Tim Burton has long been known as a dark director, he even resembles (or did) Robert Smith of “The Cure”. His movies are original, dark and inventive. Audiences and critics alike all adore them, though he has had his setbacks. He’s probably best-known for helming the first two Batman movies with Michael Keaton; it wasn’t until after Burton left that Joel Schumacher all but ruined the franchise. Burton’s blend of dark humor, good storytelling and visual effects are what make his movies unique. He’s ambitious and not afraid to take chances on movies (as evidenced by The Nightmare Before Christmas). His teaming with Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow) have all resulted in fantastic films and only now is Depp considered to be mainstream. Burton’s prior outing as a director was the ill-fated remake of Planet of the Apes, this time with Mark Wahlberg in the Charlton Heston role. Clearly it was time for a return to the inventive and Big Fish was just the movie for that. The casting of Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney (two Europeans) and the rest of the cast an ensemble, made for what looked to be an interesting movie. And it was.
Big Fish is a storybook come to life. We hear the words “â€¦once upon a time” and then are visually greeted with the story as it happens. Family is at the very heart of the movie as Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) tries to reconcile things with his dying father (Albert Finney). Ed Bloom (Finney and McGregor as his young self) was something special. He was the guy who scored the winning touchdown, made a three-pointer at the buzzer and hit the winning home run. To say that Bloom’s life was interesting was, naturally, an understatement. Edward told stories to Will as entertainment, though they were supposedly stories from his own life. Stories of a giant man, Siamese twins and a lost town somewhere in the middle of Alabama. Will outgrew these stories as he aged and resents his father for not being there enough. Will is now married and expecting a child of his own and has just learned that his father is not well. The story of Ed is told through visual interpretations of the stories and though it might seen complicated, it does a pretty good job at telling the story of one’s life. As kids we want to believe that time can stand still when you meet the woman of your dreams or that giants and witches really do exist. But for the Bloom’s, everything was always a part of another storyâ€¦
As with most Burton films, this is rather difficult to put into words, but he manages to do so very well. Jessica Lange has a supporting role as Will’s mother as does Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club) and Alison Lohman. It’s hard to say what really makes the story work, the effects, the story or the acting. Ewan McGregor has emerged as a validated Hollywood talent and Finney has reappeared on the scene since his performance in Erin Brockovich. I felt that this one of the more original movies I’d seen, but I did catch a few subtle hints of Forrest Gump in it. For example when a story is told, we see it acted out as in Gump we see it digitally inserted into archived footage. Maybe I’m totally off the mark here, but that’s the conclusion I came to. In any case, fans of Burton will be right at home here and though it lacks Johnny Depp’s presence, it’s one of the better films I’ve seen in a while. This should have value for the whole family as well, though there are a few scary spots; it’s not something that would scare kids; as mentioned before it’s like a storybook come to life. And that’s what movies are for, to make the impossible possible.
Video: How does it look?
If ever there was a film destined for 4K, it has to be this one. I remember watching it when the Blu-ray first debuted and it shined. Burton sometimes uses a wider frame for his work but this maximizes the full area of your HDTV. In any case, the new 1.85:1 HEVC 4K transfer is nothing short of brilliant. The colors are bright and vivid and the level of detail is amazing (I could see every freckle on McGregor’s face). As we might expect with a movie of this nature, plenty of special effects are included and they’re represented with the utmost clarity here. Nighttime scenes look better than expected and no artifacting or edge enhancement could be detected. In addition to the 4K, the set comes with a re-mastered Blu-ray which, of course, improves upon the previously-released disc.
Audio: How does it sound?
Another upgrade from the Blu-ray is the addition of a Dolby Atmos track (on the 4K disc, the Blu-ray has a DTS HD Master Audio mix). The track has several discrete effects that I didn’t pick up until later in the movie. The sound moves from front channels to back and vice versa. Dialogue (Alabama dialogue at that) is clean and well-reproduced, too. The subwoofer didn’t get a lot of use, but the front channels house most of the action (as we might expect). The surrounds, when used, more than got the job done. I really didn’t know what to expect here, but I was pleasantly surprised. The scene with the giant stands out as being excellent, all of your speakers will be used to their fullest extent. And, as per usual, Danny Elfman’s score is a welcome treat in Dolby Atmos sound.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Here’s something we don’t get…new features added to the disc that weren’t part of the previously-released version! Let’s dig in.
Disc One (4K) – No extras are present on this disc.
Disc Two (Blu-ray)
Original EPK – Broken down into two sections:
Behind the Scenes – Pretty much that, just some additional footage about the film.
Interviews – The main players of the film give their input on their respective characters as well as working with Burton, etc.
The Character’s Journey -Broken down into three sections:
Edward Bloom at Large – We get a look at some of the backstory of Bloom’s.
Amos at the Circus – Danny De Vito’s character is explored.
Fathers and Sons – Will (Finney) and Edward (McGregor) are profiled.
The Filmmakers’ Path – Broken down into four segments:
Tim Burton: Storyteller – The cast shares their affection for Tim Burton.
A Fairytale World – The film’s antecedents are explored as the cast gushes over them.
Creature Features – The creatures are looked at as with all of Burton’s films.
The Author’s Journey – Author Daniel Wallace’s source material is given a once over.
Audio Commentary – Tim Burton and Moderator Mark Salisbury collaborate on a fine audio commentary. This was the only supplement present on the previously-released Blu-ray.
Easter Eggs – I lump this in the “nice to have” category, but I’ll never watch it again.
The Bottom Line
Big Fish is a visually-ambitious movie, to be sure. Burton crafted a memorable and excellent story that has (so far) withstood the test of time. Sony’s 4K offering ups the ante with improved video and audio as well as a bevy of features not present on the previous Blu-ray. If you’re a fan of the film, and many are, there’s no reason not to pick this one up.