Friday, March 5, 2010

Review: Tim Burton's "Big Fish" Out of Water

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 3 (2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Big Fish (2003)
Running time: 125 minutes (2 hours, 5 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for a fight scene, some images of nudity and a suggestive reference
DIRECTOR: Tim Burton
WRITER: John August (from a novel by Daniel Wallace, Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions)
PRODUCERS: Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks, and Richard D. Zanuck
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Philippe Rousselot
EDITOR: Chris Lebenzon
COMPOSER: Danny Elfman
Academy Award nominee

DRAMA with elements of comedy and fantasy

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Helena Bonham Carter, Robert Guillaume, Marion Cotillard, Matthew McGroroy, David Denman, Steve Buscemi, Danny DeVito, Ada Tai, Arlene Tai, Deep Roy, and Hailey Ann Nelson

Tim Burton is an imaginative, creative, and innovative filmmaker, but his eccentric vision is traditionally wasted on studio fare. He’s sometimes managed to make average to very good movies out of junk, as in Planet of the Apes. He’s made visually appealing films that sadly misfire, Mars Attacks. He’s made fairy tales and fables into visually appealing films like Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow. He occasionally makes a films that live up to people’s expectations of him as a great filmmaker, as in Beetlejuice and Ed Wood. His new film Big Fish belongs in the category with Planet of the Apes.

Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) has a father Ed Bloom (Albert Finney) who likes to spin tall yarns. It’s how Ed tells the story of his life, mixing tall tales (or big fish stories) with what actually happened; that must mean his stories have a life lesson somewhere inside. As the Young Ed (Ewan McGregor), he claims to have had many adventures: as a star athlete, as a circus worker, and as a soldier. Will grows to hate those stories and what he sees as his father’s dishonesty. He goes away, until his mother Sandra (Jessica Lange) calls Will and his wife Josephine (Marion Cotillard) home because Ed is dying. Ed wants to make peace with his father, so he tries again to figure out fact from fiction, but maybe he’s missing the point.

For all his visual aplomb and quirkiness, Tim Burton made a pleasant, but ultimately safe father-son movie with a few oddball characters thrown into the mix. And when it’s all said and done, there’s nothing really odd about them other than they might not look or act like the average folks. On the surface, they may appear strange, but underneath, they’re just your typical country witticism-spewing role players. There’s potential in each one, but Burton wastes it by making them less dangerous. Fairy tales and oddities are dangerous because they challenge our preconceived notions of what is and what is not. To make them little more than weird looking is to take away what makes them truly different and all you have left is fluff.

It’s not entirely Burton’s fault; he’s admitted before that he wouldn’t know a good screenplay if he saw one, and weak screenplays are often the biggest flaw of his films. He focuses on making his movies look unusual, but the story ultimately fails to live up to his visual promise.

The acting in Big Fish is pretty good, but it’s wasted. How can you have a major talent like Jessica Lange and regulate her to making sad faces with sad smiles. Don’t get me started on Robert Guillaume playing the patient and wise Negro who just so happens to say those typically wise-Negro words that finally make Will “get it” about his father.

Big Fish isn’t bad; it’s just pleasant. It’s not a bad time at the movies. There are some laughs and some clever moments. There’s a bit of magic in the air, but be careful you don’t choke on maudlin and sentiment.

5 of 10

2004 Academy Awards: 1 nomination for “Best Music, Original Score” (Danny Elfman)

2004 BAFTA Awards: 7 nominations: “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects” (Kevin Scott Mack, Seth Maury, Lindsay MacGowan, and Paddy Eason), “Best Film” (Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks, and Richard D. Zanuck), “Best Make Up/Hair” (Jean Ann Black and Paul LeBlanc), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Albert Finney), “Best Production Design” (Dennis Gassner), “Best Screenplay – Adapted” (John August), and “David Lean Award for Direction” (Tim Burton)

2004 Golden Globes: 4 nominations: “Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy,” “Best Original Score - Motion Picture” (Danny Elfman), “Best Original Song - Motion Picture” (Eddie Vedder for the song "Man of the Hour"), and “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Albert Finney)


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