Sunday, 21 March 2010

A Different Tim Burton

If all goes well I should be seeing Burton’s Alice in Wonderland next week. I don’t expect the film to be perfect, and I won’t be angry if I don’t love it as much as I wanted to. It seems that so many hate Burton now and with the announcement of his imminent reimagining of The Addams’ Family (which I think could be excellent) the trolls have emerged; but I digress. Whenever I hear the claims of Burton’s lack of restraint I always feel the urge to slag someone off by citing my favourite live action Burton film – an imperfect masterpiece that thrills me as much as it moves me, 2003’s forgotten Big Fish.

Big Fish is a drama, a fantasy, a comedy, a romance and a mystery all rolled into one atypical bundle from Burton. It is the story of Ed Bloom a dying man forever at odds with his son. On his deathbed he tries to explain himself to his son. In this way Big Fish is two stories in one. On the most obvious of levels it’s difficult to believe that Ewan McGregor grew up to become Albert Finney, not because Albert Finney isn’t charming. To be fair Finney’s early work in Tom Jones is not that different from the young Ewan in the film. Finney just gives the feeling of a man whose light has been snuffed out for whatever reasons, even though he’s not unhappy. Jessica Lange plays brilliantly in the small role of Finney’s wife. I’ve always been a fan of Lange and her manner of imbuing so much emotion to a nondescript role is effective. As earnest and delicate as the times in the present are, it’s difficult to deny the sheer (aesthetic) brilliance of Big Fish when it retracts to the past. It’s a fanciful tale, but that’s precisely the point which is why Burton is so effective, but the present moments in their sombreness is done excellently. The visuals are an important of the film, but it’s the not the defining entity. That would be the acting.

Helena Bonham Carter made my top 5 of 2003 for her brilliant performance in a dual role. It’s the most sensitive role Burton has given her and she handles it perfectly. It’s difficult to balance her charm against the beauty and stability of Lohman/Lange and Carter never turns it into a cliché. Ewan McGregor gives his best performance as Ed. It’s that fanciful innocence that suits him, and even the accent tends to get obtrusive in some moments it’s still an absolutely brilliant incarnation and Albert Finney does so much emoting with so little time (this man continues to be excellent even in his old age). Big Fish also features Marion Cotillard in a small role as Billy Crudup’s wife.
I am a fan of Burton so I really can’t say whether or not I’m the most infallible critic, but then who is? Big Fish delights me and it stirs me. It’s an excellent creation and a treasure of the last decade as far as I’m concerned.

9 comments:

Tom said...

I heard he's not doing Addams Family anymore.

The Mad Hatter said...

Funny - I've said a few times in the last few weeks, that Big fish is proof positive that Burton might be at his best when he chooses to adapt a source material that isn't quite as widely known.

Have fun at Alice - very curious to read your thoughts. I think I'm gonna sit down and pop in BIG FISH!

Bill Thompson said...

I would probably be more of a Big Fish fan if the movie didn't fall apart in the last hour. Instead of continuing to revel in the human imagination the film takes the time in that last hour to try and explain everything and thus sucks all the fun out of the room. It also doesn't help much that 2004's Finding Neverland tackled the same premise of the human imagination and did it much better.

Mike Lippert said...

I agree with Bill above, although your review does make me think I should give Big Fish another shot. I originally felt that it worked wonderfully up to a certain point, but couldn't get past that artificial, everything is more important than the story, Tim Burton-ness. I had a friend in high school who made the observation that none of the dad's lies connect that well with the story. However, this is not to take away from the film completely because when it is working, you are right, it is Burton at his best.

Darren said...

I'd actually almost forgotten about this when I compared Burton and Scorsese. It's just sad that this film is an abherration in his past fifteen years of film making - it's his most recent "non-Burton-esque" film since Mars Attacks.

Emily said...

Big Fish is awesome. Alice in Wonderland is...disgusting.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

I love Big Fish. The moment when he sees Sandra for the first time and time stops always gets to me. And when he romances her, that gets to me. And the last section gets to me. This movie...this movie gets to me!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

tom oh? oh well.

mad hatter you're probably right. i know sometimes the guy is a little loopy, but sometimes the hate for him is a bit crazy.

mike although easily trumps finding neverland (which i like) i'm glad to see the latter has a fan because so many seem to hate it.

darren it has become ridiculously forgetten.

emily disgusting? oh my. that's not good...

walter ha ha. no shame in it getting to you.

The Floating Red Couch said...

Problem with Alice, which I have yet to see, is that its not the original -- it's like a sequel, like Return to Oz, and that immediately takes from it the non-sequitor nature of the Lewis Carrol story, which is my favorite part