Title: Big Fish (2003)
Format: Blu-ray, 4k Blu-ray
Price: $22.50 (List: $30.99) Buy on Amazon
Director: Tim Burton
Featuring: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Danny DeVito and Jessica Lange
“The LA Times once called “Big Fish” Tim Burton’s “masterpiece,” but there’s an argument to that proclamation when comparing to the director’s early signature film “Beetlejuice” (1988), as well as the quirky “Edward Scissorhands” (1990) and fan favorite “Batman” (1989). Still though, this is an exceptional “dreamy drama” that is as visually appealing as it is storytelling.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has remastered “Big Fish” from a new scan of the film negatives for release on 4k Blu-ray. The 2-disc combo edition includes a Blu-ray with new remaster on 1080p and code to redeem a Digital Copy in Digital 4k/HDR where available. Here’s a review of the 4k Blu-ray presentation followed by a review from the original Blu-ray release.
From its opening scene of “the beast” navigating a lure-filled river this 4k Blu-ray remaster reveals a sharp but grainy representation of the 35mm film it was shot on with Panavision cameras and lenses. The grain is consistent though, and the image isn’t overly sharpened or exaggerated to the point where it doesn’t look like analog film anymore.
The aspect ratio is 1.85:1, which leaves a slice of black on the top and bottom of most 16×9 widescreen TVs (unless you’ve set the image to crop). The black bars can act as a good reference for TV picture settings though. If you can see the bars clearly, your TV brightness is probably set too high. Any letterboxing should be pure black and virtually invisible when viewed in a home theater environment.
The 4k/24p HEVC video streamed on average between 60 and 70Mbps, with noticeable peaks into the mid-eighties. The color rendering in HDR with the BT.2020 spec expands previous versions of the film to 10-bit range, offering deeper color.
The video gets really soft and brighter at times when the story jumps back to Ed Bloom as a young man (played by Ewan McGregor) starting with the scene where he retrieves his wedding ring from “the beast.” This aesthetic change was obviously intentional to remind the viewer of the change in time.
Shots are not always consistent in terms of sharpness. Take for example when Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) gets the call about his father being sick. The wider shot in Will’s kitchen looks really sharp with good contrast, but the closeup shots of Will and his wife Josephine (Marion Cotillard) are a bit softer and lacking the same contrast.
The shot at night when Edward was a kid his friends were looking for the witch and her revealing eye [10:00:00] were expected to look better in terms of expressing details and color values in the shadows, but the night shots pretty much stayed in the deep black zone. This is also true of the night scene with sheep [20:00:00] when the larger than life stranger (who is revealed as “Karl the Giant”) arrives. Highlights, however, stand out nice and crisp in a darker palette.
Color is vibrant especially in the daylight. In Chap. 5 the shot of the little girl Jenny stealing Edwards shoes is one of the nicer color displays with bright green grass, blue sky and red brick buildings that are almost realistic [33:20:00].
The scene following that [33:50:00] with Ed and Norther Winslow at the swamp has both good characteristics and not-so-good characteristics, which might be the full story of this up and down 4k presentation. I loved seeing the fireflies almost pop off the screen, but when Ed sees a woman in the river the video is so dark it doesn’t represent what 10-bit video is capable of.
There is a noticeable difference though between the Blu-ray and 4k Blu-ray presentation. A good example of what 4k capability can display is found in the shot of a young Jenny (Helena Bonham Carter) at 1:31:00 where she stands in front of a screen door. Her hair glows in backlight and individual strands can be easily seen in the higher resolution video. You can also cleary see the grid of the screen behind her.
The 4k Blu-ray upgrades the audio mix to English Dolby Atmos layered on Dolby TrueHD 7.1 channels. The audio played at an average of about 3.5Mbps, peaking over 6Mbps at times when the sound filled with environmental effects and
There are only a few moments when Atmos is noticeable, but the wider range 7.1 channel brings a solid new mix to this movie. The voice of Karl the Giant (Matthew McGrory) will test your subwoofer when Edward initially finds him at the cave in the town of Spectre and the giant tells him to “Go Away!” The voice of McGrory, who sadly passed away just a couple of years after “Big Fish” premiered, reverberates in this scene that will be remembered as one of his greatest appearances.
Overall this is a nice audio mix with crisp dialogue and ambient sounds that place you into the environment. The music composition by Danny Elfman is one of my favorite components of “Big Fish,” set gently in the background and acting as a bridge to the different scenes and time jumps.
Like other Sony 4k Blu-ray releases there really isn’t much to be said about the Blu-ray Home menu or extras. The UHD BD just has three options: Play, Setup, and Scenes overlaid on a simple image from the movie, albeit backed by a nice audio clip from the musical composition from Elfman. However, no bonus material is provided.
The Blu-ray is where you will find quite a few previously released extras (listed below) including original cast interviews and behind the scenes, Tim Burton audio commentary, easter eggs, and more. The most important thing though is the 1080p Blu-ray contains the newly remastered version of “Big Fish.”
Orginal Blu-ray Review
I remember seeing Big Fish at the ArcLight theater in Hollywood and remember being blown away by the sun-dappled color that cinematographer Philippe Rousselot achieved, and at the time it seemed like I had never seen such golden imagery in a Tim Burton film before.
While not completely abandoning the typical gothic look of so many of his films (not counting a certain Big Adventure and the shots of color within the Easter door during Nightmare Before Christmas), Burton’s gothic vision is tempered, but not muted, by Rousselot’s wondrous fantasy images, giving it mix of the Roccoco and lighter Southern Gothic look.
Since he’s not tied to his usual funereal tropes and somber palate, Burton seems freed to express a different side of his personality and really let the characters of Big Fish drive the story forward like a good page-turner. Burton’s actors seem to inherently trust him, and the flights of fancy and tall tales spun by Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney playing the young and old Bloom) seem to gain believability through their telling before the imagery even hits the screen.
The film is remarkable for being different than Burton’s previous work, but maintaining many of the same sympathies for a host of unusual characters… it’s a cinematic departure that works for Burton, much like The Straight Story worked for David Lynch, and it’s completely re-watchable.
The disc is a very high-quality transfer in 1.85 Widescreen at 1080p. It features a very refined PCM (English) or Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (English/French). Subtitles are multi-lingual: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai… But guess what!? No features ‘cept an audio commentary by Mr. Burton himself. Bummer. Get it for the showcase look it will give your hi-def home theater, and hope that soon they’ll release a 2-disc edition with an emphasis on features that give insight into the making of this richly detailed film.
Review coming soon.
4k Blu-ray Disc
- Newly Remastered in 4K resolution from the original camera negative, with HDR10
- All-new Dolby Atmos audio + original theatrical 5.1 audio
- Feature presented in HD, sourced from the new 4K master
- Tim Burton Audio Commentary, Moderated by Mark Salisbury
- The Character’s Journey
- Edward Bloom at Large
- Amos at the Circus
- Fathers and Sons
- The Filmmaker’s Path
- Tim Burton: Storyteller
- A Fairytale World
- Creature Features
- The Author’s Journey
- Original Cast Interviews & Behind the Scenes
- Easter Eggs
- Theatrical Trailer