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Laramie Movie Scope: Big Fish

An adventure in whimsy from Tim Burton

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 10, 2004 -- “Big Fish” is a whimsical film by director Tim Burton, who specializes in whimsy. This is one of his best efforts since “Edward Scissorhands.” A slickly-told tale of myth and truth, it features a lot of big-name stars, high production values, and plenty of heart.

Veteran actor Albert Finney of “Traffic” stars as Edward Bloom, a man who loves to tell tall tales of mythic proportions about witches, giants and big fish, among other things. His estranged son, Will (Billy Crudup of “Almost Famous”) comes home for a rare visit when he learns of his father's impending death by cancer. Will has long since tired of Edward's tall tales. He wants the truth at last from his father, who would much rather tell stories that are more interesting than the truth. His mother, Sandra (Jessica Lange of “Titus”) and wife, (Marion Cotillard) also get caught up in this dispute over the “truth” about Edward Bloom's life.

The story settles down to a series of tall tales, sometimes recounted by Edward, sometimes simply remembered by his son. The flashbacks feature Ewan McGregor of “Down With Love” playing Edward Bloom as a young man and Alison Lohman of “White Oleander” playing the young Sandra Bloom. The tales include a giant named Karl (played by the 7-foot six-inch tall Matthew McGrory), a circus ringmaster named Amos Calloway (Danny DeVito of “Anything Else”) a witch (played by Helena Bonham Carter of “Fight Club.” She also plays the character Jenny in “Big Fish”), a poet, bank robber and financier named Norther Winslow (Steve Buscemi of “Ghost World”), musician-actor Loudon Wainwright III appears as Beamen, veteran actor Robert Guillaume appears as Dr. Bennett, a circus giant named Collussus is played by George McArthur (AKA “George the Giant”), who looks a lot like actor Arnold Vosloo.

The tall tales include a Brigadoon-like town called Spectre, a big fish that could not be caught, a huge giant who could manhandle an entire house, a poet-turned-bank robber who became a baron of Wall Street, an improbable escape from wartime Korea with singing Siamese twins, a witch with a glass eye in which the viewer can see his future death and a circus ringmaster who is really a werewolf. All these tales are told to make the point that myths can be just as true as facts. The final scene of Will with his dying father is very touching. The funeral indicates there was quite a lot of truth in the myths. The same point could have been made with a less elaborate story.

This is one of Burton's better movies, but I don't think it is his best one. I think “Batman,” “Edward Scissorhands” and “Ed Wood” are still his best films. It is certainly not as unconventional as some of his better films (such as “The Nightmare Before Christmas”). Burton shows his usual flair for visual imagination, even though the story is pretty straightforward. The story shows a lot of heart and I found it very absorbing. The cinematography by Philippe Rousselot (“Planet of the Apes”) is excellent as is the production design by Dennis Gassner (“Road to Perdition”). The acting is also very strong throughout this large cast. All in all, this is a very good film. It rates a B+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2004 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)