Big Fish<br></br>Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine<br></br>Scary Movie 3

Enough of this gigantificationism!
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The Independent Culture

Tim Burton's last film, Planet of the Apes, was about - well, who knows what it was about? Not Tim Burton, for one. But his film before that, Sleepy Hollow, was about the debate between science and superstition. Its main fault was that the debate was so one-sided: faced with a headless horseman, we'd all start believing in ghosts.

Big Fish (PG), Burton's new movie, rehearses a related debate, and it's just as one-sided. Billy Crudup plays a journalist who, in contrast to the popular view of the average hack, is far more interested in facts than fabrication. His one regret in life is that his father, Albert Finney, would never tell him the unvarnished truth about his life. Instead, he'd concoct tall tales of giants and witches - tales that thrilled his son as a boy, but irritated him as he grew older. Now Finney is dying of cancer, so Crudup returns to the family home in Alabama for one last attempt at getting his dad to tell it like it is.

But to no avail. On his deathbed, Finney is as economical with the actualité as ever.

The film stages his fanciful reminiscences with Ewan McGregor playing the young Finney. We see how he joined the circus, tamed a werewolf, and sweet-talked a two-headed woman; we witness his wartime exploits and his "gigantificationism", a term that could have come from George W Bush. These sequences are full of the wonders we've come to expect from Burton, but they're too fluffy and innocuous to grip us very tightly: although the film resembles Terry Gilliam's Baron Munchausen and Time Bandits, it resembles last year's Secondhand Lions more closely. Still, the flashback casting is marvellous. Alison Lohman is ideal as Jessica Lange's younger self, and McGregor - turning his twinkle and his heartiness up to their maximum settings - is much more credible as a young Albert Finney than he is as a young Alec Guinness in the Star Wars prequels.

It's a disappointment every time the film leaves this chimerical past and lands with a bump in the present day, especially as it keeps harping on about the gulf between father and son. This is a theme that needs to take a holiday. It's been used in all sorts of recent films, from one about a green monster (Hulk) to one about a teenaged con man (Catch Me If You Can), so we can only speculate on how different today's cinema might have been if dads had talked to their children a bit more in the Fifties and Sixties.

In Big Fish, the bone of contention is Finney's refusal to scrape any of the embellishments off his legend - and if Burton had given the matter any thought, this refusal might have made the film more than just a Southern fairy tale. He could have asked why Finney was so dead set against telling the truth, even when his son begged him to. Did he feel that his own life was lacking? Was he remorseful about leaving his family at home while he toured the country as a travelling salesman? Big Fish by-passes such concerns and paddles lazily towards the conclusion that Finney was just as terrific in real life as he was in his stories, and that a dash of exaggeration never hurt anyone. Just what we need: a film that's in favour of sexing up the dossier.

In 1997, Garry Kasparov was beaten in a six-game chess match by an IBM computer, Deep Blue. Or was he? The grandest of grand masters still suspects that Deep Blue may have had some human assistance, and Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine (PG) looks back at the bout in a documentary that plays like a paranoid conspiracy thriller. The editing and the music turn an uncinematic game into an edge-of-your-seat deathmatch, and the background information on Kasparov, chess, computers and corporations is engrossing. And yet the film doesn't come close to establishing whether IBM cheated or not. The best the film-makers can do to substantiate Kasparov's allegations is to interpose lots of clips from a 1927 film about a chess robot with a man hidden inside it pulling the levers. So where's the evidence? Game Over raises the question of why IBM dismantled Deep Blue rather than consenting to a rematch - but it doesn't put this question to anyone at IBM.

Scary Movie 3 (15) is a marked improvement on the God-awful Scary Movie 2, probably because it's directed by David Zucker, one of the creators of Airplane! and The Naked Gun. But whatever fillip he brings to the franchise is neutralised by our rueful recollection of how much better his classic films were. Set against them, SM3 has a meagre jokes-per-minute count, and very few of those jokes work at all unless you've seen the movies they're spoofing. Airplane! and The Naked Gun were funny in their own right, whereas you'll need detailed knowledge of The Ring, Signs and Eight Mile to laugh at Scary Movie 3. And even then you won't laugh much.