Big Fish (2003) movie poster

(2003) dir. Tim Burton
viewed: 01/14/04 at Loews Theatre at the Metreon, SF, CA

Tim Burton, at his worst, makes visually appealing and generally entertaining films. And, Big Fish is probably Tim Burton at his worst yet, because, while this is fairly visually appealing and mostly entertaining (or entertaining enough), it is a sappy attempt at making a more mature film, something whose subject matter is not superheroes or aliens or apes or ghosts, something that might be nominated for an Oscar or something. It’s a heavy-handed, go-for-the-heartstrings act of sentiment, which is both overdone and feels insincere.

Burton’s greatest weakness is delivering narrative and genuine emotion, and that is this film’s bread and butter. Despite an appealing cast including Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, and Billy Crudup, it just felt very false and contrived. This is a film that I could see Lasse Hallström directing and probably achieving a more effective emotional connection.

I like Tim Burton’s films and have seen almost all of them theatrically, but have felt that he’s never really made a great film. Ed Wood (1994) is my personal favorite, but I’ve been increasingly less enthusiastic about each film that has come more recently. It was always clear that he has a great eye for design, and his films used to exude that to the Nth degree. Perhaps responding to a criticism that he was all visual design and no substance, he’s seemingly cut back on such over-the-top stuff that marked in films from the 1980′s.

In more recent years, I have given up hope that Burton would ever make a great film. He has yet to prove me wrong.