Big father and son story “Big Fish” lands on 4K
Updated: Jun 24, 2022
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Ewan McGregor plays young Edward Bloom and Alison Lohman as young Sandra. He wins her heart with her favorite flower. Director Tim Burton used 10,000 daffodils for the scene.
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4K Ultra HD Blu-ray; 2003; PG-13 for a fight scene, some images of nudity and a suggestive reference; streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: “The Filmmaker’s Path,” a four-part featurette
SONY PICTURES’ release of Tim Burton’s Southern Gothic movie, “Big Fish” on 4K Ultra HD, just before Mother’s Day could be considered strange, since the focus is about a dying father and his shaky relationship with his son.
We’re not going to complain because getting any movie remastered in TRUE 4K is always considered a gift. A better 4K Mother’s Day release would have been Sony’s “Steel Magnolias” (1989) with its predominantly female cast. Sally Fields is perfect as M’Lynn, mother of bride-to-be Shelby Eatenton (Julia Roberts for which she received her first Oscar nomination). Co-star Magnolias Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah, Shirley MacLaine, and the late Olympia Dukakis help make this a treasured classic ... Just keep those tissues handy!
Maybe, next year, Sony?
(1) William Bloom (Billy Crudup) and his bride Josephine (Marion Cotillard), listen to his father Edward during their wedding reception, as he tells a story about how he got his bride Sandra and the birth of Will. (2) Sandra (Jessica Lange) gets a kiss and a tender chin rub by Edward. (3) Will confronts his father outside the reception. “I’m a footnote in that story....I don’t love that story anymore. Not after a thousand times.” (4) “Big Fish” finished with $123 million worldwide box office.
Three years later, Will gets a call from his mother that it’s time to return home. His father’s battle against cancer is coming to an end.
Many who love Tim Burton films – 19 feature-length films; count ‘em! – have selected “Ed Wood” (1994) and “Edward Scissorhands” (1990) as No. 1 and No. 2 at the top of their list. Then there’s “Beetlejuice” (1988), “Corpse Bride” (2005), “Frankenweenie” (2012) and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (2007). So where does the sentimental “Big Fish” fall?
Vulture.com and Entertainment Weekly Magazine both consider “Big Fish,” the adaption of Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel, No. 14. Ewan McGregor (“Moulin Rouge!”) plays the young version of Edward Bloom, while Albert Finney (“Erin Brockovich”) plays the elder. Billy Crudup (“Almost Famous”) is cast as estranged son, Will.
“Burton put aside big-budget filmmaking for something far more personal and emotional,” says Vulture. Studiobinder.com ranks “Big Fish” No. 2, sandwiched between “Beetlejuice” and “Ed Wood.” “It’s a fantastic movie about the bond between a father and his son.”
Meanwhile, screenrant.com gives “Big Fish” top honors, “It showcases the amazing power between fantasy and imagination.” During a break in the 2003 production filmed in Alabama, McGregor said he considers “Edward Scissorhands” his favorite Burton film. “I think, for all the reasons I love this script [Big Fish] so much. For the fantastical nature of it,” he said.
“Big Fish” finished with a $123 million worldwide box office, receiving high marks on Rotten Tomatoes with a respectable 75 percent from critics and 89 percent from audiences. During one of the nearly dozen carryover featurettes, Burton says that “Big Fish” can be “both real and unreal at the same time.” He was drawn to the script because it put images to “feelings that are hard to express verbally.”
(1&2) Edward tells young Will the story involving the town’s witch (Helena Bonham-Carter). When she removes her eye patch you could see how you die. (3&4) Josephine and Will meet Dr. Bennett (Robert Guillaume) before going up to the bedroom to see his terminally ill father.
Burton explains it doesn’t follow the normal flashbacks format via the younger Bloom (McGregor). “It has, what I consider, a realistic way of thinking about memory ... It’s selective, [where] some things are real or not real, creating its own reality.”
The fable mostly takes place in Ashton, Ala., as Edward Bloom’s fight against cancer is coming to an end. His life-long love and wife Sandra (Jessica Lange) summons their journalist son Will home from Paris, where he lives with his French wife Josephine (Marion Cotillard), who’s six months pregnant, and considers her father-in-law’s stories charming and fascinating.
Will and his father haven’t spoken for three years, since his skeptical of his father’s endless – so-called – tall tales about his experiences. There’s the town witch (Helena Bonham-Carter), whose glass eye reflects Edward’s own death; an encounter with a circus run by Amos Calloway (Danny DeVito), becoming friends with 12-foot Karl the Giant (Matthew McGrory), and the dreamlike Spectre. He tells stories about the place where everyone is barefoot and apple pie is the town’s favorite. Bloom’s Korean War action record, parachuting behind the Red Army’s lines and discovering Ping and Jing, conjoined vocal sisters sharing only two legs seem like another embellishment. And we can’t forget the biggest tale of all involving a supersized catfish “The Beast,” a wedding ring, and the courtship of young Sandra (Alison Lohman), winning her with thousands of daffodils.
“Sometimes the only way to catch an uncatchable woman is to offer her a wedding ring.” — Edward Bloom
(1) As the story goes, Edward was Ashton High School’s super athlete and super student. (2) When a 12-foot giant started to attack the town the citizens were up in arms. The mayor asked for a volunteer to speak to the man - and as expected Edward said yes. (3) He meets Karl the Giant played by 7'6" Matthew McGrory, who held the Guinness World Record as the tallest actor, biggest foot 29.5, and the longest toe. (4&5) Edward and Karl become friends and decided to leave Ashton for greener pastures. The town sends them off with a parade.
Hours of bonus features are ported over from previous editions onto the enclosed new Blu-ray. The four-part “Filmmaker’s Path” is the best, with behind the scene footage, and interviews with the cast, crew, and the author, who says the title “Big Fish” came years ahead of writing the book. It was an expression his father always used: “I didn’t want to be a big fish in a little pond.”
Wallace says he had always been interested in myths and wanted to write a story of a man’s life journey, “as though he were a mythic character.” He credits John August’s screen adaptation with having the right vision: “He’s the person who really turned it into something special.” The author admits there’s give and take within a screenplay, mentioning how he gave his blessing to the screenwriter to expand the character, poet Norther Winslow (Steve Buscemi). In the book, he only had 15 words, but in the film, he becomes a big part of the plot.
The similarities between Wallace’s father and Edward Bloom are undeniable. The author says: “He was a charismatic man, who used his charisma to keep people at a distance.” Wallace became a star within his own home state after Burton’s production was filmed in Alabama. Wallace was an English (fiction) professor at the University of North Carolina at the time. “I can’t help but be a Southern writer. I’ve always lived in the South and ‘Big Fish’ relies on the history and that genre quite a bit.”
“There are folktales in ‘Big Fish,’ and tall tales. The father is a compulsive storyteller, and Southern literature is about storytelling.” — Daniel Wallace, author
(1) Edward and Karl split up and he ends up in Spectre, where everyone is barefoot and apple pie is the town’s favorite. (2) Ashton poet Norther Winslow (Steve Buscemi) arrived in Spectre a dozen years ago and still hasn’t left. He continues to get stuck with the next verse with his poems. (3&4) Next stop, the Calloway Circus, as Danny DeVito plays Amos Calloway owner and ringmaster. (5) Edward sees his future wife Sandra across the circus ring. Everything stops as he walks toward her.
The Blu-ray also includes a commentary with Burton, moderated by British entertainment editor/writer Mark Salisbury. Burton says he was drawn to “Big Fish” after the then-recent death of his father. “So, I was thinking about these issues, and that sort of unusual relationship you have with your parents.” Burton says it gave him a way to give those themes “an image, sort of exploring them without therapy.” He and his father didn’t have a talkative relationship, just long stares across the dinner table. But, the filmmaker remembers how on full moons his father would take out his false teeth, where two sharp teeth were still visible, and pretend to become a werewolf, scaring the neighborhood kids.
Hats off to Sony for creating a new 4K master, re-scanning the original camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio). The original master was scanned in 2K in the early 2000s. Fine detail is enhanced, evident throughout in costume textures, facial markings, and Burton’s trademark wide-angle shots via French cinematographer Philippe Rousselot (Oscar winner for “A River Runs Through It”). For example, when Danny Devito as a circus ringmaster Amos enters the big top, Burton and Rousselot position the camera on the back row, yet the clarity on Devito’s face is remarkably distinct. Natural film grain is kept intact and organic, as Sony continues to be the best in Hollywood with keeping a film’s integrity.
HDR grading is interesting as the physical 4K disc only gets the standard HDR10, while at least one digital platform Apple & iTunes provides Dolby Vision along with HDR10. The expanded contrast provides a more dynamic visual experience compared to the Blu-ray, which also uses the new 4K master. Black levels are deeper, with strong shadow detail, while mid-tones and highlights are fuller and controlled. The color spectrum is natural and rich, while Burton applies soft lighting and soft-focus filtering on some of his hyper-realistic moments.
(1-3) Josephine enjoys hearing the stories from Edward, including his mission behind enemy lines during the Korean War. He discovers Ping and Jing, conjoined vocal sisters entertaining the Red Army. (4) For months Edward was MIA, and finally arrives home. (5) Edward loves his Sandra.
Sony provides a new, eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack on the 4K sending a number of effects and musical cues from Danny Elfman’s subdued Oscar-nominated score to height speakers. The dialogue-driven story is never lost; it’s balanced perfectly to the center speaker.
Overall fidelity is excellent, especially Elfman’s score, and numerous pop songs going back to the jazzy 1930s with Bing Crosby’s “Dinah”; Buddy Holly’s ‘50s favorite “Everyday”; the ‘70s’ Canned Heat’s “Let’s Work Together” and Allman Brothers Band “Rambin,” and, strangely but it works, Pearl Jam’s “Man of the Hour.”
As we enter the sixth year of the 4K format, Sony is ramping up its top catalog title releases including Schwarzenegger’s 1990 adventure “Last Action Hero,” coming out May 18, and just before Father’s Day, the action thriller “In the Line of Fire” with Clint Eastwood.
Keep up the first-rate work Sony!
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1) Helena Bonham-Carter also plays older Jenny from the town of Spectre. (2) Edward sees his girl in the river. (3) Sandra’s farewell to Edward. (4&5) Will and Edward have the final story.