Published Jan 01, 2006At first, Big Fish seems like an odd choice for a Tim Burton movie. Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace, it begins as a family drama about a man named Will (Billy Crudup) trying to deal with his estranged father, the larger-than-life Edward Bloom (Albert Finney). Edward has spent his life weaving tall tales for his son, creating a mythology surrounding himself that Will suspects is largely false and only serves to keep him at a distance.
When faced with his father's declining health and his own impending fatherhood, Will comes home to try to sort out the lies from the truth and figure out who Edward really was. The film alternates between the present-day family interaction and the incredible stories of Edward's youth, which feature Ewan McGregor as the young Edward who leaves his small Alabama town on a kind of Homeric adventure in order to fill a destiny that is too large for the confines of the town.
Young Edward's journey is chockfull of magic and heroics, witches and giants, circuses and all manner of other fantastical stuff that soon make it abundantly clear why the director of Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow would choose to add this film to his canon. Burton's considerable visual prowess is put to good use in relating these stories in a compelling and whimsical manner, while employing a more subdued and realistic style for the present day scenes.
The writing in Edward's stories is far more engaging and quirky than the writing in the staid family drama sections, leading to a touch of incongruity between the two until the fantasy and reality begin to merge toward the end of the film. The central metaphor of Edward as a big fish in a small pond from whence the film takes its title is a bit overused, with a story of catching a big fish referenced again and again and watery images pervading practically every scene.
Still, these are minor quibbles in an overall successful endeavour. Ultimately, Big Fish features a superb cast and skilled production team who have created a film that is both emotionally grounded and wonderfully magical. (Columbia/Sony)