Saturday, 9 January 2016

Tim Burton's "Big Fish" – Magic Tedium

It's a sign of Danny Boyle's talent as a director that in Trainspotting he managed to get a watchable performance out of Ewan McGregor. In Big Fish, directed by Tim Burton, McGregor resorts to his tiresome short cuts: the mirror-perfected grin, the falsely modest aw-shucks body language when stepping up to do some impressive task, the suddenly intense gaze. Save it for the wine bar, McGregor. That's not acting, it's gurning. Let's face it, the widely hated Star Wars prequels wouldn't have been half as bad if they hadn't had McGregor sleepwalking through them, gurning.


I've seen Big Fish a few times and it does absolutely nothing for me. I hate its corny feel-good fantasy, its parental deathbed sentimentality, its quirky French characters, its period character shots. Yet, it is completely successful on its own terms. Every shot looks like it took ages to set up. The light is always intense and the composition of the shot is always like a picture. Trouble is, it's always like a picture I hate. This isn't art, it's design. Each shot is a ponytail's idea of what a great painting should look like. Style over substance is the feeling I generally take away from Tim Burton films and this one is no exception. Stylistically it plays like a two hour TV ad.

Review continues below...

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The idea of a son's resentment at his father's lifetime of telling tall tales, of hogging all the attention is so specific, so not a part of most people's experience, that you wonder what was the spark for the film (or rather the novel on which the film was based). Was it some personal experience of the author's? I can't relate to it. It's too specific. It doesn't have the wider resonance that the driving idea of a novel or a film should have.

True there are some nice touches, such as the more prosaic but still wacky nature of the characters who turn up to the funeral. It turns out that the giant was just a bit tall and that the conjoined twins were just twins. The stage show for Asian troops (the exact country is left deliberately vague) is entertaining (although it suffers from a POV fail since the young Ed Bloom couldn't have seen it). And the premonitions of death seen in a witch's glass eye are impressively spooky.

It's just that all the way through it I was thinking, 'so what.' It becomes less magic realism and more magic tedium.

Personal Score: 1/10

This is part of a series of film reviews where I give my comments on IMDB Top 250 films as a writer. The idea is that over time these posts will build into a wide-ranging writing resource.

For more details about the approach I've taken, including some important points about its strengths and weaknesses (I make no claims about my abilities as a film critic or even the accuracy of my comments... but I do stand by the value of a writer's notes on interesting films), see my introductory post here.

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