Fox // 1988 // 104 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 4th, 2009
Have you ever had a really big secret?
"I don't get it. A robot that turns into a building? How is that fun?"
Josh Baskin (David Moscow, The Promotion) is a pint-sized 12-year-old who is discontent with his current situation. More than anything, he wishes that he could be bigger. If he were bigger, he would surely be more respected by his peers. One night at a carnival, Josh makes a wish: to be big, of course. The next morning, Josh wakes up and discovers he has the body of a 30-year-old man (Tom Hanks, The Da Vinci Code). He attempts to explain his strange new situation to his mother, but she believes him to be a murderous kidnapper and calls the police. Josh and his 12-year-old best friend Billy (Jared Rushton, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) flee to New York in an attempt to find the solution to his problem. Meanwhile, Josh discovers that his unique outlook on life can earn him a great deal of money. When the time to make the decision comes, will Josh return to his normal life or choose to remain Big?
I never really thought much of the whole, "I'm trapped in another person's body" idea as a great comedy concept, but somehow films along such lines continue to get made on a regular basis. Ever since Freaky Friday, audiences have taken great pleasure in seeing adults acting like children/children acting like adults/both. George Burns did it in 18 Again, Zac Efron did it in 17 Again, Rob Schneider and Rachel McAdams did it in The Hot Chick, and suddenly I remember just why I find such movies to be generally tedious viewing experiences. However, an exception must be made for Big, a film that actually manages to milk more laughs than groans out of the "kid trapped in the body of Tom Hanks" premise.
The vast majority of the film's success is thanks to the performance of Tom Hanks, who earned an Oscar nomination for his turn here. Much as I like the serious, dramatically credible Tom Hanks we're dealing with these days, I kind of miss the off-the-wall comic who could dive into a role like this with unhinged glee. To see Hanks performance here is to see joyous innocence personified. Just watch him during the scenes in which he gleefully discovers the many wonders of the adult world. The humor here is honestly somewhat predictable and routine, but it works quite well simply due to Hanks' enthusiasm for it. I particularly like the scene in which Hanks politely partakes of some caviar, only to find himself spewing it on the floor in horror.
The film was directed by Penny Marshall, whose films have always been a bit heavy on sentiment but generally provide engaging viewing nonetheless. Here she does a nice job of preventing the inevitable moments of soppiness and swelling strings from completely overtaking the film, keeping a frisky sense of humor onhand for the vast duration of the Big's running time (the final ten minutes or so inevitably go for broke in terms of heartstring-tugging). The screenplay by Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg (somehow the only feature film work of Steven's sister) hits all the right beats without becoming too insufferable. It's a formula film, but when the formula is this well-executed, it's hard to complain.
The film looks fine in hi-def, but honestly the transfer here isn't drastically better than the one the recent special edition DVD received. That said, the film looks about average for its age, with a modest level of natural grain and occasional minor flecks and scratches. Flesh tones are accurate and blacks are reasonably deep, but contrast is somewhat disappointing. The image is occasionally just a bit soft, but background detail is still satisfactory. Audio is also fine, though once again not a remarkable improvement from the special edition. This is a fairly simple track, dominated by what is surely the most cheerful score composer Howard Shore has ever written. It's clean and well-distributed, even if a couple of dialogue passages are ever-so-slightly muffled.
All of the extras here are ported over from the aforementioned DVD release, beginning with the option to watch either the theatrical or extended version of the film. Personally, I prefer the theatrical cut (the extended version is a bit bloated), but it's nice to have both versions included. You also get an audio commentary (dubbed an "audio documentary" here) with writer/producers Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg, 8 deleted scenes, three making-of featurettes ("Big Beginnings," "Chemistry of a Classic," and "The Work of Play"), an AMC Backstory featurette, and a Carnival Party Newswrap. Nothing new, but a perfectly respectable batch of supplements.
I will say that I find some of the sexual aspects of the film to be a bit creepy. Sure, a 12-year-old kid in a grown-ups' body looking bewildered at what he finds in his pants is one thing, but the encounters between Hanks and his grown-up girlfriend (Elizabeth Perkins, Must Love Dogs) still seem just a bit creepy. This is just another example of the film industry's hypocritical attitude towards underage sex. Would a similar scene involving a 12-year-old girl trapped in an adult body fly in a PG-rated comedy? Absolutely not.
If you already own the special edition DVD, I don't see any significant reason to upgrade. Otherwise this Blu-ray disc offers a satisfactory presentation of a charming film.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Extended Cut
* Deleted Scenes
* AMC Backstory
* Carnival Party Newswrap