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Big Fish (PG)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary by Tim Burton; 'Edward Bloom at Large' featurette; 'Amos at the Circus' featurette. 'Fathers and Sons' featurette; 'The Filmmakers' Path' featurette; 'A Fairytale World' featurette; 'Creature Features' featurette; 'The Author's Journey' featurette; The Finer Points - Tim Burton Trivia Quiz.

ONLY Tim Burton could take the painful story of an estranged son’s reconciliation with his terminally ill father and make it one of the most enchanting and uplifting stories of any year.

With Big Fish, Burton returns to the type of bittersweet fantasy film-making that helped to establish him as one of modern cinema’s great visionaries, and it is a richly rewarding and viscerally enthralling experience from start to finish.

Billy Crudup stars as Will Bloom, the estranged son in question, who becomes reunited with his father, Ed (Albert Finney), upon hearing of his impending death, and sets out to uncover the truth behind many of the outrageous yarns he has been forced to listen to, over and over.

For Ed, however, this dream life has become his own private truth and his wondrous tales are relayed via a series of flashbacks, in which Ewan McGregor portrays the ‘big fish’ from a small town, who sets out to make a name for himself in the world.

Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace, Big Fish harks back to classic storytelling in grand fashion, which, while certainly twee and sentimental in places, consistently delights without feeling too manipulative.

The film benefits greatly from some terrific performances from its top-notch cast, with Finney shining brightest, as the father who consistently applies a tale to almost every situation, thereby ensuring that there won’t be a dry eye in the house by the time things reach their denouement.

But Crudup plays his frustrations well, while McGregor oozes the type of ‘gee-whizz’ charisma he so expertly displayed in the lacklustre Down With Love, providing an excellent companion for viewers through Ed’s early adventures - even though his near-permanent smile threatens to become a little tiresome.

And while the main meat of the film comes in the form of the relationship between father and son, Burton refuses to allow things to become heavy-handed, littering his characters’ journeys with some truly delightful fantasy sequences, which may or may not reside in the truth.

Such moments including Ed’s departure from the little town of Ashton with a friendly local giant, his brief detour in the strange town of Spectre, his time at the circus with Danny DeVito’s dubious owner, and his heart-warming courtship of Alison Lohman’s sweet Sandra, as well as his army spell in Asia, where he encounters a pair of single-bodied Siamese twin entertainers.

Assisting him, too, are the likes of Helena Bonham Carter, as both a friendly witch and a former great love, and Steve Buscemi, as a poet-turned-bank robber, who bring all of the usual Burton quirkiness to their performances.

After the critical derision which greeted Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes, it is reassuring to find the director returning to the type of territory he feels most comfortable within. Free from the burden of blockbuster expectations, he is allowed to revel in his own imagination, and the path he leads viewers down makes for a richly satisfying experience.

In short, Big Fish is a great catch for any fan of imaginative cinema.

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