Release Date(s)2003 (May 4, 2021)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures/Jinks-Cohen Company/Zanuck Company (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B
As a young man from a small town in Alabama, Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor) was determined to follow his passions, setting out into the big wide world in search of purpose and adventure. Over the years, his path veered far and wide, leading him to start a family, yet often finding him home only long enough to regale his young son Will with tall tales of his exploits. But nearing the end of his story decades later, the older Edward (Albert Finney) has become a cipher to Will (Billy Crudup), who’s now fully grown himself and living in Paris with his wife Joséphine (Marion Cotillard) and a baby on the way. So when his mother Sandra (Jessica Lange) calls with word that Edward’s health is declining, Will returns home hoping not only to mend his relationship with Edward, but to try—once and for all—to separate the reality of his father from the legend he spent a lifetime creating.
Director Tim Burton has made a fine career of telling darkly-comic, larger-than-life stories on the big screen, but this is certainly his most relatable work. Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace, Big Fish mixes fantastical elements with genuine emotion, infusing its drama with a deep humanity and, in so doing, making its payoff all the more impactful. The cast of leads is superb, and they’re surrounded by a terrific ensemble of supporting players that includes Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Buscemi, Danny DeVito, Alison Lohman, Deep Roy, and Robert Guillaume. Danny Elfman contributes another fine score, this one both charming and poignant, with Pearl Jam adding a closing song that perfectly distills the film’s themes. At its heart, this is a story about the often complex and difficult relationship between parents and their children, the way we must all confront life’s inevitable losses, and the journey that each of us takes to find our place in the world and meaning in our lives. And though it lacks some of the manic energy, edgy humor, and gothic creativity that’s typical of Burton, this film still manages to feel more personal as a result.
Big Fish was shot photochemically on 35 mm film using Panavision cameras and spherical lenses, and was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. For its release on Ultra HD, Sony has re-scanned the original camera negative to create a new 4K DI, complete with grading for high dynamic range in HDR10. The added resolution is visible in everything from skin and hair, to fabric and backgrounds (it particularly benefits the film’s fantastical settings). Detail is both more refined and softly nuanced, with grain that’s medium-strong and organic throughout. The contrast is enhanced with ink-black shadows, greater shadow detail, and luminous highlights, and the wider gamut enriches the color palette too, though it should be noted that Big Fish has a particular Kodachrome appearance that shifts from constrained naturalism to a kind of soft-focus hyper-realism. Its overall look has always been—not dark exactly, but boldly gloomy, with moments of warmth and vibrance. In any case, while this presentation isn’t quite a dazzler, it’s certainly never looked more true to itself.
Audio is present on the 4K disc in a brand new English Dolby Atmos mix that’s rarely flashy, but still expands the soundstage and adds a greater degree of sonic immersion. Dialogue is perfectly clear and centered, with subtle ambient cues and movement in the surrounds. The height channels (and surround backs) are playfully engaged when Edward first encounters the local “giant,” for example, and during his time with the Calloway Circus, among other scenes. Elfman’s score is featured often and with good fidelity. Bass is firm when necessary. Additional audio options are also included in English, French, German, Japanese, and Castilian Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as Czech, Hungarian, Italian, Polish Voice Over, Russian, and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Korean 2.0 Dolby Surround. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovene, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish.
Sony’s 4K disc includes no special features, but the package also adds the film in 1080p HD on Blu-ray. And the good news is that this is a newly-authored disc, mastered from the new 4K scan and with properly graded color. It offers the following extras:
- Audio Commentary with Tim Burton and Mark Salisbury
- Original EPK: Behind the Scenes (SD – 14:25)
- Original EPK: Interviews (SD – 24:28)
- The Character’s Journey: Edward Bloom at Large (SD – 8:45)
- The Character’s Journey: Amos at the Circus (SD – 4:37)
- The Character’s Journey: Fathers and Sons (SD – 7:20)
- The Filmmakers’ Path: Tim Burton: Storyteller (SD – 6:44)
- The Filmmakers’ Path: A Fairytale World (SD – 9:32)
- The Filmmakers’ Path: Creature Features (SD – 6:26)
- The Filmmakers’ Path: The Author’s Journey (SD – 7:58)
- Easter Egg: The Finer Points (SD – 1:58)
- Easter Egg: Tim Burton on Gold Cart (SD – 1:10)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:21)
While there’s technically nothing new here, save for the theatrical trailer in actual HD, all of these extras are carried over from the original 2004 DVD release. That’s great because Sony’s original Blu-ray omitted everything but the commentary. So it’s nice to have all of this content back in one place, as it features genuine substance and honesty. There’s also the usual Movies Anywhere Digital code on a paper insert.
For my money, Big Fish is imperfect perhaps, but still a masterpiece, and one that grows in appreciation with each new viewing. Burton has said that making it was “an amazing catharsis” that helped him to work through his feelings about the death of his parents. I can certainly relate; my own father was so wrecked by the experience of serving in Vietnam that he disappeared from my life when I was eight. The next time I saw him, two decades later, was bittersweet. He too lived in a kind of fantasy world, in this case because the reality of his life was too difficult to face. I encountered Burton’s film a few months later and the parallels were so striking that I had to slip out of the theater early to pull myself together. And really, isn’t that the kind of impact that great films should have on us? Suffice it to say that Big Fish is highly recommended, and Sony’s new 4K release is its best expression yet.
- Bill Hunt