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Review: 'Big Fish' Sparkles in 4K, But The Story Doesn't Shine as Bright

by Derek Deskins
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday May 11, 2021
Review: 'Big Fish' Sparkles in 4K, But The Story Doesn't Shine as Bright

I remember the first time I walked into an elementary school classroom as an adult. I couldn't get over how small the chairs were. I didn't dwell on the differences between my perception as a child and how my grown eyes were seeing things. I didn't marvel at how the illustrated dinosaurs on the wall were printouts from the school copier, colored by children. I just kept staring at the chairs.

How could they be so small? Would they even hold my weight now?

I had expected to walk into a time capsule of my youth, filled with the thrills of nostalgia, transported through the magic of childhood. Instead, I lowered my hulking frame, my knees popping in judgement, to see if a tiny chair would hold me.

That's how I felt revisiting "Big Fish": A hopeful man stuck in a chair that didn't fit him, unable to locate any of his past wonder.

Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor plays him young; Albert Finney plays him old) lived his life as fully as he knew how. From his earliest days, he had an appetite for life that seemed boundless. Edward rapidly gobbled up all that the small town of Ashton, Alabama had to offer him, so he set out to devour the world. Now an old man, he continues to live through his stories, tall tales that persistently challenge the limits of reality. But to his son, Will (Billy Crudup), Edward remains a mystery. As Edward nears the end of his life, Will tries to understand the man behind the stories.

There was a point in time where I had a deep affection for "Big Fish." I saw it as an earnest tale of father and son, an exploration of life and all that it can afford those that choose to live it actively. It long sat on my shelf, a movie that I adored, yet rarely felt the need to revisit. It thrived in my memory. So, as I sat down to watch the newly released 4K version, I was left oddly cold.

It's not that the movie looks bad. In fact, the 4K transfer is one of those great ones that respects the sanctity of its original vision (although don't come looking for anything in the realm of new special features). It isn't overly polished or rubbed to the point of looking like daytime television. Philippe Rousselot's cinematography is still allowed to sparkle, a modern fairytale of bright colors balanced by the more grounded tones of the natural world. The story just doesn't shine quite as brightly as it once did.

In my youth, I gravitated to the life of Edward Bloom. I romanticized his penchant for hyperbole, and basked in the film's interconnected nature. But upon rewatch, I can't help but be distracted by Edward's rampant selfishness. The emotional crux of the film is that Will, despite being told stories of his father for his entire life, doesn't know the man that sits decaying in front of him. The story attempts to address that gap between mythic parent and ordinary person. I wanted Edward to dispense with the pageantry and have an organic moment with his son. But this never comes. Instead, Will must join his father in the land of make believe, because only when Edward is indulged are others allowed to feel happiness. The me of yesterday saw Edward as an aspirational figure, where in the present I can only view him as a warning. The magic and color has been sapped from "Big Fish," all because its main character is incapable of empathy.

"Big Fish" is available today on 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital HD from Sony

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