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Tim Burton returns to form with style. After the somewhat debatably average Planet of the Apes, Big Fish returns the old flame to his prior heights of adventurous and often glorious cinema. The big question is really this; just how big is this fish? Dip your toes into the full review to find out...

Film
Big Fish is Tim Burton’s most personal film. It’s a weird yet oddly pleasing nod to fantasy and reality oddments that will affect you on an emotional level. It may strike you as being rather clustered, especially in its first half, but give it time to grow on you; you may very well find yourself wiping away a tear or two before the credits roll.  

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Tim Burton has a way with fantasy. It’s nobody else’s fantasy other than his. Whether it be Edward Scissorhands or the twisted Bettlejuice he has a talent for the weird and wonderful. Big Fish mixes his usual flourishes with doses of emotive power chucked in for good measure. Burton’s camera angles and scope lack any real integrity, there are no sweeping shots, and no bold landscapes; everything is small and downbeat. Of course that’s the nature of the story. He also does an excellent job of keeping the focus on his story and never makes it too pompous or confusing.

The story follows the life of Edward Bloom, re-living his past though a series of flashbacks. Albert Finney plays the aforementioned character, who is on his deathbed and being visited by his son Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) for the last time. If you thought Finding Nemo was a pleasantly emotive father-son tale then you might just find some resonant qualities in Big Fish. Ironic that the two are both aquatic themed don’t you think?

Production design is pleasing, especially in the fantasy sequences. The most eye-catching sequence of them all has to be the flowerbed scene where Edward Bloom plants thousands of bright yellow daffodils. Acting is solid throughout, Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney and Billy Crudup all giving superb performances. The other surprising entrants came in the form of Danny DeVito, Helena Bonham Carter and the wonderfully charming Matthew McGrory as Karl the giant.

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I couldn’t help but feel the film lacked something during its two hour run time. It’s certainly a fun and fantastical tale, but it isn’t perfect. Though Burton clearly isn’t focusing on Oscar worthy values, the film often has the impression that it wants to be recognised and that it wants to be something bigger. I will admit that it took me a good hour or so to settle into its story; it’s certainly not something you can just pick up and put down. Its pacing and editing often felt timid and to some degree it hampers some of the scenes from achieving true greatness. That’s what I found to be lacking about this film, it tries to be something and never quite reaches the heights it aims for.

Moving swiftly on to the musical qualities; Danny Elfman has produced some of the best music of his career with Burton, I don’t think anyone would doubt that (his best work most probably being the magical Edward Scissorhands score). What confuses me is exactly why this overlooked composer was suddenly nominated for the best original musical composition Oscar for Big Fish. Don’t get me wrong, the music is as wonderfully gently and bewitching as all of Elfman’s scores when under Burton’s direction, it’s just that it never reaches the graceful altitudes that his earlier work would have, nor is it as fluorescent. Regardless of this slight peculiar move by the Academy, Elfman’s music here is incredibly perfect to Burton’s rhythm. Every bounce, jump and lurk is beautifully elaborated in the score.

Big Fish is certainly not as open and as accessible as Burton’s earlier work. Kids might be somewhat entertained by its glossy exterior, but it isn’t the entertainment pounding joy that his other fantastical endeavours were. You could perhaps say that it’s a film for the adults and that it taps into out childlike happiness of yesteryear. That said, Big Fish is as wonderfully charming and often magical as one of those rare circus outings your parents might have taken you on as a child. It isn’t a classic, nor does it defy cinema, but it is an exceptionally well structured tale and a charming one at that.

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Video
A little flavourless on the fine detail from time to time, the transfer for Big Fish is certainly not all things grand. For starters the 1.85:1 transfer may disappoint those wishing to savour the luscious visual chemistry that Burton offers. On the other hand, the print is both crisp enough and smooth enough for a pleasing, albeit standard experience.

The odd grainy scene (mostly in the darkly lit environments) doesn’t really hurt the transfer that much. The amount of visible grain is somewhat minimal but nonetheless it’s still present from time to time. On the whole however, there really isn’t much to complain about here, except that one cannot wonder if a 2.35:1 transfer would have been much better suited to this film.  

Audio
The fish is scrawny here; barebones you might say. All that’s on offer is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, there’s no DTS to revel in which is a great shame. Still, the Dolby mix is solid enough to rate highly and for what its worth it certainly delivers.

Dialogue (which monopolises the mix) comes thorough clearly, yet warm enough to suit the image transfer beautifully. LFE signals are pretty much abstracted, which is to be expected with a film such as this. As for directional effects; well, there aren’t really many of those either. Not to worry though, everything sounds spot on and while Big Fish won’t make a great demo disc with its audio, it will nonetheless offer pleasing sound which is all you need.

Extras
Big Fish has the best Tim Burton audio commentary ever! No, really. He really livens up here for the first time in what seems like ages. Maybe he was just enthusiastic because he knew he had an excellent film to finally talk about? Who knows? Burton delves into the very depths of his film, unveiling everything fans and those new to his filmmaking traits would ever want to know. It’s a real treat and my personal favourite on this disc of many features. Also, like The Matrix White Rabbit feature, Big Fish is equipped with a similar feature called Fish Tales. When activated, a little icon pops up during the commentary which you can click on to access exclusive behind the scenes material.

The are four filmmaker’s features: Tim Burton: Storyteller - A look at the director's process, A Fairytale World - Tim Burton and cast discuss the importance of myths and fairytales, Creature Features - The magic of Stan Winston studios and The Author's Journey - Daniel Wallace's story from page to screen. All these featurettes are mostly in-depth but are consequentially a bit ordinary.

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The same goes for the three character features: Edward Bloom at Large - Takes a look at the larger-than-life world of Edward Bloom, Amos at the Circus - Danny DeVito takes viewers through the Calloway Circus and Fathers and Sons - Examines the father and son dynamic.

Considering they make up the bulk of the exclusive features on the disc, they don’t exactly enthral or captivate you but do offer some charming anecdotes on the production.

Overall
Tim Burton’s Masterpiece of the 21st century finally arrives on DVD with solid results. While the film isn’t perfect and is often marred by some quirky editing and plot elements, its still a wondrous and charming fantasy that will probably appeal to adults more that it will children.

The technical features are equally blemished, yet not without a decent amount of purity. The features, while on the surface may seem fulfilling are in fact just your everyday run-of-the-mill product. But the truly shining gem would undoubtedly have to be the commentary track.

Picture and sound aspects are pleasant enough and satisfying enough for a good ride, thought it hurts that Burton didn’t shoot a 2.35:1 film rather than the provided 1.85:1 ratio. That said, the image shines almost as brightly as those yellow daffodils and the audio serves up the goods too.


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