Apt to the film itself, rumours and teasers for ‘Big Fish’ have been circulating for a good many months but none give a clear idea of what to expect from Tim Burton’s latest venture. Where Spielberg is a name synonymous with happy endings, Burton is immediately associated with a dark and sinister mood. An atmosphere of danger lurking in every shadow is what audiences have come to expect of watching a Burton movie. ‘Big Fish’ then comes as a surprise. The striking gnarled tree motif of the posters suggests Burton’s usual touch of darkness but this is where the film is lacking.
Burton’s fairytale romp at times slips into the sentimental realms of Spielberg-esque slop.
Upon his deathbed, Ed Bloom (Albert Finney) continues in the pattern of his life and tells tall-tales of his adolescent and young adult years. Most find his stories amusing and laugh with affection, but his son, Will Bloom (Billy Crudup), has grown irritated by the lies and wishes desperately to understand who his father truly is before it is too late. The fairy stories are wonderful to work with and as with his perfect use of colour in ‘Sleepy Hollow,’ Burton paints a fantastic on-screen picture. Bursting with vibrancy and full of striking colour combinations the images are delightful as they pass in front of the eyes. The fairytale land is vividly brought to life and is well contrasted with the grey, empty atmosphere of the real world, where Ed Bloom is ebbing away.
Trusting Burton to handle fairytale-like stories with originality, adding a satisfying twist to seemingly normal situations, the tone of the film is disappointingly slushy and the subtle sinister atmosphere is untraceable by the finish. So much potential in the world of circus freaks, hidden villages and enchanting maidens, but spoilt by a frustrating timidity towards the dark tone that has always added richness and uniqueness to Burton’s cinematic work.
Yes, in the previous edition, a ‘return to gothic form’ was promised, but rather deflatingly, we only see a gothic potential that is never fully developed. Possibly the softening of the tone of Tim Burton’s films could have been beneficial, but unfortunately it seems that it becomes progressively commercial.
A director should always be encouraged to experiment and never feel bound by trademarks or expectations but ‘Big Fish’ seems artistically mediocre, erring on the side of Hollywood formulaic sentimentality. If you’ve got a thirst for the dark side, ‘Big Fish’ won’t please, but if you’re willing to let yourself go and be taken along for the ride, take out the tissues and you’ll be touched to learn that even the creator of ‘Edward Scissorhands’ is soft at heart. Whether we’ll ever see Burton form a heart of darkness again is an entirely different matter. We can but live in hope.