> Volume 6 > Number 02


Tim Burton

Ewan McGregor
Albert Finney
Billy Crudup
Jessica Lange
Alison Lohman
Helena Bonham Carter
Robert Guillaume
Danny De Vito

Release: 25 Dec. 03

Big Fish


Tim Burtonís credentials as a master of the surreal mood piece may be waning, or at least itís become so awkwardly predictable that his Big Fish -- an answer to the omnipresent auteurís proto-storytelling film (a genre that includes everything from Orson Wellesí Citizen Kane to Bryan Singerís The Usual Suspects to David Lynchís Mulholland Dr.) -- turns out to be a bore among the absurd set pieces. His three ring circus, which includes regulars like editor Chris Lebenzon, costume designer Colleen Atwood, and composer Danny Elfman, is amazing to admire, even if its slowly been diluted by competing ringmasters and the unctuous travels of Burton himself.

Set around the hugely unbelievable tales of a dying pater familias (Finney) to his grown son (Crudup), the picture comes off as a chance for Burton to explain himself. Heís essentially acknowledging that his offbeat world of undead pests, lethal digits, and alien invasions are sometimes too much, but at the same time offering the idea that within these tall tales are essences of truth, not just in happenings but in understanding human nature. This is true, certainly, which is why films like Edward Scissorhands and Batman were heralded upon their release. Heís primed himself as a superior to Ed Wood by finding artistry in Woodís life that was missing in his films.

For that reason, Ed Wood is Burtonís perfect mea culpa, even if its built around the fantasy of another manís mind. Big Fish comes as a postscript with little to add to the preexisting text. Even if the film had been good -- which it isnít particularly -- itís purpose for existence is negligible in the least.

[Postscript: Kudos to the casting crew behind Big Fish, who found a previously unnoticed resemblance between Jessica Lange and Alison Lohman, who play the older and younger versions of the same character. The likeness is enough to forgive them for thinking an added mole will make Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney look like each other.]

©2004, David Perry,, 9 January 2004