Tim Burton, the visionary behind Ed Wood, Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, brings us a saga like no other in Big Fish—a buoyant and evocative, hard-to-believe, but easy to embrace story of life, love and whatever else is under the sun.

Adapted by John August (Charlie’s Angels) from Daniel Wallace’s novel Big Fish: A Story of Mythic Proportions, the movie is the story of Edward Bloom, a man whose life, as it is, or as he would have others believe, borders on the fantastical. He is a masterful storyteller, a painter with his own life as the canvas, who paints a colorful tapestry populated by misunderstood giants, gigantic freshwater fishes, bizarre circus folk, lupine ringmasters, jumping spiders, barefoot natives of sleepy hamlets lost in time, Siamese twin chanteuses, and more. His son, Will, a hard-on-facts reporter based in Paris, gets frustrated by these “tall tales”, and they even led to their estrangement. Years later, Will comes home to his terminally ill father with hopes of reconciliation and to find out who his father really is—how he really lived.

The bizarre events that pepper Edward’s dreamy tales begin at his birth, when he cannonballed out of his mother’s womb and then proceeded to skid on the hospital corridor. What follows is a curious assortment of anecdotes—from seeing his own death from the mystical glass eye of the neighborhood witch to his being the favorite son of the town of Ashton, Alabama—events which proved to Bloom that Ashton is a small pond too confining for the big fish that he is.

Little wonder then, that Ed decides to strike out on his own, accompanied by the first of several unusual companions: Karl, a gentle giant whose towering stature enables the two of them to land jobs in a traveling circus.

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His least fantastic but most enchanting story, though, is one of romance—the story of how he won the heart of Will’s mother. Edward discovers that time literally stands still for love at first sight. He pushes away airborne kernels of popcorn frozen like cobwebs in his path as he walks toward the girl of his dreams, Sandra. He then goes through a series of trials that might have daunted Hercules himself, just to prove his devotion to her. Eventually, after an out-of-this -world courtship, the two got married.

Settling down with Sandra and raising a child doesn’t stop Edward’s adventures. He works as a travelling salesman and along the way, he manages to help someone rob a bank, then gives that man enough business advice for him to start a Wall Street empire. He also saves the town of Specter from bankruptcy and in the process meeting a stranger who might not be a stranger after all.

Meanwhile, the ever skeptical Will learns that meetings of the mind are never as important as meetings of the heart. The unconditional love between father and son that never wavered through their disparity once again brought the two men together emotionally and philosophically in the dazzling final act—a coming of terms of sorts for Will as he begins to find revealing facts from his father’s far-fetched tales.

Burton is at his finest in Big Fish. In the past, he had problems with his rich imagery threatening to overshadow the human elements of his movies. Here, Burton has room for both. Ed’s outrageous stories provides him free rein to indulge his imagination, and the heartfelt emotion brimming through the Bloom family and the people they let into their lives plants humanity right where it belongs in the film.

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A visual spectacle, the movie is also a well-written fable with magical realism comparable to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ visions. Burton portrays Edward Bloom as Everyman—a metaphor for every dream that challenges everyone, and he sees Edward through to work his way to the top of his game. Every adventure poses as the challenges in one’s lifetime.

The town of Specter is a metaphor for the afterlife—a place one discovers after a long and taxing journey (Edward discovers the town after going through a forest filled with toxic spiders) wherein one either comes late, on time or early, but always welcome, never to leave again.

The amorous subplot of Edward and Jenny’s mythical courtship also symbolizes one potent truth—that love is the greatest, most taxing yet most fulfilling journey anyone would ever encounter.

Burton was lucky (or wise) to get the film’s production team. From the cinematography (Philip Rousselot), production design (Dennis Gassner), costume design (Colleen Atwood) to the musical score (Danny Elfman), Burton creates shimmering, glimmering storybook sequences that would look at home on the other side of Alice’s looking glass.

Big Fish is also perfectly cast. It was a stroke of genius to cast Albert Finney as old Edward and Ewan McGregor as young Edward. Not only does the two uncannily resemble each other, each gave performances complimenting (if not boosting) each other’s role. McGregor, warm and charming as can be, has proven himself capable of dancing in the brink of absurdity without appearing self-aware or silly. He is an all-American adventurer destined to find what he is out for—because he has it deep inside of him. Finney as old man Bloom blends in the physical fragility that follows his age and the towering stature of a man of his experience—one who had learned to make peace with the world as he sees it, not as it is.

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Another inspired casting move was the amazing Jessica Lange and Alison Lohman’s (White Oleander) respective turns as senior and young Sandra Bloom. Lohman’s ethereal allure shimmers with ample old-times grace, and Lange glows with quiet heartbreak.

Big Fish is nothing short of silver screen sorcery. In less capable hands, it might have become an unfocused, indulgent effort, but Burton’s genius gave the movie enough heart and vision. It’s a long and winding road—and not one everybody will have the patience to follow. But for those who do not mind a bit of meandering, Big Fish is a memorable adventure worth taking.


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