singing twins. You really do get a bit of everything, though the only things Big Fish seems to have in common with The Planet of the Apes are the director's byline, a score by Danny Elfman and a sizeable casting and production budget. Oh, and the surprise ending in which Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) realizes that he has returned home only to find that the world is now populated by highly-evolved, anthropomorphic simians. One thing that this film does not share with any of Burton's other work, and perhaps it's key to more mainstream success, is the need for continual suspension of disbelief. In fact, the struggle for belief in the fantastic becomes the crux of this story, and for the first time ever in a work by this director we find a story that is more or less grounded in the real world. A suspicious audience, the kind that would shun Burton's usual fare, may feel at home with the doubt and denial that the film's main character struggles with. Not to be left out, the starry-eyed find plenty to feast on in the tall tales that are brought to life through the course of the production, and really it is this crowd that has the most at stake when encountering this film. Later, while thinking about the movie, I found myself also thinking about Hiyao Miyazaki's animated film Spirited Away, a coming-of-age story of a different nature. In that film, you find the protagonist Sen, a ten year-old girl, struggling with the onset of the responsibilities of adult life. Sen is dumped into a dream-like world of spirits, and finds herself in charge of somehow saving her parent's lives and restoring a measure of balance to a world that has grown wildly unchecked. Burton's Big Fish seems to come at things from the other direction, but with the same intent. A thirty-something Will Bloom must sort through the over-embellishments of his father to find the real man hidden amongst the fantasies. Like Sen, Will finds himself becoming unwillingly involved in this dream-world, and the more characters he runs into while trying to sort out the truth, the more complicated the process becomes. Both Will and Sen are trying to free themselves of the chaotic and fantastic world that surrounds them, moving towards a reconciliation with their estranged family. In a reversal of the usual expectation, fans of Burton may find themselves entering a suspension of belief in which they must come to terms with the fact that this film is not all fairy tale and fantastic vision. Yes my little nerdlets and geeklings, there really is a Real World. Big Fish may make you forget about it for awhile, but it's message overall seems to be that even in reality, even in a world where mechanical boys with scissors for hands don't prune our bushes, or where headless ghosts don't rise from the grave to exact their revenge, or even in a world where heroes don't swoop down from the shadows to save us from deranged madmen, even in such a world we can still find a little bit of magic. It's a magic that's in your heart. I can't believe I just fucking wrote that. That's the kind of thing this film does to you though.

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Comments

i saw “big fish” on opening night and as adam mentioned, it kind of pushes you through a whirlwind of emotions… i think one of the major differences between this flick and others tim burton did, is that the whirlwind is stronger than the dazzling of the eyes… not that it wasn't one of the most gorgeous movies i've ever seen, but you're right… this movie, while not really swaying from burton's typical fairytales, definitely bases itself in reality more so than any of his others… but in a very unique way… edward bloom (older) at times reminded me of my grampa, who i dearly love and look up to possibly more than anyone in my life… he tells stories that are hilarious and then a month later he tells us he made the story up as a joke and he “thought we knew the difference…” what's weird is that i also thought about “spirited away” a couple of times while viewing “big fish…” i love that movie, especially the part where the monster comes in to get a bath and the bicycle and the director's story about the bicycle…. anyway, this is turning into a lengthy comment, but i'll just say this, don't wait for this to come out on dvd… so far, it IS the best movie of 2004 (yeah, i know we're only 2 weeks into it, so what??)

Posted by: stace at January 15, 2004 8:00 AM

First, I must say that I totally had to focus on not crying during this movie. Second, you know how whenever something is new and we say something like "this is my new favorite film" and we just say that because we liked it a lot at that time, but a few weeks later we forget about it and we have a new fave film, or whatever? Yeah, well I won't forget about this one in a few weeks....

Posted by: Shane Bryant at January 16, 2004 5:45 AM

first off all, this has nothing to do with "big fish"... but there's nowhere to post comments on dozens so i'm leaving my comment here... i'm upset about your latest dozen... no dragon half??? what up with that???? SAAAUUUUCERRRR!!!!!

Posted by: stace at January 19, 2004 4:31 AM

I knew that dozen would stir up some shit!

You've got a good point with Dragon Half, and it's one that I considered. (Also dropped: Revolutionary Girl: Utena, Key: The Metal Idol, Slayers, Ninja Scroll and a dozen others) The question I kept stumbling over was- does the wackiness and the hilariousness outweigh the weirdness? Dragon Half is one that "haters" have pointed out to me as being "too Japanese". Apparently, all the cutaways to show super-deformed versions of the characters acting out base emotions, the Giant Tear Drop of Shame, and the fantasy/sci-fi theme are a bit too much for the uninitiated.

I stuck with comfortable territory, not my personal top twelve.

Posted by: Adam at January 19, 2004 4:13 PM

okay, you have redeemed my faith in you.... but spirited away??? oh, you are so right about that one... such a beautiful film... scored at a pawnshop by jess for me, she tried to watch it before she gave it up but thought it was too creepy and couldn't get through the first 20 minutes... but i adore it and while i haven't recently, i have put that dvd in many many many times to fall asleep to...

Posted by: stace at January 19, 2004 9:17 PM

I think that should be somebody's next dozen- "Twelve Films I Love to Fall Asleep to..."

I know I've used Spirited Away as a nightlight/security blanket to tuck me in many a time. Not movies so boring they put you out, but something sweet and comfortable that you don't mind falling drifting off to.

Posted by: Adam at January 19, 2004 11:44 PM

2001 does it for me every time.

Posted by: julie t at January 20, 2004 1:07 AM

well, unless you want to take on the challenge, i'd be more than happy to do it,,, some of mine are a little unusual,,,just let me know... and i can see why 2001 would do it, but it wouldn't do it for me... it has to be something sweet, dreamlike, like cirque de soleil- quidam... that's a good one... i tried the brother's quay collection but it just bores me at night and creeps me out... but that movie signs??? i don't know why, but it does it for me every time... oh, and we scored the secret of nimh from the pawn a week ago and that's a new sleepytime favorite... and btw, i just recently got dragonhalf on dvd, and it is SO not funny in english, am in wrong here???

Posted by: stace at January 20, 2004 4:23 AM

The English dub of Dragon Half is awful. It's just not the same without the screeching and high-pitched wailing, the shouting and the crying. It's so expressive without translation, you really don't even need the subtitles to enjoy it, much less a bunch of fucking Canadian voice actors we've all heard a million times doing their "anime voices". I think we should take up arms against the dubbing industry and force them to get some fresh voice talent in there.

Posted by: Adam at January 20, 2004 5:53 PM

I loved this movie! I thought it was gonna be his grown-up mid-life crisis movie, but it tricked me!

Posted by: Adam Grant at January 27, 2004 3:51 AM
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