Genre: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
Directed by: Tim Burton
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange
Think of Tim Burton and one immediately thinks of wacky hairstyles, child friendly gothic films and maybe Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter. For years his films, whilst undoubtedly being of a very high quality and adored by millions, have felt a little ‘samey’. Hollywood’s last great auteur has trademarks so recognised that sometimes his films are almost a parody of what it is that made him so popular in the first place.
For someone looking for something a bit different to the usual madcap stories and retina-challenging settings, look no further than his 2004 epic Big Fish.
The story centres around the dying Edward Bloom (Albert Finney/Ewan McGregor) as he regales his exaggerated life stories to anyone who will listen, whilst his son Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) has one last chance to get to know who his father really is. As Edward tells his story, the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred, and Edward’s past and present come crashing into one.
With so many flashbacks and imagined versions of stories in Edward’s life, it would be easy for the story to become confused, as the viewer is embroiled in Will’s quest for the ‘truth’ from one of the greatest unreliable narrators ever committed to film. The reality is that the story is wondrous, with little confusion but keeping the viewer guessing. The dual casting of Albert Finney as the old Edward and Ewan McGregor as the young Edward is inspired, with both sharing the same spirit of the happy, rambling individual who delights in new experiences and improving the lives of others.
The film features plenty of lively characters including Steve Buscemi’s hilarious Norther Winslow, a poet who could barely be called as such, Amos the circus master portrayed by Danny DeVito and the lovable Karl the Giant (Matthew McGrory). Indeed it is where the stories of these characters intertwine with that of Edward Bloom which makes for compelling viewing, with the finale being both touching and rousing.
Indeed, it is the profound nature of this film which is so refreshing from a director whose films mostly contain characters it is difficult to see as ‘real’, with the universal nature of the story presented through Burton’s fantastical vision making for a real treat. He abandons all trademarks, and offers only snippets of what you might call classic Tim Burton, but this ultimately makes for a better film.
Big Fish is unquestionably Tim Burton’s finest film to date, and partnered with John August’s fine screenplay, the movie is one of those gems that only comes around once in a blue moon. Long-time collaborator Danny Elfman has upped his game and crafted a gorgeous swirling soundtrack, both uplifting and melancholic and at times haunting and serene, his music is the embodiment of Edward Bloom’s good-natured heart and soul. In a story where the lead character spends so much time searching for the titular Big Fish, it is actually Burton himself who comes out on top as the biggest fish of them all. With a film this fine, it’s a pity he doesn’t deviate from his norm more. If Big Fish is anything to go by, a better body of work is out there waiting for him to seize.