After 1984's Splash, which effectively announced Tom Hanks cinematic presence to the world, he still made comedies though they were largely underachievers. Even Dragnet, which was heavily marketed (as I recall), was ultimately an underwhelming film to a large degree. But he eventually joined the cast of Big after some initial reluctance, and the results were incredible. Splash showed Hanks as a comedic actor, Big showed off Hanks' versatility and depth.
Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg wrote the story which Penny Marshall (A League of Their Own) directed. Hanks plays Joshua Baskin, but does not play him from the start of the movie. Josh is twelve years old, living in a New York suburb, and spends a lot of time with his best friend Billy (Jared Rushton, Overboard). But Josh finds himself rebuffed into feelings for a girl in part because he is short, and at a carnival, to a machine that ‘grants wishes,' wants to be big. The next morning, a very big, very grown up Hanks inhabits Josh, and Hanks' adventures as Josh commence. Josh goes to New York City, gets a job working for a toy company President (Robert Loggia, Scarface) and rises up the corporate ladder. He develops a relationship with Susan (Elizabeth Perkins, Giant), but he eventually has remorse about this "gift" of being big and wants to be a kid again.
Compared to similar films released at the time and starring Dudley Moore and Judge Reinhold, Hanks approaches Josh in Big with two things: first is an emotional frailty that gives the character a depth that the other films never really delivered on. Consider the first night Josh spends alone by himself in the city. All the sounds, shouts and general noise of 1988 New York, Josh curls up in his bed sobbing. Just wants his Mom, something any of us in a similar situation would want. That authenticity helps make the general likability of Hanks as Josh and how much the viewer relates to the comic moments all the more effective. We have seen all the scenes by now of Josh the kid doing things that Josh the grownup/Hanks does in the movie and they all still bring a smile to your face a quarter century later.
Additionally, the pure blind optimism of a child or in this case, a child played by Hanks, makes for cute moments when interacting with the "adults" in the story. Josh strikes a chord that they have not experienced in a long time, either when it is playing chopsticks with your feet on a huge piano like Loggia does or jumping really friggin' high on a trampoline as Perkins does. Josh has no ulterior motive that scores of adults have presented to Loggia or Perkins' character for years, and this if nothing else is refreshing and damn near cute. That Hanks brings so much to the Josh Baskin character blows my mind, almost as much as him replacing Robert De Niro, who withdrew from the film apparently in preproduction (the disc's extras mention the change, but not as to why, specifically).
This package touts an extended cut of the film that brings the runtime up to two hours, but also includes the 104-minute theatrical cut. Having seen both now, the extended cut does add some moments in the first act that would lend to even more resonance to the anxiety of Josh's mom (played by Mercedes Ruehl) and the "loss" of her son. We also get to see who I think is Frances Fisher, as she plays Billy's mother. It suffers from slight bouts of pacing problems but it is a fun watch and new experience for Big to those who have seen it multiple times, particularly when it appears on television for instance.
The legacy of Big other than Hanks' breakthrough performance is just how well it still manages to hold up after 25 years. Lots of people who saw it as kids are seeing it again and again as they grow older (this guy included) and touching some of those same emotional chords in us, along with some newer ones as we re-experience it. If you have not seen it in awhile, I encourage you to set aside the time to, and enjoy the story and the actor it is being told through.The Blu-ray:
Both cuts of the film are AVC encoded and presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, and the results are not bad. The film lacks the extent of image depth and detail that are present in more recent films but is not devoid of it, with the exteriors around young Josh's house looking a tad multidimensional. The color palette is accurate and blacks in the New York evenings are surprisingly consistent while flesh tones are natural, and film grain is present during viewing to help make for a natural viewing experience throughout.The Sound:
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is fine, albeit with not a lot to do over the course of the feature. Dialogue is firmly planted in the center channel and sounds strong and consistent throughout. The film lacks abundant use of directional panning or subwoofer involvement, but I think channel panning was present, if not quite subtle. It is not reference material by any means, but it does what is expected of it, and surprisingly well in fact.Extras:
The extras from the 2007 edition have been brought over for the Blu-ray, and they are not bad. "Big Brainstorming" is the closest thing to a commentary the film has, and it comprises Ross and Spielberg's audio conversations as they were putting the story together, the incidents Josh could get into and how the characters evolved. It is not scene-specific or has production recollection but its inclusion is nice. Next are eight deleted scenes which include optional introduction by Marshall (13:55). Some of them include some scenes from the extended cut, and a couple appear unnecessary but most are decent. Next is "Big Beginnings" (16:29), where Ross, Spielberg and producer James L. Brooks discuss the story's idea and process, how it differed from other stories at the time and thoughts on some of the scenes during filming, along with replacing De Niro. It is an intriguing piece.
Following that, "Chemistry of a Classic" (23:47) is a cast retrospective which includes participation from all of the key subjects, save for Hanks and Heard. The cast talks about how they arrived to the film and thoughts on the story, and apprehensions of films like Vice Versa coming out and tamping down on their work. It touches on the things you would expect it to, thoughts on the cast's work and big moments in it, and its legacy. It has some outtakes dusted into it, which is nice. "The Work of Play" (9:54) is a piece where workers of Mattel who do what Josh essentially does in the movie discuss their job, the perks, challenges and the like. It is decent but skippable. "Hollywood Backstory" (21:16) is an AMC-produced retrospective on the film which includes older video of Hanks sharing his thoughts on the shoot and a quick but dead-on impression of Marshall. It covers virtually all of the same territory that "Chemistry of a Classic" does, but does so in a slightly more romantic way as to the obstacles for Hanks and the ensemble, and how it was pulled off. Either this or "Chemistry" works for retrospective purposes, though the latter is newer and without Hanks. Video from the film's premiere, which was held on a lot transformed as a carnival, follows (1:33), and 4 trailers and television spots (2 of each, 4:45) round it out, along with a standard definition disc and the cardboard cover of the disc opens to play the opening, non-"Chopsticks" song from the FAO Schwartz scene.Final Thoughts:
Sure, the 25th Anniversary Edition of Big is kind of a big thing, but as the film rapidly approaches a timeless label of sorts, this package, a repurposed version of the 20th, is just the teeniest bit lazy on Fox's part. Technically, it is a fine disc and the supplements are okay, though a commentary with say, Marshall, would have been a nice suggestion for the 25th, so maybe that is on the inevitable 30th Anniversary disc. Unless Fox blows the door off of it, this is likely the best version of Big that will come out and worthy of a place on the shelf.