(1988) *** 1/2 Pg
104 min. 20th Century Fox. Cast: Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, John Heard, Robert Loggia.

/content/films/3403/1.jpgThey grow up so fast. That cliche could describe the plot and the central theme of Big, one of Hollywood's all-time most appealing magic realist fantasies. Wishing upon an unplugged "Zoltar Speaks" machine at a traveling carnival, 12-year-old Jerseyite Josh Baskin (David Moscow) says simply, "I want to be big." The next morning he awakes and trudges to the mirror to discover he's had one mother of a growth spurt: he's become a thirtysomething man (Tom Hanks).

Understandably ejected by his terrified mother (Mercedes Ruehl), Josh must rely on his best friend Billy Kopecki (Jared Rushton, who winningly goes toe-to-toe with Hanks). Their plan to shack Josh up in a seedy hotel and seek employment for him while they track down the missing Zoltar machine succeeds beyond their wildest dreams. Josh lands a job at MacMillan Toys, and his childlike insight sends him on a stratospheric rise to the higher echelon of the corporation. While his face goes on milk cartons, he's becoming the vice president in charge of product development. In one of the film's most memorable and irresistable sequences, Josh wins over the company's benign CEO (Robert Loggia, brilliantly cast against type) by dancing a duet on a giant-size piano toy (echoing the film's unspoken watchwords, the song is "Heart and Soul").

Ross and Spielberg gently ply at universal nostalgia for childhood, our adult desire for more innocent and heartfelt times. The script effectively plays on the boy's excitement and sadness of growing up and losing innocence, as well as the nagging feeling that he shouldn't be in such a rush to abandon a childhood that's already almost gone (Josh telling turns 13 in the middle of his adventure). Perhaps the film's most well-considered choice is the acknowledgement that Josh's magical journey must of necessity be a sexual odyssey as well. Josh is too sweet and tentative to take the film into bawdy territory, but his awkward romance with MacMillan executive Susan (Elizabeth Perkins) hits mostly credible notes as Josh experiences his first girlfriend and enjoys the first blush of sexual exploration.

One of the interesting stealth aspects of Big is how Marshall (a relatively new filmmaker whose only previous credit was finishing Jumping Jack Flash for another filmmaker) wisely hijacked key members of Woody Allen's team: producer Robert Greenhut, casting director Juliet Taylor, and production designer Santo Loquasto, who brilliantly captures the way a 13-year-old would decorate a New York loft. Also invaluable: crack cinematographer (and soon-to-be-director) Barry Sonnenfeld and supporting player John Heard as the film's overgrown bully (Jon Lovitz also pops up to nail a one-scene turn as Josh's cubicle neighbor). Marshall's sterling support does nothing to diminish her own sure instincts behind the camera, which show the same combination of comedy chops and warmth also associated with her brother Garry.

When popular cinema gets its act together for a family-friendly film that's neither noxious nor obnoxious, but rather genuinely likeable, it's no wonder we all go a little googly-eyed. Big filled just such a bill in 1988, which by comparison is beginning to look like a charmed moment for this segment of filmmaking. As scripted by Capra disciple Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg's (Steven's sis), produced by master populist James L. Brooks (Broadcast News) and directed by America's erstwhile sitcom sweetheart Penny Marshall, Big's success with critics and the public might seem obvious in hindsight. But coming as the last in a year-long string of body-switching movies (Like Father, Like Son, Vice Versa, and 18 Again!), Big had the filmmakers and studio suits quaking in trepidation. They needn't have worried: not only did the film turn out to be a blockbuster, but it garnered Hanks his first Best Actor nomination from the American Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. So there, Judge Reinhold (okay, maybe we should have seen this coming...).


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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio; Dolby Digital 2.0

Street date: 5/12/2009

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Fox brings Big to Blu-ray in its both its Theatrical Version and—via seamless branching—an Extended Cut that's 26 minutes longer. It's a fine next-gen debut for the film: the A/V quality may not exactly rock your world, but it's certainly true to the source material, which never sported particularly vibrant colors or brilliantly sharp detail. The image and sound quality are what they are, and Fox can be commended for not trying to hide the original materials behind artificial sharpening and punching up. The results are natural, film-like, and superior to all previous issuings of the film.

Surrounding the film are a suite of fine bonus features, hampered only by the lack of a Penny Marshall commentary or retrospective interviews with Hanks. First up are eight "Deleted Scenes" (15:03, SD), five with intros by director Penny Marshall. Unfortunately, these are all repeats of scenes in the Extended Cut, and Marshall's intros add little to no insight.

"Big Beginnings" (16:29, SD) is much more interesting, thanks to engaging interviews with screenwriters Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg and producer James L. Brooks, who reveal how the project was nearly made with Robert De Niro in the lead.

"Big: Chemistry of a Classic" (23:47, SD) digs further into the film's making, gathering comments from producer Robert Greenhut, Ross, Marshall, casting directors Juliet Taylor and Paula Herold, Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia, David Moscow, Jared Rushton, and Brooks.

"The Work of Play" (9:54, SD) is a bland look at modern toy companies.

"Hollywood Backstories: Big" (21:16, SD), an episode of the AMC documentary series, has the distinction of being the only feature with (vintage) Tom Hanks commenting on the film. We also hear more from Marshall, Ross, Spielberg, and Moscow.

"Carnival Party Newswrap" (1:33, SD) is a promo about the Big premiere, and the disc rounds out with 2 Trailers and 2 TV Spots. Here's a highly recommended Blu-ray upgrade that's especially a no-brainer for first-time adopters.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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