BIG (25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION) – Blu-ray review

So many titles are released as special “anniversary editions” that offer no new bonus features or content that it’s almost a relief to see that the “Big: 25th Anniversary” Blu-ray offers two ways to watch the film—the original 104-minute theatrical version, and a 129-minute “extended edition.” And so what if that extended edition was available previously on a two-disc DVD that was released six years ago? It’s the first time that the material is available on Blu-ray, and this combo pack should be a welcome addition to the libraries of film fans.

The idea for “Big” came during a lunch conversation and the first draft flowed in just four months. One day later, it was a quick sell to producer James L. Brooks, who told his friend Penny Marshall that she had to sign on as director. But the second draft took writers Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg (Steven’s little sister) a full year. During that time, they learned that three other films about body transformations were coming out. Their choice was, hold out for Tom Hanks, whom they had in mind when they wrote the script, or rush to be first with whomever they could cast.

What were the other three movies? It’s hard for most people to recall, because “Big” became a huge hit and remains memorable because of Hanks’ virtuoso performance. You have no trouble whatsoever believing he’s a 12-year-old boy who gets his wish from an unplugged carnival fortune-telling machine and is transformed into a near-30-year-old man. Driven from his home by his mother (Mercedes Ruehl), who thinks he’s a pervert or kidnapper, the suddenly adult and adrift Josh Baskin goes to New York City and finds work at a toy company—all the while hoping to track down the carnival so he can reverse his wish.

Whether playing opposite his 12-year-old best friend (Jared Rushton), a cubicle co-worker (Jon Lovitz), an arrogant idea man (John Heard), or a sexually active career woman (Elizabeth Perkins), Hanks, as a stranger in a strange land, gives us equal portions of laughs and insights into the worlds of both adults and adolescents. “Big” also offers up a very funny satire of corporate ladder climbing, as we see how quickly Josh rises in the toy company because of his common-sense kid insights.

What’s a marketing report?” he asks the big boss, wanting to know.
“Exactly,” the big guy says, thinking Josh just dismissed the report he himself was starting to question.

Watching “Big” again confirms what a genius Hanks can be, but we learn on a short feature that Marshall also deserves some of the credit. Her instinct was to have David Moscow, who plays young Josh, act in every one of Hanks’ scenes so that the older actor could see the situation through the eyes of a pre-teen. Marshall also had the right idea when she opted not to have Hanks and toy boss Robert Loggia choreographed in their now famous “Heart and Soul” and “Chopsticks” step routine on a giant floor keyboard. They were told they had to work it out on their own, and it looks fresh and improvised, even still.

Extended Cuts are no longer a fad. They’re an industry staple. Insert a few deleted scenes, with or without the director’s blessing, and you have a whole new product to hawk. But this Extended Edition at least gives us both the original theatrical version and the one with 25 minutes of never-before-seen footage seamlessly inserted—which leads me to believe that the extended cut is actually the rough edit, and the theatrical version a more ruthless edit. What’s fascinating is that the extended edition has only three or four scenes that seem utterly superfluous or which drag so much that you think, “Oh, this is why the scene was cut.” Both versions flow nicely, but the extended cut offers mostly further exposition or additions of material that further explain character.

Personally, I prefer the theatrical version, though as a fan of the film I’m delighted to watch the longer cut and see how things were before the tougher cuts. But the Extended Edition adds scenes that are more serious and which actually begin to change the tone of the film to something a little darker. This film wants to be light, and I think the cuts were good ones. By the way, those other three body-swapping movies? “Like Father Like Son,” “Vice Versa,” and “Eighteen Again.”

“Big” the theatrical version sports a PG rating, but be warned that there are a handful of colorful words, including the “F-word,” and there’s one scene of sexuality where a bashful but eager Josh touches his first breast.  On the plus side, parents should also know that the Extended Edition isn’t any worse in terms of sexuality or language. Right now the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray is on sale at Amazon for just $12.96 (click on cover art below), so now might be the best time to pick up a copy.

Video:
I don’t have side-by-side monitors and Blu-ray players that would allow me to compare screens, but I could swear, after watching one and then popping the other one in, that the extended Blu-ray version is slightly grainier than the theatrical version. My guess is that because the added scenes are a bit rougher, it’s a deliberate move intended to make the transitions smoother. I didn’t see any issues as a result of the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer (24MBPS) to a 50GB disc, but while colors hold their hues and skin tones are natural, it does take a while to adjust to the grainier picture. “Big” is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen.

Audio:
The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1, but it almost feels like overkill because there isn’t as much in the way of effects as you’d imagine. If anything, this is a dialogue- and music-driven film, and it’s when the songs kick in—or when Josh is testing toys or acting like a “Big” kid—that the surround does as well.  There are additional audio options in English and French Stereo and Spanish Mono, with subtitles in English SDH and Spanish.

Extras:
This release includes a Blu-ray with both versions on it and a DVD that appears to be the same as the previous Blu-ray release. If you’re into ephemera there are three Zoltar Speaks cards (who knows, it might be a great conversation starter) and most bonus features ported over from the two-disc DVD release.

Most commentaries and features are made with Blu-ray and DVD audiences in mind, but the audio track on the theatrical version offers something unique: vintage cassette work-tapes of the writers in their first session together, developing the concept. It’s a rare opportunity to peek behind the curtain and see how ideas are fleshed out. The writers introduce the material and also appear on some of the three making-of features that include Marshall and a few surprises (Robert De Niro was almost Josh?!?).  A “Hollywood Backstories” episode on “Big” is here too, along with original trailers/TV spots and an extra that features real research and development people from Mattel, Wild Planet Toys, and Imperial Toy companies talking about the industry. And for those who are racking their brains trying to figure out which scenes were added, they’re playable as deleted scenes, five of them with brief intros from Marshall.

Bottom line:
If “Splash” was the film that gave the “Bosom Buddies” star his first big movie role, “Big” was the one that showed the industry and audiences that this guy Hanks can act. He earned his first of five Best Actor Oscar nominations for his performance, and it’s great to have both the theatrical release and extended version on Blu-ray finally.

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