Directed by Tim Burton, starring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter, Alison Lohman, Matthew McGrory, Steve Buscemi, Danny De Vito, Ada Tai and Arlene Tai.
After a lifetime of adventures, Ed Bloom (Finney) is dying. Well, his wife Sandra (Lange) and grown-up son Will (Crudup) think so, anyway. Ed, however, tells a different story: of how he crossed paths with a one-eyed witch when he was a boy, who showed him exactly how and when he would depart.
That's just one of the tales Ed has been telling his whole life and there are hundreds of others. There was the time young Ed (McGregor) befriended Karl (McGrory), a giant who was terrorising his hometown, and they hit the road together. Or how it was love at first sight when he saw Sandra (Lohman) at the circus - and then spent the next few years working for the ringmaster (De Vito) in a trade-off that saw Ed get one piece of information about the beautiful stranger every month. And then recalling that their honeymoon was cut short because Ed had to go on a top secret mission to Korea for the army and ended up making it back to America with conjoined twins Ping and Jing (the Tais).
Ed's got a yarn for every occasion and Will knows them all. Now, about to become a father himself, Will wants Ed to tell him the real story of his life. But the old charmer's not for turning and so, in an attempt to separate fact from fiction, Will might have to sit and hear them all again.
Burton could do no wrong in the eyes of most until it came to 'Planet of the Apes' - a film that many seemed to hate just for the sake of it. Wasn't it more fun than 'Hulk' or 'Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle'? Well, if people are still smarting from 'Planet of the Apes' you wonder just how they're going to take the sentimentality of 'Big Fish', a film that people will either love or loathe. It has all the great visuals you'd expect from Burton, but they're the backdrop for a moving exploration of father-son relationships that sneaks up on you and then gives your heart a wallop.
Despite Ed's fantastic stories, Burton's take on Daniel Wallace's book feels like his most grown-up film, one which delves into older men creating the pasts they wish they'd had and their sons' quest for a deeper insight into who they both are. The sickbed scenes between Finney and Crudup have that bittersweet quality that many will know too much of already, while the bursting colours of McGregor's scrapes as young Ed beautifully convey the idea that memories and imagination never fade.
Adding to the poignancy of a film about life's big adventure is the feeling that someone put too small a budget ($70m) on Burton's. There are great set pieces here, but towards the close it's as if the power people told him he'd had his fun and it was time to act all grown up and finish the movie. He does so in such style that you won't know whether to laugh or cry, but the nagging doubt persists that there was more than what ended up on screen. Maybe 'Big Fish' should've been five hours long. Maybe you'll just have to go see it twice to make up for that. Maybe you should get your Dad to go with you. Actually, no maybes on the last one.
With no Oscar nominations, it seems that 'Big Fish' was even too feelgood for Hollywood. But it's a film that will grow and grow by word of mouth, long after many of today's hits and important films are forgotten. Burton should be overjoyed with that - many old men have looked back with contentment on far, far less.