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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Big (Blu-ray)
Big (Blu-ray)
Fox // PG // May 12, 2009 // Region A
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted May 29, 2009 | E-mail the Author
Buy from Amazon.com
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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Josh (David Moscow) doesn't
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wanna be a Toys R Us kid. Nope, this thirteen year old is stuck in the suburbs sharing a room with his baby sister, and he humiliates himself in front of his junior high crush for being too short to hop on a rollercoaster at the county fair. Pretty thoroughly embarrassed, Josh slinks away and stumbles onto a fortune telling machine on the midway. He drops in his quarter, shoots the coin into Zoltar's mouth, and a card spits out saying that his wish is granted. ...and that wish? C'mon, as if you don't already know the premise of the comedy juggernaut that made Tom Hanks a household name: Josh wishes he were big.

So, that's a growth spurt. Josh not only grows by about another foot overnight, but when he wakes up that next morning, he's also...thirtysomething and played by Tom Hanks. Oops. 'Course, Mom doesn't get it -- she thinks the deviant in those Spider-Man Underoos must've kidnapped her son -- so Josh has to find someplace else to set up shop until he and his pal Billy (Jared Rushton) can track down that Zoltar Speaks machine. He needs to do something to scare up some cash in the meantime, and digging through the want ads, Josh spots his dream job: working for a toy company. Okay, he's not exactly scribbling down sketches for new He-Man badniks at MacMillan Toys. No, he starts off at the bottom rung on the corporate ladder, but after impressing the company's biggest wig (Robert Loggia) with that scene with the piano at FAO Schwartz that everyone the world over knows and loves, Josh finds himself bumped up to Vee-Pee of Product Development in the space of a week.

Because he's much too wide-eyed and innocent to clue into all the backstabbing and corporate politics around him, Josh skyrockets his way through the company, scoring one bitterly jealous enemy (John Heard) and...hey! His first girlfriend, Susan (Elizabeth Perkins). Suzie Q starts off scheming to sleep her way to the top for the eight hojillionth time, but that cynicism goes poof when she falls for this eccentric nutjob...a guy who's first prostate exam isn't far off on the horizon but sleeps on a bunk bed and has an oversized trampoline in his posh Big Apple apartment. The reason Josh is such an unlikely success is 'cause he's a kid tooling around in a man's body, but when he's saddled with more and more responsibility -- as a suit at a sprawling corporation and as a boyfriend -- he grudgingly has to start acting like an adult too. He can't just click his heels a couple of times and go back to Kansas, though...

Big was
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a colossal success when it first bowed in theaters more than twenty years ago, even with so many other comedies (18 Again!; Like Father, Like Son; Vice Versa) having stripmined the same old-guy/young-guy body switching premise just a few months earlier. It was one of just a handful of movies from the class of 1988 to shatter the $100 million mark -- and the first ever for a flick helmed by a female director -- and racked up Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor while it was at it. Big is just a particularly magical combination of talent, and it's kind of startling to think that the movie owes so much of its success to a couple of first-time screenwriters who put the story together on spec and a director with only one other credit to her name.

This is a movie with a big concept that could've gotten derailed at so many different turns, but one of the key strengths of Big is that it's so honest. It's funny without ever mugging for the camera or aiming for cheap laughs, and by the same token, Big's more emotionally intense moments don't cloyingly shake the audience by the lapels while shouting "here! This is where you're supposed to get all teary-eyed!" Like the best movies, Big earns its laughs and sentimentality without ever seeming as if it's trying. It never feels the need to double-underline its moral messages and shrugs off the big, syrupy strings any other flick would've slathered on over and over again. Director Penny Marshall keeps it playful without being too precious, grounding the fantasy of this concept in reality well enough that even labeling Big as a comedy doesn't do justice to how textured and layered it is.

Its characters never really ever feel as if they're being pushed and prodded around by a screenplay marching in lockstep with formula, and even with as many times as I've watched Big -- not to mention the dozens and dozens and dozens of times I've caught Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, and Robert Loggia in other roles -- I still get lost in these performances. Tom Hanks in particular is astonishing, absolutely escaping into a thirteen year old in a thirtysomething body. It's the little mannerisms that maintain that sense that Josh is a kid goofing around in a grown-up meat-suit, and Hanks never overplays it or settles into a cariacture. As is the case with everything about Big, really, Hanks' performance is equal parts sincere, funny, sweet, and unerringly charming, and it's a shame to think that he didn't walk away with a golden statuette once Oscar time rolled around. It helps that Hanks is surrounded by such a wonderful supporting cast. Robert Loggia stands out in particular, playing very much against type here as a toy mogul who quietly realizes once again why he's still in this business. Hanks and Elizabeth
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Perkins strike an enormous amount of chemistry together, and I love seeing how Perkins' jaded, embittered, chainsmoking facade mostly gives way to a woman who's so convincingly sweet and vulnerable.

What makes Big so exceptional -- why I can dust off a word like "classic" without a tinge of regret -- is its confidence and sincerity. It never panders, there's a really amazing assortment of talent on both sides of the camera, and Big would just as soon carve its own path than mindlessly trot down some well-trodden, formulaic road. A movie this smart, sweet, and hysterical is timeless, really, and Big holds up every bit as well now as it did twenty years ago. Highly Recommended.

Courtesy of seamless braching, this Blu-ray disc serves up two cuts of Big: the theatrical release, natch, and a new version that's been extended by nearly half an hour. You'll probably notice that it's the words "extended edition" plastered across the front cover rather than "director's cut", and I've read a lot of grousing on the usual message boards about how slowly this 130 minute version of the flick plods along now. Me, though...? I loved it. Big certainly does feel every moment of its two hour-plus runtime in this cut, but it's so unrelentingly charming that I really don't mind. Quite a number of these additions splash some more color onto the movie's characters, particularly Josh. There's more of a lingering look at his life at home before his overnight growth spurt, we get to watch Josh and Billy pick out his ritzy rented tux, and in one bittersweet sequence, he calls home and pretends to be taking a survey while hitting his mom up for advice on how to field a tummyache. There's also a lot more with Josh and Susan together, although my favorite Susan-centric addition is her new introduction, bitterly carving a path through the office, sneering at a newly-engaged and awfully distracted secretary, and rolling her eyes at a prototype talking princess with a special message just for her (!). There's absolutely nothing incomplete about the leaner, more tightly edited theatrical cut, and some of these additions are admittedly kind of redundant. As a longtime admirer of the movie, though, I really enjoyed this extended cut, and it's worth a look at least once. For whatever it's worth, I'm pretty sure this is going to be how I watch Big from here on out.

Big isn't exactly a knockout in high-def, but this Blu-ray disc is pretty much what I'd expect out of a late '80s comedy. The photography's a little softer than usual, sure, and a few brief, scattered moments like the first shot of Susan and Paul sitting down for breakfast really don't stand out as much of a step up over a garden variety DVD. Detail and clarity are generally pretty solid, though, especially when the camera closes in for medium-to-tight shots. Because the sheen of film grain is so consistently tight and crisply rendered, though, I'm sure that tinge of softness is just the way Big was originally filmed. It's also worth a mention that the texture of the film grain makes it clear that Fox hasn't heaped on any clunky filtering to artificially smoothen out the image, and that sort of faithfulness to the source is always appreciated. Big's palette is generally pretty low-key, with the stretches at MacMillan frequently coming across as kind of pasty and lifeless, but the colors generally look alright in a very distinctively '80s sort of way. There aren't any specks of dust or wear of note to get in the way either. Big wouldn't be the first disc I'd grab off the shelf to show off my home theater, but I'd bet it's a faithful representation of the way it looked splashed across the big white screen in a theater twenty years ago, and that's really all I can ask for, right?

Big is very lightly letterboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and the AVC encode is spread across both layers of this BD-50. The disc uses seamless branching to efficiently eke the most out of every byte.

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Big sounds terrific on Blu-ray, thanks to a lively 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. This isn't a movie littered with exploding oil tankers or hundreds of thousands of arrows whizzing across the screen, no, but the surrounds flesh out a very convincing sense of atmosphere in most every scene. It's a really immersive remix, dropping the audience straight into Josh's shoes and making us every bit as excited and overwhelmed as he is kneedeep in all of this hustle-'n-bustle. The lower frequencies are modest but pack a wallop when they need to, such the rattle of a thundering rollercoaster or Josh plopping a water balloon down next to a delivery guy. I'm used to my '80s comedies sounding kind of strained and muffled on Blu-ray, but the stems for Big are remarkably clean and clear, particularly its dialogue. This is a really great remix and one of the better sounding flicks of this vintage I've caught on the format.

Lossy stereo tracks are piled on in English and French alongside mono dubs in Spanish and Portuguese. The list of subtitles includes streams in English (SDH), Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Korean, and Mandarin.

Big carries over all of the extras from the DVD re-release from a couple years back, and they're served up again in standard definition.
  • Deleted Scenes (15 min.; SD): If you
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    don't feel like futzing with the extended cut of Big, most of its meatier additions are served up in this reel of deleted scenes. It's kind of odd that they're in standard definition when these exact same stretches are in high-def elsewhere on the same disc, but...whatever. Not all of the extra footage from the extended cut is offered here, although most of the standouts are. If you've already caught that longer version of the flick, though, there's nothing in this reel you haven't seen before. Oh, and Penny Marshall belts out brief video introductions for five of these scenes.

  • "Big" Beginnings (16 min.; SD): The first of Big's interviews is anchored around writers Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg, and the two of them are later joined by producer James L. Brooks. They note how their spec script started with just a germ of an idea over lunch and came together pretty much immediately through a series of frantic brainstorming sessions. This interview is rooted primarily around the writing and development of the film, and some of its other notes include Big marking the first movie Penny Marshall had helmed from the get-go, just how close Robert De Niro came to taking the lead, and struggling with so many other body-switching movies like Vice Versa and 18 Again that had swooped into theaters in the months leading up to its release.

  • Big Brainstorm: Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg mention in "'Big' Beginnings" that they hammered out around 70% of the story for Big in a series of marathon brainstorming sessions they captured on tape. Shrugging off a traditional audio commentary, Big instead piles on excerpts from those twenty year old recordings, showing off just how fully realized the overall story was from word one. We get to hear Josh's foxy girlfriend Susan, his best friend Billy, and a very different take on high sheriff MacMillan be sketched out for the first time, and they even dive into specifics like the "I'm on top!" sleepover, Josh spitting out a mouthful of caviar, and pretty much the entire third act of the flick. The excerpts are presented in the order they were recorded rather than trying to match whatever happens to be on the screen at the moment, so it's just as comfortable being left playing in the background. The two of them are so giddy and enthusiastic as they tear through dozens and dozens of ideas that it's really kind of infectious, and these decades-old recordings are bridged by retrospective interviews with Ross and Spielberg in which they speak at length about their writing process. It's one thing to hear someone look back on a film or dig through footage of a camera someone's lugging around between takes, but to actually hear a movie take shape in these sorts of freeform conversations...it's a lot of fun and not quite like any extra I've caught before.

    "Big Brainstorm" is available on the theatrical version of the movie only. It's not even mentioned with the extras on the extended cut, so keep that in mind as you're zipping through its menus.

  • Chemistry of a Classic (24 min.; SD): While
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    '"Big' Beginnings" is rooted around writing and development, the disc's other big retrospective dives into casting and the shoot itself. Lining up a cast -- including the risky bet of letting so many other similar movies tear into theaters while they waited for Tom Hanks' schedule to ease up -- takes center stage early on before chatting about what happened once cameras eventually did get rolling. Some of the highlights include Marshall shooting scenes with a 12 year old first to give Hanks a bit of inspiration, the cardboard "choreography" Loggia and Hanks had to work out themselves for the movie's most enduring and iconic scene, riffing with food and props on the set, and a legacy that includes a $100 million-plus box office take and a couple of Oscar nominations. "Chemistry of a Classic" is a really solid retrospective, and if nothing else, it's worth it just to see how David Moscow looks all grown up...and not a thing like Tom Hanks. Oh, and even though this Blu-ray disc doesn't pack on a dedicated outtakes reel, plenty of those snippets are served up here.

  • The Work of Play (10 min.; SD): Folks from a slew of real-life toy companies are all smiles as they run through every step of getting something shiny and new on store shelves: everything from brainstorming meetings kinda like the one in Big to test marketing with a gaggle of actual kids all the way to manufacturing and marketing.

  • Hollywood Backstory: Big (21 min.; SD): This installment of the AMC series spends most of its time digging into the same stories belted out elsewhere on this Blu-ray disc. It's pretty thorough, sure, but so is pretty much everything else here, and that leaves it seeming kinda inessential. The real highlight is that "Hollywood Backstory" names the parade of directors who passed on the movie, and it also mentions that writer Anne Spielberg's marginally better known brother Steven took an interest at one point.

  • Carnival Party Newswrap (90 sec.; SD): A blink-and-oops-there-it-went vintage promotional piece tackles the carnival-themed premiere for Big.

  • Trailers and TV Spots (5 min.; SD): Two theatrical trailers and a pair of ads off the small screen round out the extras.

The Final Word
I'm not so much the type to lob out a word like "classic" unless I mean it, but still effortlessly sweet and unrelentingly charming after more than two full decades now, Big really does deserve that nod. The biggest strike against this Blu-ray disc, really, is its bloated $34.98 sticker price; even after the usual online discounts, Fox is charging as much for a twenty year old catalog title as other studios are for movies fresh out of theaters. Especially for the crowd that's already shelled out for its extended release on DVD a couple years back, asking another $25-$30 for a high-definition upgrade might be too much, too soon. If you missed out on that DVD and don't mind paying a few extra bucks, though, Big is absolutely worth picking up. The movie looks and sounds nice enough, and the set's bolstered by a solid slate of extras. Highly Recommended.
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