"Big" is a wonderful coming-of-age comedy driven by memorable performances, social commentary and fascinating fantasy elements.
Big (1988, Blu-ray)
Directors: Penn Marshall
Writers: Gary Ross (written by) & Anne Spielberg (written by)
Features: * Theatrical and Extended Version (HD) Audio Documentary * Featurette: Big Beginnings (16 minutes, HD) * Featurette: Big: Chemistry of a Classic (24 minutes, HD) * Featurette: The Work of Play (14 minutes, HD) * AMC Backstory: Big (21 minutes, SD) * Carnival Party Newswrap (90 seconds, SD) * Deleted Scenes * Trailers and TV Spots
Tom Hanks ... Josh Baskin
Elizabeth Perkins ... Susan
Robert Loggia ... MacMillan
John Heard ... Paul
Jared Rushton ... Billy
David Moscow ... Young Josh
Jon Lovitz ... Scotty Brennen
Despite standing nearly six feet when I was still a preteen in grade school, I wanted to be "big." And that's primarily thanks to the Tom Hanks comedy vehicle. The film opened my eyes to a potential future of playing with toys for a living, staying in an awesome apartment, having a pop machine in my house, as well as an indoor trampoline and numerous arcade games. The possibilities of being "big" seemed endless.
Of course, this was just my rudimentary understanding of the plot to Penny Marshall's "Big." For those living under a rock for the past two decades, "Big" involves a teenage boy, Joshua, who makes a wish to be "big" in front of a mysterious genie fortune teller machine, only to wake up the next morning a full-sized adult. At first, the prospect of being a full-fledged adult seems scary, but once Joshua finds himself seated as a major consultant for a toy company, testing toys all day long, he starts to enjoy the fruits of yuppie life.
Beneath the sugar-coated comedic surface of this Oscar-nominated dramedy is a rather skillful piece of storytelling, wonderfully crafted by Marshall and performed to perfection by Hanks (and his team of costars). "Big" is a smart picture, layered with fantasy, metaphors and biting social commentary. The film doesn't just outline and examine the natural maturing process – suggesting that "growing up" is a necessary component to life. The film also suggests that staying young, having fun and being silly from time to time, is equally necessary if not paramount to staying grounded in reality.
Other "body swapping" comedies of the '80s handled such themes, and many with some degree of success, but "Big" is the only picture of this minor subgenre of comedy that really succeeds in conveying the message with relevance. Part of this is largely due to the script, from Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg (Steven's sister). Their story embraces childhood with a sense of honesty and maturity – painting teens as level-headed people who just like to have fun instead of painting them as broad, two-dimensional caricatures. The script also layers various social themes into the narrative, even hacking away quite profusely at the yuppie Wall Street mentality – a mentality that's ironically poisoned our current economy.
But much of "Big" is thanks to Hanks' humanistic and cheerful approach to his character, Joshua Baskin. His performance is strikingly complemented by his supporting cast, especially Jared Rushton, who plays Joshua's friend, Billy. The two play off one another with comic zest, but when adulthood becomes the dominating force in Joshua's daily routine, it's Billy who gets to deliver the dramatic turning point.
Hanks also is paired with Elizabeth Perkins, a love interest of sorts. Perkins is a fine actress unfortunately trapped in a somewhat two-dimensional, even accidently creepy role (after all, she falls for a teenager). At first Perkins' character comes off as a yuppie wrought with greed and ambition, but then she starts to date Joshua, and he opens her eyes to the playful world around her. That's fine; this, after all, is one of the film's many themes. Except Perkins' character initially only seems interested in Joshua because he's a rising star at the company – everything that happens afterward is pure happenstance.
Despite this minor lone flaw, "Big" remains a classic picture – a genuinely moving drama, a laugh-out-loud comedy and a heartfelt love note to the joys of youth – the freedom children and teenagers often have, long before the reality of their lives sets in and the weight of their impending futures becomes a burden. But Big also reminds us how easy it can be to return to childhood. We don't need a magical genie, like Joshua – all we need is a playground and some free time and we can be young again, if only for a few moments.
Film Report Card:
Entertainment Value: A
Film Value: A-
"Big" is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen using the AVC MPEG-4 codec on a dual-layered BD50 disc consuming 37.6 gigs of disc space.
Audio choices are English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English and French Dolby Stereo, Portuguese and Spanish Mono with Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin and English captions for the hearing impaired.
Extras and Packaging:
This single-disc BD release is presented in a blue elite case. Extras have been ported over from the two-disc "Extended Edition" DVD. Features include:
• Theatrical and Extended Version (HD)
• Featurette: Big Beginnings (16 minutes, HD)
• Featurette: Big: Chemistry of a Classic (24 minutes, HD)
• Featurette: The Work of Play (14 minutes, HD)
• AMC Backstory: Big (21 minutes, SD)
• Carnival Party Newswrap (90 seconds, SD)
• Deleted Scenes
• Trailers and TV Spots
"Big" is a wonderful coming-of-age comedy driven by memorable performances, social commentary and fascinating fantasy elements. This release doesn't improve much on the last DVD release, other than a slightly sharper transfer. If you missed that release, consider the upgrade.
Blu-ray Report Card:
HD Content: N/A
Recommendation: Well worth a rental.
On BD: May 12, 2009.
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----R. L. Shaffer