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Big Fish - technical analysis

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Hannah Kvame

on 3 January 2015

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Transcript of Big Fish - technical analysis

Literary Elements
Cinematic Qualities
Big Fish - technical analysis
Lighting
In cinematography, lighting can be used to provide insight into tone and mood, and influence certain emotions within the viewer. In Big Fish, Tim Burton uses similar lighting techniques to convey certain emotions, and uses it as a tool to contrast between differentiating tones.
For example...
Spectre, for Edward, was supposed to convey heaven on Earth. The lively, lucid lighting projects this. Because of the overhead lighting, as well, it allows shadows to form easily, adding to the air of mystery Spectre exudes.
This transition of lighting from dark to light really works to project the shift in emotion both the audience and Edward feels. He transitions from a nervous tension to relief as he stumbles upon Spectre. The change of lighting mirrors this.
This scene is almost entirely shot in red lighting. This builds tension, contrasting the bright, white, stage light shining on the Siamese singers. The colour red is significant, contributing to the tone of the scene.
Set Designs and Props
Scenic design in film is used to create sets and scenery that help fully immerse the viewer in the scene. Too, props are used to project a sense of realism, and enhance the set through their use. In Big Fish, props are used to separate between illusion and reality, as well as offer a sense of repetition.
For example...
The set of Spectre transitions throughout the film. It changes from a vivid, 'fantasy-esque' atmosphere upon Edward's first arrival to a place of 'dystopian-like' ambiance when Edward visits later in his life.
Acting as a source of repetition, we see the 'Key to the City' more than once in the film. First, when it's given to Edward by the mayor of Ashton before he and Karl go on their journey, and again after Edward returns to Spectre after the flood.
Costume and Makeup
Costume design and makeup artistry in film helps project the entire appearance of the character. It can help show social class, convey tone, or bring attention to a certain time period. In Big Fish, costume and makeup are used to express different characters in different ways.
For example...

The circus people in Big Fish are dressed in vivid colours, projecting their flamboyant, creative nature. This too helps to represent the ties they've cut from conformity and their separation from reality.
Throughout the course of the film, Sandra's appearance is consistently airy, soft, and upholds a sense of gentle femininity. She wears light colours to mirror her lighthearted personality. It isn't until the of the film, when we see a shift in tone, that we see a shift in her appearance. She wears red to both of her husband's funerals- both imaginary and real.
Shot Detail,
Space, and Composition
Often referred to as 'mise-en-scene', the composition and space in a film call attention to the blocking, frame, lighting, props, etc. that make up a scene. This too involves how all the elements of the frame tie in together to enhance the film. In Big Fish, certain shots and angles are used to represent the tone and atmosphere of a scene.
For example...
In many scenes in Big Fish, the image seems distorted and cloudy. This is achieved through the use of specific lenses and editing. This helps enhance the differences between illusion and reality. This is particularly evident in these moments. Too, through the use of time-lapse, a sense of magic is added to the scene.
The combination of dark lighting, extreme detail, and the panning of the camera closer and closer to the eye helps create tension and emit a sense of fear within the viewer. The zooming also helps convey the point of the upcoming future.
The use of symmetry is very evident in this film. Tim Burton uses it to project a sense of order, contrasting illusion and reality. The blocking of characters is used to create a sense of traditionalism, as well as evoke a sense of curiosity.
Elements of Symbolism
In literature, a symbol is used to represent or reference something more than what's seen, literally. Symbolism is often found in names, places, and objects. In Big Fish, there are many sources of symbolism in all three.
For example...

The town of Spectre is a very evident symbol within the film. The word Spectre, meaning ghost, is significant to the role it plays in Edward's life. For Edward, Spectre is a symbol representing his own personal 'heaven', in the aspect that it's a place he always wished to find, but stumbled upon it at the wrong time. Filled with bright lights, welcoming residents, and a lighthearted atmosphere, Spectre fits it symbolism well.
Another example of symbolism in the film is the actual title of the film: Big Fish. Edward saw himself as a 'big fish' in a 'small pond', meaning that he had big dreams in a small world. Along with that too, a 'tall tale' was often referenced to the idea of a 'big fish', in the aspect that someone may say they caught a fish bigger than they actually did. This represents exaggeration, which we know Edward Bloom was famous for.
Shoes act as an important symbol within the film. Hanging form the wire outside of Spectre, the shoes stolen and strung up represent the permanency of those who stay in Spectre- once you arrive, you don't leave. The shoes act as a symbol of freedom, and that taken away.
Motif
In film, a motif is a reoccurring subject, theme, or thought that conveys a certain idea. In Big Fish, one of the main motifs is the journey Edward has been on throughout the course of his life.
For Example...
Edward's journey takes many turns over the course of the film. His journey begins when he and Karl leave their 'small pond' town to pursue the their 'big fish' dreams, but it is then split, leaving Karl's dream to be at the circus and Edward's to marry Sandra Templeton. Later in life, however, Edward 'passes down' his journey to his son, William, who's quest is then to find any truth in his father's tales. Instead of finding truth, William discovers instead the value of his father's imagination and the impact his stories had on other people.
Another reoccurring theme in Big Fish is water. The first time we see Edward is in water- he's fishing, and in his last scene he's being dropped into a river. William was married on a boat in the harbor. Too, when William has become the storyteller and is telling the story of his father to the children, they're playing in a pool. Water can symbolize both life and death, or a beginning an and ending. Edward had a constant fear of 'drying out'. This too can be considered a motif.
Theme
In literature, the theme is a repetitive idea that conveys the plot's significance, or holds the underlying meaning in the film. In Big Fish, the central theme is consistent throughout the duration.

Edward and William's relationship, and how it grows over the course of the film, is the main theme of Big Fish. When William himself has to become the storyteller, he begins to see the merit in his father's stories, and values his father as a man of illusion. This helps bond their relationship, creating the central theme.
Repetition
Often used in literature, repetition is used to help convey an idea clearly to the reader. It is not always seen as a figure of speech, but rather a rhetorical device. Repetition is used in Big Fish to help project certain things in certain ways, connecting the idea to the audience, and is also uses to help convey tone .
For example...
The naked woman appears more than once over the course of the film. The first time he visits Spectre, Edward sees her, and is then told by Jenny that she's actually a fish, but that she's seen as different things by different people. The second time he sees her, he's trapped in his car in the middle of the flood. She can represent many things, but is most often considered to represent possibility, and is a visual metaphor for another life Edward could have had, in Spectre.
The colour red appears again and again in Big Fish. Colour is often used to convey tone in film, as it does in this film. The colour red works to contrast against the light, airy atmosphere of the scenes. Red is used in the Korean scene to help build tension, as well as the red colours in the circus scenes are used to express the vivid, creative atmosphere of the setting.
Exaggeration
Exaggeration is a rhetorical device often used in literature to convey emphasis or effect. Exaggeration may work to evoke a strong emotion, but isn't realistic, or meant to be taken literally. Exaggeration plays a huge role in the story of Big Fish, and ties into the central theme of the film.

The film Big Fish is built off of exaggerations. Edward Bloom chooses to exaggerate the tales of his life, becoming the ultimate storyteller. He does this for the entertainment factor and to compensate for the poor choices hes made. For example, William knows no truth of his birth story until he asks the doctor that delivered him, wanting facts rather than exaggerated fantasy. Once he knows that it was rather average, we see the shift in William, and he begins to see merit in his father's 'exaggerations'.
Characterization
In literature, characterization is used to highlight important details of a character, making a better connection to the reader. In Big Fish, the characterization of all individuals is very intricate- every character has a very distinct personality.
For example...
At a young age, Edward in nothing if not charming. He's fit, educated, and speaks smoothly, helping him achieve many things. In both his younger years and his older years, Edward has a very positive outlook, making him a very likeable character. This combined with his excellent storytelling makes Edward Bloom very easy to connect with on screen
Hannah Kvame, English 30-1
"A man tells his stories so many times that he becomes the stories. They live on after him, and in that way he becomes immortal."

William Bloom
Big Fish (2003)
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