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 was '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.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment celebrates Penny Marshall's 'Big' with a 25th Anniversary Edition release. The Region A locked, BD50 disc sits comfortably opposite a DVD-5 inside a blue, eco-cutout case. The glossy slipcover opens like a musical greeting card and plays the tune from the scene with the giant floor piano. The package also includes three collectible Zoltar wish cards, each with a different prediction.
The Blu-ray disc contains both versions of the film: the original 104-minute theatrical and the 130-minute extended cut. The 26-minute difference is substantial with the most obvious addition being a bit more development for both the Susan and Billy characters. Other scenes are easy to miss unless one is very familiar with the movie. After being asked about which version to watch, viewers are taken to a menu screen with options and piano keys along the bottom while full-motion clips and music play in the background.
'Big' finally becomes a man with this anniversary edition release that appears identical to its predecessor from 2009. And thankfully, that's not a bad thing, as the 1980s comedy favorite looks great for its age. Only, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode will not likely amaze anyone and it doesn't really compare to other releases from the same time period.
Nonetheless, the 1.85:1 image displays excellent black levels with strong shadow delineation. Also, a very thin layer of grain is visibly present and consistent from beginning to end, providing the high-def video with an appreciable film-like quality. The entire color palette is a bit wonky, looking vivid and energetic one moment but a tad faded and listless the next. Greens and blues are natural, but reds on the extravagant side and oversaturated. Facial complexions, for the most part, appear healthy, yet in other scenes, the cast seems somewhat sickly and pale. Contrast ranges from good to slightly flat, making a couple sequences look a bit dull. Fine object and textural details are quite strong with great clarity in buildings, clothes and various other interior items. However, I detected some mild artificial sharpening in a couple scenes but luckily, it doesn't distract too much or ruin the film's enjoyment.
Fox celebrates Penny Marshall's heartwarming comedy with the same DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack as before, which like the video, is not a bad thing but also not all that impressive. Imaging is actually quite nice and welcoming, bleeding a variety of sounds and activity into all three front channels.
Despite that, the original stereo design feels as if it's being stretched a bit thin, as the mid-range generally comes off even and somewhat limited with highs that offer little clarity. Low bass is adequate enough for a movie of this vintage, but rarely does it kick in, except for a couple song selections. A few atmospherics expand the soundfield a tad and decently fill the room, but they're also easily localized and largely feel artificial. Dialogue reproduction is the lossless mix's best feature, delivered with excellent detail in the center. And also worth noting is the scene when Josh is contemplating telling Susan the truth, the volume suddenly and noticeably drops a decibel or two, which was pretty weird. Other than that, the high-rez track is good, but an option for the original stereo would have been better.
The same collection of bonus features are ported over from the previous Blu-ray release.
Although he was already a well-known and celebrated comedic actor, it wasn't until the release of Penny Marshall's 'Big' that Tom Hanks really became a box-office attraction and a genuine Hollywood star. The 1980s comedy favorite has grown into a family classic over the years and it remains hilariously entertaining. Celebrating the film's 25th anniversary, Fox Home Entertainment re-releases the movie on Blu-ray with the same picture quality, audio presentation and set of supplements. A couple new bells and whistles tempt fans into a double dip, but in the end, the package is really only for those who didn't purchase it the first time around.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.