Big Fish, 2003.
Directed by Tim Burton.
Starring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter, Alison Lohman, Robert Guillaume, Marion Cotillard, Steve Buscemi, Danny DeVito.
Tim Burton’s underrated Big Fish arrives in 4K with a remastered picture that’s a marginal step up over the 2012 Blu-ray. However, it makes big gains over its predecessor by porting over the original bonus features from the 2004 DVD, which the Blu-ray didn’t include for some reason. If you’re a sucker for a big batch of fables wrapped in a father-and-son tale, this one is for you.
I’m a sucker for stories within stories, regardless of the medium. I guess it’s the “worlds within worlds” thing that’s fun to think about and swirl around in my head. Give me a nice framing device, especially of the parent and child variety, and you have my attention for a while.
That’s the approach here with Big Fish, which was director Tim Burton’s rebound off his mediocre Planet of the Apes remake and an attempt to move beyond the “guy who makes quirky movies” label. It stars Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor as the old and young versions of Edward Bloom, a guy who spent so much of his life telling tall tales that his journalist son Will (Billy Crudup) isn’t sure who his father really is.
When Will receives word that his father is dying from cancer, he and his pregnant wife Josephine (Marion Cotillard) travel to be with him. With his son and daughter-in-law at his side, Edward spins fantastical stories of his life: he was literally slippery at birth and no doctor or nurse could grasp hold of him; he became a local hero for saving his town from a giant, who turned out to be misunderstood and became his companion; he joined a circus and fell in love with a woman there; he went on secret military missions during the Korean War; and so forth.
Will decides to use his journalistic skills to uncover the truth behind his father’s stories and eventually discovers not only the nuggets of reality within them but also a sense of who Edward really is. If you’re a sucker for father-and-son stories, like I am, this one will hit you like a punch in the gut. And you can’t go wrong with the cast, which includes folks like Danny DeVito, Steve Buscemi, and Helena Bonham Carter in supporting roles. Even Robert “Benson” Guillame shows up.
This is the film’s debut on 4K UltraHD Blu-ray. Sony said in its press release that Big Fish was remastered in 4K, with HDR10, although the packaging doesn’t make that claim. I last viewed the movie on standard-def DVD way back when (waaaaay back when), so I missed the 2012 Blu-ray. I’ve read that the Blu-ray was a so-so release that didn’t have much in the way of bonus materials.
While this new 4K disc is obviously a big leap forward from my old DVD’s picture quality, my comparisons between it and the Blu-ray that’s been included here don’t reveal a major picture improvement. However, I’m not sure if this Blu-ray is the 2012 one or if it uses the new remaster. In any case, I haven’t read that Burton was involved in the creation of the new platter, so maybe this was one of those perfunctory upgrades that wasn’t as overseen as closely as it could have been.
The original DVD had a nice batch of bonus features, and those have been ported over, making this a definite upgrade over the 2012 Blu-ray in that department. Unfortunately, nothing new was created, which is another sign that Burton had little or nothing to do with this release.
Here’s what you’ll find:
- Commentary track: Writer Mark Salisbury, author of Burton on Burton and a big bunch of making-of books, moderates a discussion with Burton that covers a wide range of topics, including how the death of the director’s father informed the making of the film, a chat about fairy tales, and such mundane subjects as casting and filming logistics. Sometimes their chat is specific to what’s happening on the screen and sometimes it isn’t, so I’m not sure if it was a continuous conversation while the movie was playing or if it was a combination of a watching-the-film commentary and other interview bits. At any rate, it’s worth listening to.
- The Character’s Journey: This is a three-part featurette that serves up interviews with the cast and focuses on these topics: Edward Bloom at Large, Amos at the Circus, and Fathers and Sons. A little bit of a deleted scene is included – 17 years ago, I wished some full deleted scenes had shown up on the DVD, and here I am still hoping for the same thing some day.
- The Filmmaker’s Path: Another featurette, this one sliced into quarters, that covers from the making of the movie, from screenwriter John August’s adaptation of Daniel Wallace’s novel to all the tricky visual effects that still hold up pretty well today. Unfortunately, though, it clocks in at less than 10 minutes, like The Character’s Journey.
An old school EPK, which doesn’t offer anything of interest beyond what’s already here, rounds out the platter. “Easter eggs” are also advertised on the packaging, but I didn’t manage to uncover them. Honestly, those were fun once upon a time at the height of the DVD age, but these days, I’m not too inclined to figure out how they work.
Sony tossed in a code for a digital copy of the film too.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★