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Fox Home Entertainment / 1988 / 130 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: May 05, 2009
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Friday, May 01, 2009
When folks talk about the movie that first made Tom Hanks a star, 1984's 'Splash' is usually cited as his breakthrough, but I dunno. I really think it is 'Big,' which came out about four years later, that really pushed him over the edge. Before that, he was just that guy from TV's "Bosom Buddies" who had a hit movie or two, but wasn't yet a full-fledged marquee headliner that could "open" a movie. But that all changed after 'Big,' thanks to Hanks' smart, funny, and appealing performance as Josh, a 13 year-old boy who wakes up one day to find himself in the body of his 30 year-old self. It proved that Hanks could be both extremely likable and a consummate actor -- critics finally took real notice of him, the box office for 'Big' was huge, and he even earned his first Best Actor Oscar nomination for his efforts. Indeed, a star was born.
Released amid a weird Hollywood cycle obsessed with "body switch" movies, 'Big' is undoubtedly the best of a pack that included '18 Again,' 'Like Father Like Son' and 'Vice Versa.' Josh Baskin (Hanks) seems to be the perfect 13-year-old. He's got a loving (if nagging) mother (Mercedes Ruehl), a great best friend (Jared Rushton) and is just beginning to discover girls. But after a chance encounter with a Zoltar machine at the local carnival, suddenly Josh gets his impulsive wish to be an adult fulfilled, and the next day -- poof! -- he's Tom Hanks. That 'Big' never explains its metaphysical body-switch trick only underscores its sublime smarts -- it doesn't really matter how Josh gets there, only that he does.
It's here that 'Big' could have stumbled, but instead the story somehow manages to be utterly predictable yet makes even the most cliched "boy trapped in a man's body" moments feel fresh and vigorous. As Josh is forced to navigate the perils of the real world (and its spoils), he stumbles into a job at a toy company. There he meets the beautiful Susan (Elizabeth Perkins), and a scheming co-worker (John Heard), who doesn't like it at all when the upper management suddenly takes a shine to Josh's child-like (and commercially brilliant) ideas for new toys. As Josh begins to like the new adult world he's found himself in, he also can't deny that he has a lot of growing up to do. Returning back to the Zoltar machine, what choice will Josh make?
It's a groaner to say that 'Big' brings out the kid in all of us, but that is exactly what the film does. What's best about the it is that unlike so many of the other, inferior "body switch" flicks it finds the core human pathos in aging and deals with those universal truths, rather than merely piling on man-boy slapstick routines. Certainly, many of the funniest scenes in 'Big' come from watching Hanks so adroitly convey his inner little boy through outwardly physical means -- such as the film's "Heart & Soul" piano musical number that is now justifiably famous, or the simple pleasure in watching Josh respond like a gleeful 13-year-old to his first grown-up paycheck. But at its heart, 'Big' understands that intertwined with the joy of growing up comes the pain of growing old, and the film's bittersweet tone of melancholy uplift is absolutely spot-on.
'Big' is also a treat, to watch a group of filmmakers doing some of their best work. I've always found that director Penny Marshall can get a bit schmaltzy in some of her other films (even perhaps in what is her best film, 'A League of Her Own') but here she straddles the line well between accessibility and character nuance. And Hanks' resume is so dotted with career bests -- an Oscar here, an Oscar there -- that it's easy to overlook him when he exhibits such growth as an actor as he does in 'Big.' He anchors the film, and without him it would have collapsed completely into mawkishness. Add a great supporting cast -- Perkins and Heard are two underrated actors that are stand-outs here -- and a wonderfully sweet and smart script by Anne Spielberg and Gary Ross, and 'Big' hits all the right notes.
Fox presents 'Big' in a remastered 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (1.85:1). Both the original theatrical and extended cuts are offered (with the latter running about 20 minutes longer) via seamless branching. The presentation is just OK -- the film doesn't really get much benefit from the move to high-def, and I've certainly seen far better remasters of catalog titles of the same vintage.
The source is in generally good shape. There is some film grain and a speckle of dirt here and there, but it's otherwise clean. Blacks are solid but contrast is pretty flat, with the image rarely exhibiting any appreciable depth. Colors are also dull -- the palette never pops, and more saturated hues (particularly reds) feel a bit bloated and less-than-smooth. Fleshtones are fine, if sometimes muddy. As for visible detail, close-ups look good, but wider and more cluttered shots hardly look like high-def. Fox has produced a clean encode, and there is no overdone edge enhancement to compensate for sharpness. But I can't really say I found much to blow me away visually with 'Big.'
A DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit) is provided for 'Big.' Like the video, the source doesn't offer much room for any major upgrade over previous video versions.
Dialogue is the star of the show, and it sounds pretty good. It's usually intelligible, with only the quietest voices sometimes a bit too low in the mix. Dynamic range is standard-issue -- decent mid-range, slightly flat highs and a subwoofer that hardly sticks out. Surround use is relatively meager, with only a few minor instances of noticeable discrete effects, and little sustained ambiance. Howard Shore's memorable score is nicely presented, but that's about the most notable aspect of this audio mix. Merely serviceable.
This first-ever Blu-ray release of 'Big' ports over the same package of extras found on the recent special edition DVD. It's a pretty good set, though not quite spectacular. Fans should be pleased, however. (All video is presented in 480i/MPEG-2.)
- Audio Commentary - Dubbed The "Big Brainwashing," and available on the theatrical cut only, we get a spliced together track with DVD producer Pete Vantrella as narrator, and co-screenwriters Anne Spielberg and Gary Ross. This is not screen-specific, and was actually spliced-together from cassette recordings that Spielberg made during the writing process with Ross. It's often slow-going, and only interesting in fits and starts. Spielberg and Ross do discuss interesting changes made to the story and characters (the script went through many drafts) including a more downbeat alternate ending that was audience-tested but dropped. We also hear about the hiring of Penny Marshall (at one point, Spielberg's very famous brother Steven was considered) and the casting of Tom Hanks.
- Featurettes (SD, 50 minutes) - A sizable collection of three featurettes is included: "Big Beginnings" (17 minutes), "Chemistry of a Classic" (24 minutes) and "The Work of Play" (10 minutes). The first two are the real meat, with Marshall, Ross, Spielberg, producer James L. Brooks, and stars Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia, and David Moscow all contributing interviews. Hanks is sorely missed, but I did learn a good deal that I didn't know, including an early version of the picture that had Robert De Niro attached to star. It's also a hoot to see little Jared Rushton now all grown-up, and an alt-rocker who looks like a Green Day reject. Unfortunately, the last featurette "Work of Play" is a needless piece on real-life toy workers. Padding.
- TV Special (SD, 21 minutes) - Also included is this episode of the AMC series "Backstory." This dates back to 2001, and at least includes some archival material with Hanks. It's a bit glossy, and repetitive with the other featurettes. Still, not a bad TV special.
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 12 minutes) - Eight scenes in all are presented, though Marshall only provides introductions on five of them. These are all culled from the extended cut, too, so if you've already watched the longer version of the movie, you don't need to watch these scenes.
- Theatrical Trailers (HD) - Finally, we get the film's original theatrical trailer, plus previews for other Fox Blu-ray titles, all in full HD video.
There are no exclusive extras.
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'Big' is a charming and quite funny body-switching comedy, one far better than most other films of its ilk. It also contains real heart and warmth, and a breakout performance by Tom Hanks. This Blu-ray isn't as great as I had hoped -- video and audio are distinctly average, though the supplements are pretty good. I can recommend this based purely on the quality of the film, but don't expect to gain much of an upgrade out of the Blu-ray.