December 9, 2003 - Tim Burton has been responsible for some of the most bizarre visions in cinema history, and he's only been making movies since the '80s. From the twisted afterlife of Beetlejuice to the surreal pastels of Edward Scissorhands, every Burton film has a signature look. His grimy Gotham City in the original Batman couldn't even be matched by his own sequel. He brought back stop motion animation in The Nightmare Before Christmas (only to have it die again in the lame follow-up James and the Giant Peach).
Now, Burton takes on a less flashy fantasy, with hints of surrealism sprinkled throughout. Big Fish tells the parallel stories of Edward Bloom's life and his death. At the end of his life, he tells fanciful stories about his youthful adventures involving giants, witches and circus freaks. Then we get to see those adventures. There's a utopian town that looks like a toned down version of Scissorhands' suburban neighborhood. The title fish is a big old animatronic exaggeration of aquatic life, like something out of Pee Wee's Big Adventure. But for all of these Burton-esque staples, the filmmaker doesn't even acknowledge his own style.
"I don't pay too much attention to that, because if you get your mind starting to think that way, you can get into trouble," Burton said at a recent press conference in New York. "You become more of a thing and less of a person. I don't actually overthink myself that way. I try to treat it more organic. So much is thought about pigeonholing people and even ourselves, so I just try not to do that too much."
So here we have a story about storytelling. That could be a way in, because all filmmakers are storytellers. "Oh, I don't know," Burton contested. "My rap is that I can't tell a story. That's been a fairly common thread of criticism for me, so I've heard a lot that my films look nice."
Fine, so we'll stick to basics. The film casts Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney as the same character. McGregor is young Edward in the fantasy scenes, Finney is old Edward on the deathbed. Burton had a lot to say about that casting process.