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Big Fish is a 2003 fantasy drama film adapted from the 1998 novel of the same name by Daniel Wallace. The film was directed by Tim Burton and stars Albert Finney, Ewan McGregor, Billy Crudup, and Jessica Lange. Finney plays Edward Bloom, a former traveling salesman from the Southern United States with a gift for storytelling, now confined to his deathbed. Bloom's estranged son, a journalist played by Crudup, attempts to mend their relationship as his dying father relates tall tales of his eventful life as a young adult, played by Ewan McGregor.

Screenwriter John August read a manuscript of the novel six months before it was published and convinced Columbia Pictures to acquire the rights. August began adapting the novel while producers negotiated with Steven Spielberg who planned to direct after finishing Minority Report (2002). Spielberg considered Jack Nicholson for the role of Edward Bloom, but eventually dropped the project to focus on Catch Me If You Can (2002). Tim Burton and Richard D. Zanuck took over after completing Planet of the Apes (2001) and brought Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor on board.

The film's theme of reconciliation between a dying father and his son had special significance for Burton, as his father had died in 2000 and his mother in 2002, a month before he signed on to direct. Big Fish was shot on location in Alabamamarker in a series of fairy tale vignettes evoking the tone of a Southern Gothic fantasy. The film received award nominations in multiple film categories, including four Golden Globe nominations, seven nominations from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, two Saturn Award nominations, and an Oscar and a Grammy Award nomination for Danny Elfman's original score.

Plot

At his son's wedding party, Edward Bloom tells the same tale he's told many times over the years: on the day Will was born, he was out catching an enormous uncatchable fish, using his wedding ring as bait. Will is annoyed, explaining to his wife Joséphine that because his father never told the straight truth about anything, he felt unable to trust him. He is troubled to think that he might have a similarly difficult relationship with his future children. Will's relationship with his father becomes so strained that they do not talk for three years. But when his father's health starts to fail, Will and the now pregnant Joséphine return to Alabama. On the plane, Will recalls his father's tale of how he braved a swamp as a child, and met a witch who showed him his death in her glass eye. With this knowledge, Edward knew there were no odds he could not face.

Edward continues telling tall tales, claiming he spent three years confined to a bed as a child because his body was growing too fast. He became a successful sports player but found the town of Ashton too small for his ambition, and sets off with the misunderstood giant Karl. Edward discovers the hidden town of Spectre, where everyone is friendly to the point of comfortably walking around barefoot. Edward leaves because he does not want to settle anywhere yet, but promises to a young girl named Jenny that he will return. Karl and Edward begin working at a circus: Edward works without pay, as he has been promised every month he will learn something new about a girl he fell in love with (at first sight) by the ringmaster Amos Calloway. Three years later, having only learned trivia about her, Edward discovers Amos is a werewolf. In return for his refusal to harm him in his monstrous state, Amos tells Edward the girl's name is Sandra Templeton and she studies at Auburn University.

Edward learns Sandra is engaged to Don Price, who is also from Ashton. Don beats up Edward when he learns about his feelings for her, but this only disgusts Sandra into ending their engagement and falling for Edward. During his recovery, Edward is conscripted by the army and sent to Koreamarker. He parachutes into a theater entertaining troops, steals important documents, and convinces Siamese twin dancers Ping and Jing to help him get back to Americamarker, where he will make them stars. Unable to contact anyone on his journey home, the military declares him dead. This limits Edward's job options when he does return home, so he becomes a traveling salesman. Meeting the poet Norther Winslow from Spectre again, he unwittingly helps him rob a bank, which is already bankrupt. Edward suggests Winslow work at Wall Street, and Winslow thanks Edward for his advice by sending him $10,000, which he uses to buy a dream house.

Still unimpressed by his father's stories, Will demands to know the truth, but Edward explains that is who he is: a storyteller. Will finds Spectre, and meets an older Jenny, who explains Edward rescued the town from bankruptcy by buying it at an auction and rebuilding it with financial help from many of his previous acquaintances. When Will returns home, he is informed his father had a stroke and is at the hospital. He goes to visit him there and finds him only partly conscious, and unable to speak at length. Since Edward can no longer tell stories, he asks Will to tell him the story of how it all ends: escaping from the hospital, they go to the river where everyone in Edward's life appears to bid him goodbye. Will carries his father into the river where he becomes a big fish. Edward then passes away, knowing his son finally understands his love of storytelling. At the funeral, Will sees many of his father's more unusual friends, including Amos, Karl, Ping and Jing and Norther Winslow, although they are not entirely the same as in the stories (for example, Karl was not a giant, but still very tall). When his own son is born, Will passes on his father's stories, remarking that his father became his stories, allowing him to live forever.

Cast



Themes

The reconciliation of the father-son relationship between Edward and William is the key theme in Big Fish. Novelist Daniel Wallace's interest in the theme of the father-son relationship began with his own family. Wallace found the "charming" character of Edward Bloom similar to his father, who used charm to keep his distance from other people. In the film, Will believes Edward has never been honest with him because Edward creates extravagant myths about his past to hide himself, using storytelling as an avoidance mechanism. Edward's stories are filled with fairy tale characters (a witch, mermaid, giant, and werewolf) and places (the circus, small towns, the mythological city of Spectre), all of which are classic images and archetypes. The quest motif propels both Edward's story and Will's attempt to get to the bottom of it. Wallace explains: "The father's quest is to be a big fish in a big pond, and the son's quest is to see through his tall tales."

Screenwriter John August identified with Will's character and adapted it after himself. In college, August's father died, and like Will, August had attempted to get to know him before his death, but found it difficult. Like Will, August had studied journalism and was 28 years old. In the film, Will says of Edward, "I didn't see anything of myself in my father, and I don't think he saw anything of himself in me. We were like strangers who knew each other very well." Will's description of his relationship with Edward closely resembled August's own relationship with his father. Director Tim Burton also used the film to confront his thoughts and emotions concerning the death of his father in 2000: "My father had been ill for a while..I tried to get in touch with him, to have, like in this film, some sort of resolution, but it was impossible."

Religion and film scholar Kent L. Brintnall observes how the father-son relationship resolves itself at the end of the film. As Edward dies, Will finally lets go of his anger and begins to understand his father for the first time:
In a final gesture of love and comprehension, after a lifetime of despising his father's stories and his father as story-teller, Will finishes the story his father has begun, pulling together the themes, images and characters of his father's storied life to blend reality and fantasy in act of communion and care.
By unselfishly releasing the anger he has held about his father's stories, Will gains the understanding that all we are is our stories and that his father's stories gave him a reality and substance and a dimension that was as real, genuine, and deep as the day-to-day experiences that Will sought out.
Will comes to understand, then, that his father - and the rest of us - are our stories and that the deeper reality of our lives may, in fact, not be our truest self.


Production

Development

About six months before it was published, screenwriter John August read a manuscript of Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions (1998) by American author Daniel Wallace. August read the unpublished novel following the death of his father. In September 1998, August convinced Columbia Pictures to acquire the film rights on his behalf. August worked hard to make the episodic book into a cohesive screenplay, deciding on several narrators for the script. In August 2000, producers Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks began discussions for Steven Spielberg to direct August's script. Spielberg planned to have DreamWorksmarker co-finance Big Fish with Columbia, and intended to direct the film after completing Minority Report (2002).

Spielberg courted Jack Nicholson for the role of Edward Bloom Sr. and towards this end, had August compose two additional drafts for Nicholson's part. August recalls: "There was this thought that there wasn't enough for Jack Nicholson to do in the movie so we built new sequences. Pieces got moved around, but it wasn't a lot of new stuff being created. It ended up being a really good intellectual exercise in my explaining and defending and reanalyzing pieces of the story." Spielberg eventually left Big Fish when he became distracted with Catch Me If You Can (2002).

With Spielberg no closer to committing, August, working Jinks and Cohen, considered Stephen Daldry as a potential director. "Once Steven decided he wasn't going to do it, we put the script back to the way it was," recalls Jinks. "Steven even said, 'I think I made a mistake with a couple of things I asked you guys to try.'" August took his favorite elements from the previous drafts, coming up with what he called "a best-of Big Fish script. By the time we approached Tim Burton, the script was in the best shape it had ever been."

Burton had never been particularly close to his parents, but his father's death in October 2000 and his mother's in March 2002 affected him deeply. Following the production of Planet of the Apes (2001), the director wanted to get back to making a smaller film. Burton enjoyed the script, feeling that it was the first unique story he was offered since Beetlejuice (1988). Burton also found appeal in the story's combination of an emotional drama with exaggerated tall tales, which allowed him to tell various stories of different genres. He signed to direct in April 2002, which prompted Richard D. Zanuck, who worked with Burton on Planet of the Apes, to join Big Fish as a producer. Zanuck also had a difficult relationship with his own father, Darryl F. Zanuck, who once fired him as head of production at 20th Century Fox.

Casting

For the character of dibz cbd, Burton spoke with Jack Nicholson, Spielberg's initial choice for the role. Burton had previously worked with Nicholson on Batman (1989) and Mars Attacks! (1996). In order to depict Nicholson as the young Bloom, Burton intended to use a combination of computer-generated imagery and prosthetic makeup. The director then decided to cast around for the two actors in question. Jinks and Cohen, who were then working with Ewan McGregor on Down with Love (2003), suggested that Burton cast both McGregor and Albert Finney for Edward. Burton later compared McGregor's acting style to regular colleague Johnny Depp. Viewing Finney's performance in Tom Jones (1963), Burton found him similar to McGregor, and coincidentally found a People magazine article comparing the two. McGregor, being Scottish, found it easier performing with a Southern American English accent. "It's a much easier accent to do then a standard American accent because you can really hear it. You can get your teeth into it. Standard American is much harder because it's more lyrical." The same dual casting applied to the role of Bloom's wife, Sandra, who would be played by Jessica Lange and Alison Lohman. Burton commented that he was impressed with Lohman's performance in White Oleander (2002). Burton's girlfriend, Helena Bonham Carter, was also cast in two roles. Her prosthetic makeup for The Witch took five hours to apply. "I was pregnant throughout filming, so it was weird being a pregnant witch," the actress reflected. "I had morning sickness, so all those fumes and the make-up and the rubber...it was hideous."

Burton personalized the film with several cameos. While filming in Alabama, the crew tracked down Billy Redden, one of the original banjo-players from Deliverance (1972). Redden was working as a part-owner of a restaurant in Clayton, Georgiamarker, and he agreed to reprise his role in the Spectre vignette. As Edward Bloom first enters the town, Redden can be seen on a porch plucking a few notes from "Dueling Banjos". Burton was pleased with the result: "If you're watching the film and don't recognise the solitary, enigmatic figure on the porch, that's fine. But if you do - well, it just makes me so happy to see him and I think other people will feel the same way." Original Big Fish author Daniel Wallace makes a brief appearance as Sandra's economics teacher in the "Courtship of Sandra Templeton" scene.

Filming

Apart from filming in Paris for one week, Big Fish was entirely shot in Alabamamarker, mostly in Montgomerymarker (such as the Cloverdale neighborhood) and Wetumpkamarker. Brief filming also took place in Tallasseemarker and on the campus of Huntingdon Collegemarker. Principal photography for Big Fish in Alabama lasted from January 1, 2003 to May 2003 and was originally predicted to generate as much as $25 million for the local economy. Burton filmed all the dramatic hospital scenes and most of those involving Finney first, before moving on to the McGregor section of Bloom's life. Although McGregor was on set from the very beginning of filming, Burton chose to shoot all Finney's scenes first. Location filming in Alabama experienced a setback due to weather problems. During the production of the Calloway circus scenes, a tornado watch was issued and flooding on the set interrupted filming for several weeks. Despite the delays due to weather, Burton was able to deliver the film on budget and on schedule.

The director attempted to use a limited amount of digital effects as possible. However, because he wanted to evoke a Southern Gothic fantasy tone for Big Fish, color grading techniques were applied by Sony Pictures Imageworks. Stan Winston Studios, with whom Burton worked with on Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Batman Returns (1992), designed Helena Bonham Carter's prosthetic makeup and created the animatronics. Scenes with Karl the Giant were commissioned using forced perspective filmmaking.

Music

The Big Fish soundtrack was composed by regular Burton collaborator Danny Elfman. Burton approached Pearl Jam during post-production to request an original song for the soundtrack and closing credits. After screening an early print of the film, Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder went home and wrote "Man of the Hour", completing the demo by the next day. It was recorded by the band four days later. Guitarist Mike McCready stated, "We were so blown away by the movie...Eddie and I were standing around talking about it afterwards and were teary-eyed. We were so emotionally charged and moved by the imagination and humanity that we felt because of the movie."

Reception

Release

Columbia Pictures planned to wide release Big Fish in the United States on November 26, 2003 before pushing it back to December 10 for a limited release. The film premiered on December 4, 2003 at the Hammerstein Ballroommarker in Manhattan. The domestic wide release in the U.S. came on January 9, 2004, with the film appearing in 2,406 theaters and earning $13.81 million in its opening weekend. The film eventually grossed $66.81 million in U.S. totals and $56.11 million in foreign countries, with a total of $122.92 million worldwide.

The Region 1 DVD was released on April 27, 2004, and Region 2 was released on June 7. The DVD features a Burton audio commentary track, seven featurettes and a trivia quiz. A special edition was released on November 1, 2005, with a 24-page hardback book entitled Fairy Tale for a Grown Up. The film was released on Blu-ray Disc on March 20, 2007.

Awards

Big Fish received the most nominations at the 61st Golden Globe Awards without a single win, including Best Motion Picture , Best Supporting Actor (Finney), Best Original Score and Best Original Song (Eddie Vedder's "Man of the Hour").

At the 57th British Academy Film Awards, the film received seven nominations from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, including Best Film, Best Direction (Tim Burton), Best Adapted Screenplay (John August), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Albert Finney), Best Production Design (Dennis Gassner), Best Visual Effects (Kevin Scott Mack, Seth Maury, Lindsay MacGowan, Paddy Eason) as well as Best Makeup & Hair (Jean Ann Black and Paul LeBlanc).

Finney received another nomination for Best Actor at the 30th Saturn Awards, where the film was nominated for Best Fantasy Film.

At the 76th Academy Awards, Danny Elfman was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Music Score. In 2005, Elfman received a nomination at the 47th Grammy Awards for the Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture.

Critical analysis

Based on 200 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 77% of the critics enjoyed Big Fish with an average score of 7.2/10. The film was more balanced with Rotten Tomatoes "Top Critics" poll, receiving a 64% approval rating with a 6.5/10 score. By comparison Metacritic calculated an average score of 57/100, based on 43 reviews.

Observations modeled the film after Forrest Gump (1994). "Big Fish turns into a wide-eyed Southern Gothic picaresque in which each lunatic twist of a development is more enchanting than the last," Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly wrote. "It's like Forrest Gump without the bogus theme-park politics." Peter Travers from Rolling Stone magazine praised Burton's direction, feeling it was a celebration of the art of storytelling and a touching father–son drama.

Mike Clark of USA Today commented that he was most fascinated by the casting choices. "Equally delightful is the Alison Lohman character's evolution into an older woman (Jessica Lange). It's a metamorphosis to equal any in screen history." Internet reviewer James Berardinelli found the fairy tale approach reminiscent of The Princess Bride (1987) and the films of Terry Gilliam. "Big Fish is a clever, smart fantasy that targets the child inside every adult," Berardinelli said, "without insulting the intelligence of either." Roger Ebert, unmoved in a negative review, wrote "there is no denying that Will has a point: The old man is a blowhard. There is a point at which his stories stop working as entertainment and segue into sadism." Richard Corliss of Time magazine was disappointed, finding the father-son reconciliation storyline to be over-dramatically cliché. "You recall The Boy Who Cried Wolf? Edward Bloom is the man who cried fish."

References

  1. Akron Beacon Journal (2004-09-24)
  2. See also:


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