Utterly unbelievable yet magical and delightful, a father's stories just don't translate to his son who wants to know his dad's "true" life story. But little by little--through increasingly outlandish tales at which the son cannot resist smirking--the two begin to understand each other, and the father weaves his stories into their genealogical fabric.

(2003) Film Review
By Darrel Manson

This page was created on December 25, 2003
This page was last updated on May 9, 2006

Trailers, Photos
About this Film
Spiritual Connections

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Click to enlargeDirected by Tim Burton
Novel: Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions by Daniel Wallace
Screenplay by John August

Bruce Cohen ... producer
Katterli Frauenfelder ... associate producer
Dan Jinks ... producer
Arne Schmidt ... executive producer
Richard D. Zanuck ... producer

Cast - in credits order
Ewan McGregor ... Young Ed Bloom
Albert Finney ... Senior Ed Bloom
Billy Crudup ... Will Bloom
Jessica Lange ... Senior Sandra Bloom
Alison Lohman ... Young Sandra Bloom
Helena Bonham Carter ... Jenny/The Witch
Robert Guillaume ... Senior Dr. Bennett
Marion Cotillard ... Josephine
Matthew McGrory ... Karl
David Denman ... Bon Price (Age 18-22)
Missi Pyle ... Mildred
Loudon Wainwright III ... Beamen
Ada Tai ... Ping
Arlene Tai ... Jing
Steve Buscemi ... Norther Winslow
Danny DeVito ... Amos Calloway
Deep Roy ... Mr. Soggybottom
Hailey Anne Nelson ... Jenny (Age 8)
Grayson Stone ... Will Bloom (Age 6-8)
Karla Droege ... Ed's Mother
Zachary Gardner ... Zacky Price (Age 10)
Darrell Vanterpool ... Wilbur (Age 10)
Destiny Miley Cyrus ... Ruthie (Age 8)
Morgan Grace Jarrett ... Will's Date
Charles McLawhorn ... Mayor
Frank Hoyt Taylor ... Sharecropper
Billy Redden ... Banjo Man
Russell Hodgkinson ... Some Farmer
Don Young ... Shephard
Jayne Morgan ... Townsperson
David Ramsey ... Townsperson
Greg Hohn ... Townsperson
Zach Hanner ... Cashier
George McArthur ... Collossus
Jeff Campbell ... Parachute Jump Leader
Bonnie Johnson ... Teller Woman
Joanne Pankow ... Heavy-Set Nurse
Trevor Gagnon ... Will's Son
Jacob Radford ... Kid
Cathy Berry ... Lobster Woman
Daniel Wallace ... Econ Professor
Vincent Ybiernas¹ ... Asian Officer
Alan Rawlins¹ ... Auctioneer
Jake Brake ... Old Zacky

Original Music by Danny Elfman
Cinematography by Philippe Rousselot
Editor by Chris Lebenzon and Joel Negron

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for a fight scene, some images of nudity and a suggestive reference.
Runtime: USA:110 min

For rating reasons, go to FILMRATINGS.COM, and MPAA.ORG.
Parents, please refer to PARENTALGUIDE.ORG

Trailers, Photos
Big Fish
Various Artists - Soundtrack - 2003

1. Man Of The Hour - Pearl Jam
2. Dinah - Bing Crosby
3. Everyday - Buddy Holly
4. All Shook Up - Elvis Presley
5. Five O'Clock World - The Vogues
6. Ramblin' Man - The Allman Brothers
7. Let's Work Together - Canned Heat
8. Pictures - Danny Elfman
9. Big Fish (Titles) - Danny Elfman
10. Shoe Stealing - Danny Elfman
11. Underwater - Danny Elfman
12. Sandra's Theme - Danny Elfman
13. The Growing Montage - Danny Elfman
14. Leaving Spectre - Danny Elfman
15. Return to Spectre - Danny Elfman
16. Rebuilding - Danny Elfman
17. The Journey Home - Danny Elfman
18. In the Tub - Danny Elfman
19. Sandra's Farewell - Danny Elfman
20. Finale - Danny Elfman
21. End Titles - Danny Elfman
22. Jenny's Theme - Danny Elfman
23. Twice the Love (Siamese Twins' Song) - Danny Elfman
Big Fish : A Novel of Mythic Proportions
by Daniel Wallace

In Big Fish, Daniel Wallace angles in search of a father and hooks instead a fictional debut as winning as any this year. From his son's standpoint, Edward Bloom leaves much to be desired. He was never around when William was growing up; he eludes serious questions with a string of tall tales and jokes. This is subject matter as old as the hills, but Wallace's take is nothing if not original. Desperate to know his father before he dies, William recreates his father's life as the stuff of legend itself. In chapters titled "In Which He Speaks to Animals," "How He Tamed the Giant," "His Immortality," and the like, Edward Bloom walks miles through a blizzard, charms the socks off a giant, even runs so fast that "he could arrive in a place before setting out to get there." In between these heroic episodes, Bloom dies not once but four times, working subtle variations on a single scene in which he counters his son's questions with stories--some of which are actually very witty, indeed. After all, he admits, "...if I shared my doubts with you, about God and love and life and death, that's all you'd have: a bunch of doubts. But now, see, you've got all these great jokes." The structure is a clever conceit, and the end product is both funny and wise. At the heart of both legends and death scenes live the same age-old questions: Who are you? What matters to you? Was I a good father? Was I a good son? In mapping the territory where myth meets everyday life, Wallace plunges straight through to fatherhood's archaic and mysterious heart. --Mary Park
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Click to enlargeFrom the imagination of visionary director Tim Burton, comes the fantasy-rich family drama Big Fish.

A web-like tapestry woven of stories both real and exaggerated, Big Fish is the story of Edward Bloom and those who love him. Even if he doesn’t always believe every word he says, for Edward it’s all in the telling.

As an eight-year old confined to bed because of a preternatural growing spurt, Edward occupies himself by reading the entire World Book Encyclopedia. He is taken in particular with an article about goldfish, in which he learns that “if goldfish are kept in a small bowl, they will remain small. With more space, the fish can double, triple or quadruple its size.”

Ten years later, after becoming one of the most popular young men in Ashton, Alabama, he realizes that, like the goldfish, in order for him to grow he must leave home and explore the world. As he confides to his new friend Karl the Giant, “You think this town is too small for you? Well, it’s too small for a man of my ambition. I love every square inch of it. But I can feel the edges closing in on me. A man’s life can only grow to a certain size in a place like this.”

And thus, an improbable and mythic journey begins.

Many years and countless adventures later, Bloom (Albert Finney) is well known as a teller of tall tales about his colorful life as a less than ordinary young man (Ewan McGregor), when his wanderlust took him around the world and back again. His mythic exploits range from the delightful to the surreal, interweaving epic sagas about giants and werewolves, conjoined Korean lounge singers, a witch with a glass eye that can see the future - and of course, a big fish that refuses to be caught.

Bloom’s fabled stories charm everyone he encounters except his son Will (Billy Crudup), who has also left home but in this case to get out from under his father’s considerable shadow. When Edward becomes ill and his wife, Sandra (Jessica Lange), tries to reconcile them, Will embarks on his own personal journey trying to separate the myth from the reality of his father’s life and come to terms with the man’s giant feats and great failings.

The other travelers on this wondrous and moving voyage include Helena Bonham Carter as a woman who appears in different forms - including an enchanted witch. Alison Lohman portrays the young Sandra, the one true love of Edward’s life, and newcomer Marion Cotillard plays Will’s wife, Josephine. Steve Buscemi is the rueful poet turned bank robber turned Wall Street baron Norther Winslow and Danny DeVito plays Amos Calloway, the bamboozling owner and ringmaster of a traveling circus.

Columbia Pictures Presents A Jinks/Cohen Company - A Zanuck Company Production Big Fish starring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter, Alison Lohman, Robert Guillaume, Marion Cotillard, with Steve Buscemi and Danny DeVito. The director is Tim Burton. The screenplay is by John August, based on the novel by Daniel Wallace. The producers are Richard D. Zanuck, Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks. The executive producer is Arne L. Schmidt. The director of photography is Philippe Rousselot AFC/ASC. The production designer is Dennis Gassner. The film is edited by Chris Lebenzon, A.C.E. The costume designer is Colleen Atwood. The music is by Danny Elfman. The special visual effects are by Sony Pictures Imageworks Inc.

Review by

Click to go to Maurice's BlogTim Burton has always been a hit and miss film-maker.

Tim Burton has always been a hit and miss film-maker. When he’s on, he’s on (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice), but when he’s off, he’s ... Planet of the Apes. Too often he’s a theme without a coherent plot (Batman Returns). However, with Big Fish, some of his favorite themes, alienation and the power of stories, combine with his strengths as a film-maker to craft a wonderful fable about fables.

Review by

Mark Ezra Stokes lives in Ludowici – a peaceful, one-redlight town (that's "one traffic light" for those who don't speak Southern) in southeast Georgia – and is a staff reporter, copyeditor and columnist at The Press-Sentinel in Jesup, Ga. He is also a film critic for HIS Voice, a Christian newspaper in central Georgia. Mark is currently pursuing an M.A. in Screenwriting and Film Studies at Hollins University in Roanoke, Va.
If you’re the type who reads reviews before deciding to see a movie, chances are you didn’t watch Big Fish. Not that the film hasn’t received praise. It topped the box office for several weeks, received four Golden Globe nominations and was acclaimed by a eight out of eleven mainstream film critics. With every utterance of approval, however, there seemed to be others with an equal amount of disgust. Roger Ebert saw it as too repetitive, calling it, “doodling of a very high order.” A handful of Christian organizations are boycotting it. Several friends confessed to boredom; some even walked out of the theater.

The film, based on a novel by Daniel Wallace, involves Edward Bloom (Albert Finney), a dying father in his twilight years and his son, Will (Billy Crudup), as they try to reconcile with one another. Edward, known for his fabricated firsthand accounts of Aesopian adventures (fanciful tales with a deeper meaning than the surface story) continues to reminisce about these unbelievable events as Will struggles to understand his father’s true identity.

This is also a film about storytelling and its various ways to convey information.

Visually, the film – which originally was to be directed by Steven Spielberg and to star Jack Nicholson – teeters in the balance between dream and nightmare. This seems to be director Tim Burton’s specialty: the same twisted, fantasy world he created in The Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands and James and the Giant Peach. All of Ed’s flashbacks have a barely noticeable, saturated white glow about them. As usual, Burton teams with acclaimed composer Danny Elfman, who lays the emotional groundwork in each scene. Though I’m not a fan of all of Burton’s films, his distinct thumbprint on Big Fish works perfectly with the overall mood.

Also worthy of applause is Burton’s selection of actors to portray various periods in Edward’s life. From his early childhood (Perry Walston) to early adulthood (Ewan McGregor), then on to the present (Finney), nearly every character looks like an aged version of his or her previous self.

The cinematographer rose to the occasion with the use of crisp special effects. Most prominent among them are those used to show Edward’s first encounter with his wife. While at a surreal circus, he spots her and time stands still. As he inches closer to her while caught up in euphoric admiration, he wades through and interacts with a paused world of suspended torches and spilt popcorn.

This love story between Edward and Sandra (both Alison Lohman and Jessica Lange) is one of the most beautiful relationships I’ve seen onscreen. It includes, in my opinion, the most passionate, convincing love scene in cinematic history. In it, the wrinkled, aged Edward and Sandra lie fully clothed in a bathtub and hold one another with the same devotion and mutual desire that they had at the beginning of their relationship.

The rare inclusion of marital fidelity isn’t the only beauty in Big Fish, though. The use of allusions, symbols and archetypal elements took me back to the theater for a second viewing and has me now champing at the bit as I eagerly anticipate the DVD. Though recognition of all these concealed elements is not essential for viewing-pleasure, they definitely add depth to the story.

Big Fish includes allusions to countless films and television shows. Part of the fun of that is that Burton doesn’t beat you on the head with an obvious, “Look at what I’m doing. This is just like that other movie. Isn’t that clever?” Instead, he drops barely noticeable elements of his other films (such as Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas) and those of other filmmakers (The Wizard of Oz, The Graduate, and the short-lived show Eerie, Indiana) in such a way that they are recognized only after countless oblivious viewings.

The film also includes numerous allusions to Biblical events and concepts. Either the novelist (who has a cameo as an economics professor) did this intentionally or Burton has successfully captured raw, human emotion and longings in such a way that naturally allows this interpretation.

These allusions include Jacob and Laban, Moses, David and Goliath, Eve in Eden and others.

Most gratifying for me, though, was the way Edward Bloom’s character revealed the nature of God. The young Edward seemed to be a Christ figure (complete with perfection; a selfless, free gift of redemption; a wilderness temptation with a death and resurrection; and a symbol of God’s communion with humanity after that resurrection). In the same light, his aged counterpart also donned the mantle of God in showing us some of God's characteristics: not thinking chronologically or being limited by time, attempting to reveal himself to his ungrateful and oblivious offspring, among others.

Big Fish is also rich with symbolism. These symbols seem exhaustive, utilizing colors, numbers, character names and archetypal images to dive beneath the surface of the story’s basic plot. For example, the name of nearly every character seems to say something about that person. “Will Bloom” alludes to the fact that this character will grow in wisdom, insight or knowledge before the story’s end. “Ed Bloom,” on the other hand, has a more elusive meaning. When remembering that his character isn’t limited by chronology, though, you can flip the words around to create “bloom-ed,” a reference that he has already experienced some epiphanal growth and he must now help his son do the same. It sounds like a stretch, I know, but the continued use of hidden meanings indicates more significance than mere coincidence would allow.

While the film probably isn’t Sunday school material, it was definitely a spiritual experience for me. The covert love story between God and humanity brought me out of the theater in euphoric awe, hungering for deeper communion with God.

That, in my opinion, is the mark of a truly successful film: the ability to link spiritually with the audience.

Pastor, Artesia Christian Church, Artesia, CA

Darrel has an incredible love and interest in the cinematic arts. His reviews usually include independent and significantly important film.
Long after Will Bloom quit believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, he still believed the fanciful stories his father Edward told him. When he finally discovered that these stories were highly embellished (to say the least), he loses faith in his father. If his father has told such stories, how can he be believed about anything -- even his statements of love?Click to enlarge

But now Edward is dying. Will, a journalist who tells stories as facts rather then fantasy, has a chance to find some reconciliation with his father. He'd like to know the facts. His father keeps telling the stories.

Click to enlargeOn one level, Big Fish is a collection of the tall tales Edward has told through the years. And they are wonderful stories, filled with giants and witches and danger and love. Even as we know they are outlandish, we love the stories. Tim Burton has cast the stories in the same kind of fantasy tones he used in Edward Scissorhands. That sense of fantasy fits especially well in the portions of the film that are the stories as they are told. The stories are certainly bigger than life, and the slightly unrealistic settings add even more luster to the stories.

Click to enlargeBut the stories are only part of what makes this movie so enjoyable. It is also a story about relationship. Will, soon to be a father himself, has been estranged from Edward. Will is nearing the end of one relationship and nearing the beginning of another. What kind of father he will be is tied to his relationship with his father. He wants to get to know and understand what his father was really like. What he doesn't understand is that his father is really made known in his storytelling more than in the actual events that they reflect.

In time, he is able to piece together enough from the stories that he is able to find some sense of reconciliation and in that is able to make his father's impending death easier.

Click to enlargeThere is yet another level to this story as well. It is about losing faith. Certainly many of the stories we read in the Bible are just as fanciful as those Edward Bloom told. Many people think they grow too sophisticated for such stories. In leaving the stories behind, they also leave behind the storyteller, as Will has done with his father. Many people have come to put God into the same category as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Some people deal with the problem by insisting that all the stories are true as they are told. Others may look for truth within the stories that is independent of fact. It really doesn't matter as much how we try to address the problem of the stories as much as we need to keep looking for the storyteller within the story.

Click to enlargeAs Will kept looking for the facts beyond the stories, he eventually found more and more about his father that was important for him to know to reestablish his respect and faith in him. He also discovered that much about the stories were, as his mother said, "not complete fabrications." Had Will just treated all the stories as tall tales, he might have appreciated the stories, but never taken them to heart. Because he was able to find his father within the stories, he discovered a man far more wonderful than he had imagined.

So, too, when we seek God within the stories that we are told by men and women of faith, we may find a reality that is even more wonderful than the fanciful things that are so hard for some to believe.

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