There is a reason that our parents always told us to read books. They’re infinitely more descriptive, introspective and complex than movies and television. Of course it’s a much different medium, but seeing movies based on books that you’ve read is ultimately disappointing. For one, the movies tend to strip out a lot of the emotional impact of the text. This is certainly the case with Big Fish.
As I described in my hipster book review, the book is about a father and son trying to reconcile a lost relationship. The point of the book was not the tall tales, but the attempt of the son to cut through the bullshit that they represent to figure out who his father truly is. The allure in a visual media is, of course, to highlight the strange tales of giants, evil trees, and werewolves. They present a much more interesting visual than a father and son sitting in a room discussing relationships. And this is where the book and the movie part ways.
I can’t blame Burton for taking this tack, as I wouldn’t want to watch another rendition of My Dinner With Andre either. I just wanted a little more out of the relationship angle. He made a valiant effort by expanding the role of the Helena Bonham Carter character, but still fell short of the power of the father/son relationship. This was also the Hollywood version of the book, as they changed the father character’s actions to make him more palatable. I don’t want to give away any plotlines, but the filmmakers changed a significant portion of the story and added a scene or two between the father and mother (Finney and Lange) that didn’t exist in the book to make the father seem like a better, more likable character. This took some of the richness out of the story, and made the son’s discoveries less dramatic. Rather than making the father human, as the book did, the movie opted to make him a saint. Kind of an odd choice, really.
They even tacked on an ending that changed the whole face of the story. Ugh, Hollywood, why do you do this to us? Okay, so maybe if I didn’t read the thing first, I would have enjoyed this film more. All in all it was a good film, but could have been great. There were some very memorable scenes, some magical moments, and Burton’s direction was wonderful as usual. I would actually recommend this movie as a really decent, feel good rental, despite all the criticism. They just tore the teeth out of what was a pretty interesting story about the way we want our lives to be bigger than they are, and can’t face facts with our own children about our failings, and instead made a nice little film that looked good and had a message to love people just as they are.