To me, at least, it feels like Tim Burton hasn’t been Tim Burton for a while. Arguably since the millennium turned, he’s grown into something that feels like a kind of caricature of the director he used to be, liked he’s cashing in on his own mystique as the wacky dark visionary. Case in point, every time it sounds like Tim Burton would be PERFECT for a film, that film turns out to be a campy, over-stylized, hypercolored visual fest with a weak story: PLANET OF THE APES, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, ALICE IN WONDERLAND. All of those are practically tailor-made for what we think of as Burton’s aesthetic sensibilities, and all three – for my money – fall spectacularly short of their and his potential.
In fact, I would argue that Burton hasn’t made a truly great film since BIG FISH, which might just be his best. It’s certainly the most appropriate application of his brand of art: it’s fantastical without being whimsical, and a waking dream that doesn’t skitter into absurdity. Honestly, it feels like Burton’s WIZARD OF OZ, and perhaps if he had stuck to a more subtle path that showcased his style without oversaturating it, maybe I would still get that same old pitter-patter in my heart when I read “a film by Tim Burton.”
BIG FISH succeeds because Burton is able to boil the story down to its heart – a man and his father’s need to reconcile before the death of the latter – and lets the visuals inform it, not dominate it. In particular, BIG FISH is about getting clean – of life, of failure, of regret – and the major way Burton relates this (Following the lead of BIG FISH author Daniel Wallace) is with a recurring motif of water.
In a new compilation arranged by whoispablo – a guy we haven’t seen in a little bit, welcome back – the water scenes from BIG FISH have been separated from the movie and edited together into a refreshing mix of baptism and release, hope and possibility, redemption and renewal. It’s also a fine reminder of the potential of Burton to be among our most transcendent directors, when he gets out of his own way.
Big Fish – Water Scenes from whoispablo on Vimeo.