"Splash" made him a star. "Philadelphia" gave him legitimacy. "Big?" Well, that made Tom Hanks into a cinematic icon.
Josh Baskin (David Moscow) is a 12 year-old kid who is sick and tired of the limitations his age hands him on a daily basis. Wishing to Zoltar, a carnival arcade fortune teller, to be "big," Josh wakes up the next day to find himself with the body of a 30-year-old man (now played by Tom Hanks). Now faced with the prospects of having to maintain a job and social relationships with adults, such as office love interest Susan (Elizabeth Perkins), Josh has trouble adjusting to his new body and the overwhelming complexity of his life as a man.
Released during the summer of 1988, "Big" was a sleeper hit that went through the stratosphere, informing popular culture for a brief moment in time. It was a year where everyone learned how to play "Heart and Soul" on the piano and baby corn received its largest endorsement yet. The movie also made a household name out of Tom Hanks, who rode his newfound celebrity over the subsequent years to some interesting choices and some wildly-loathed flops. Still, "Big" gave him a career, and I couldn't imagine the movie without him.
I was 12 years old when "Big" hit the cinemas, and you couldn't find a more optimum age to view the film for the first time. In its purest form, "Big" is porn for pre-teens; the film arranging a fantasyland of toy-testing corporate jobs and infinite goof-off resources unheard of to the unspoiled young mind. Pushing these juicy buttons was director Penny Marshall, here in the first act of an incredible trilogy of blockbuster knock-outs ("A League of Their Own," "Awakenings") she never achieved again.
Using Hanks's wide-eyed disbelief towards the world around him, Marshall takes the viewer on a voyage that exploits the terror and bliss of being a young boy with the unlimited passport of a grown-up body. I'll never forget the palpable pinch of panic that Marshall constructs out of Josh's first night away from home; a hellish evening in a seedy hotel that best sells the homesickness and alarm of the situation. It's one of those great movie scenes that's perfect in all four corners and nothing feels manipulative or stagy.
The screenplay by Anne Spielberg (yes, THAT Spielberg) and Gary Ross is peppered with moments like that, where Josh's semi-adulthood clashes with his kid mentality, bopping the results back and forth between slapstick comedy and aching, unsettling growing-pain drama. "Big" is such a vastly beautiful piece of scripting; nearly every moment a fragment of tender humanity that was rare to behold then and practically extinct now. The feature was also Marshall's most tonally controlled directing job. The filmmaker was a perfect match for the juvenile antics as much as she was able to nurture tricky romantic leanings out of Josh as he embarked on a tentative relationship with Susan.
However ace the productions credits were, the star of the show is Hanks, and his prancing, dynamic work as Josh. "Big" is the actor in his finest element, able to convey both the mania of the 12-year-old mind at play while the matured Josh sorts out his routine with adults. The classic scenes are almost too numerous to list: Josh on the piano, dealing with hors d'oeuvres, losing his virginity, drinking up his kid-friendly loft (lordy, who didn't want a soda machine in their room!), and his prankster time with pal Billy (Jared Rushton). Hanks is like McEnroe, just zipping around the frame smacking back one-liners and spastic body language to anyone who dare face him. It's a tour de force performance of the highest order, and one he's wisely never exploited again for career gain. It's a singular slice of Hanks to treasure and arguably the best work he's ever put on film.
The motive behind this edition of "Big" is to reveal a brand-spanking-new "Extended Edition," which adds 25 minutes to the 104-minute running time of the theatrical cut. "Big" is already a millimeter too unwieldy at the shorter running time, leaving the longer cut better enjoyed as a curiosity than a playable movie.
The new cut delves into characters more, but still doesn't space out the pace of the film. I was expecting "Big" to inhale more profoundly with this fresh footage, but the new cut tends to just extend character beats that didn't hunger for the special attention. While a majority of the footage is simple, forgettable scene extensions, here are some of the larger additions:
(4 minutes) - Josh's infant sister is moved into the young boy's room, to his great protest. We also see Billy's argumentative home life.
(19 minutes) - Josh's mother is shown telling her side of the "kidnapping" to the cops.
(32 minutes) - Susan is exposed as a much more icy lady than the theatrical cut touches on.
(43 minutes) - Josh calls home a second time trying to wrangle advice from his mother on how to best deal with a stomachache. Honestly, this is the finest scene of the bunch. I have no idea why this failed to make it into the theatrical cut.
(58 minutes) - Josh and Billy go tuxedo shopping.
(79 minutes) - Josh and toy company honcho MacMillan (Robert Loggia) discuss toys and the ways of women.
(92 minutes) - Susan is also revealed to be a changed person after her night of carnal bliss with a 13 year-ol...er, I mean our pal Josh.
(100 minutes) - Josh and Susan mess around with a musical toy prototype.
(110 minutes) - Susan goes through Josh's wallet, finding more evidence that he's telling the truth about his prepubescent origins. Also, Billy learns the whereabouts of a Zoltar machine over the phone.
Offered in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio), "Big" is given a superior film-like presentation. Image is stable and free from any wear and tear, while flesh tones and colors are rendered accurately in this softly photographed movie. The extended cut is included via seamless branching, and the new sequences blend unexpectedly well with the old.
Offered only in 2.0 Dolby Digital, the lack of a hefty sonic upgrade hurts the "Big" experience initially. After all, it's new DVD, why not beef up the mix? Truth is, this is tender, calm film that doesn't need the boost. The mix on the DVD does a fine job keeping the viewer engaged, with surround touches used at appropriate moments. The memorable score by Howard Shore (gotta love that Zoltar theme) is balanced well with the dialogue, making for a gentle, but agreeable listen.
No doubt, the new "Big" DVD is stacked with extras. Trouble is, there isn't much here that's genuinely worth the time invested. I hope that doesn't read as too harsh a criticism, but the DVD is lacking one large component that would've taken this release from something welcomed to a must have: Tom Hanks. For whatever reason, the DVD is lacking any input from Hanks, and his absence is a crime. No discussion of "Big" is complete without two cents from the man who made the material spring to life. Still, Fox puts in some effort to rise above the actor's absence by trying to focus on the writing process that defined "Big" on several levels.
First up is a feature-length audio commentary, labeled here as an "audio documentary." Back in 1986, when Anne Spielberg and Gary Ross were just preparing to dream up their movie, Spielberg decided to document the process on cassette. The resulting tapes have been edited for length and clarity, and presented on the DVD.
Moderated by a DVD producer, the track alternates between the present day musings of Spielberg and Ross and those aged, slightly muddled taped conversations. It's a fascinating look at the process of writing in a collaborative setting, with the two screenwriters bouncing around ideas and characters in such a volcanic fashion, it puts the term "brainstorming" to shame. It's more like "brainhurricane."
The chat isn't screen-specific and I can't write with honesty that this innovative extra completely held my attention throughout the theatrical cut of the film. Still, it's a unique idea that explores how "Big" came to be, while also discussing some plot points and ideas that never made it into the final draft - one of them a passing mention of the alternate ending that was reportedly tested and discarded, featuring Susan going back to Zoltar and wishing she could be a kid again to remain with Josh.
"'Big' Beginnings" is a featurette with Ross and Spielberg chatting on-camera about their experiences writing together and the overall genesis of "Big." Producer James L. Brooks joins them about halfway in to marvel over how much the picture's massive success took everyone by surprise. When you consider the film was the last released of the "body switching" cinema tear of 87/88 ("Vice Versa," "18 Again," "Like Father, Like Son"), Brooks's reaction is an appropriate one.
"Chemistry of a Classic" pushes further into the production side of "Big," gathering cast members and director Marshall to discuss their involvement with the picture. A great deal of background info is spilled here, including the early days of film when it looked as though Robert De Niro was a lock to star.
Robert Loggia, Elizabeth Perkins, and David Moscow all throw in their thoughts on the casting and the lasting popularity of the film, but the real centerpiece is a glimpse of a grown-up Jared Rushton. The popular child actor ("Honey, I Shrunk the Kids"), now 33, has transformed himself into an alt-rocker extraordinaire. It's a kick to see him, and makes this short but revealing look at "Big" all the more entertaining.
"The Work of Play" is a short featurette on the real-life adventures of toy company employees. Sure, it fits the theme of the DVD like a glove, but I'll never get those 10 minutes back.
"Backstory: 'Big'" is the 2001 AMC special on film's history. A bit more sterile than the new featurettes, this is still required viewing for any admirer of the film. That is, if you didn't already see it six years ago.
"Carnival Party Newswrap" is a 90-second-long promotional glimpse of the "Big" premiere. Fox turned a backlot into a carnival for the guests, and mammoth industry names such as Barry Boswick and Stefanie Powers showed up to party down.
Some deleted scenes are included on the DVD, but don't get too excited. Made up of scenes from the extended cut, there isn't any new ground covered here. If you have zero interest in watching the longer version of "Big," then stop by this supplement, which can be viewed with or without Penny Marshall's needless intros ("This scene was good, take a look").
Finally, two trailers and two T.V. spots are presented here, along with trailers for "Bachelor Party," "The Man with One Red Shoe," "Cast Away," "That Thing You Do!," and the Luke Perry DTV feature, "The Sandlot: Heading Home."
Yes, "Big" remains the classic it was destined to become nearly 20 years ago. The picture still stands proud as a comedy easy chair of sorts, but even more vividly as Tom Hanks's finest hour as an actor. The extended cut adds more meat to the bones and, for purists, the extra footage will satisfy great curiosity. For the average joe, I would suggest sticking with the theatrical cut. Thankfully, Fox has done the viewer a solid and included it here for easy access. It's is the superior version of the film; the one we all have locked tightly in our hearts.