For whatever reason, Hollywood studios inundated the movie going public with a series of body switching movies at the end of the ’80’s. Like Father Like Son got things going in October 1987, then March through June 1988, Vice Versa, 18 Again and Big were released in a cluster.
Most of these films came and went, with moderate success at the box office. With a worldwide gross of $151,668,774, Big was the exception; the first of the ’80’s body swap films to be green lit by a studio and the last to make it to the screen, Big garnered two Academy Award nominations Best Writing, Original Screenplay for Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg (yes, Steven’s little sister) and Best Actor in a Leading Role for Tom Hanks.

BigSome will argue that it was 1984’s Splash that made Tom Hanks a movie star. However, I think it was Big that made him a bonafide star. Prior to that, though he’d had a couple of solid film successes, he was still known as that guy from television’s Bosom Buddies and he really didn’t have the box office clout to open a movie. Hanks’ smart, funny, and appealing performance as Josh, a 13 year-old boy who wakes up one day to find himself in the body of his 30 year-old self, was a critical and box office success; Big proved that Hanks could be both extremely likable and a consummate actor.
At the start of the film, Josh Baskin (David Moscow) is an average 13-year-old (David Moscow) who gets bummed out when he realizes the girl of his dreams, Cynthia Benson (Kimberlee M. Davis) has an older boyfriend who can drive, not to mention he’s not tall enough for the Whirl-A-Gig. Despondent, at the edge of the carnival, he finds a Zoltar machine, a little contraption that promises to fulfill wishes. Josh’s wish is simple: “I want to be big.”
Josh gets his wish to be an adult fulfilled when in wakes up the next morning in the person of Tom Hanks. The fact that then film never explains its body-switch trick only underscores its sublime smarts — it doesn’t really matter how Josh gets there, only that he does. Like the other body-switch films of the time, it’s here where Big could have stumbled. Instead, director Penny Marshall manages to make even the most mundane scenes seem fresh and crackle with excitement.
His best friend Billy (Jared Rushton) trusts he is who he says he is after they duet on their secret song and takes him to Manhattan to help him track down the Zoltar machine to return to his proper age. A waiting time of over six weeks means that Josh will have to do that which we all dread: get a job. He begins as a simple data clerk at MacMillan Toys but, thanks to a romp in FAO Schwartz with the CEO (Robert Loggia), he quickly becomes VP of market development and catches the eye of fellow exec Susan (Elizabeth Perkins). Josh’s scheming co-worker, Paul (John Heard), is nonplussed when upper management suddenly takes a shine to Josh’s childlike and commercially viable ideas. As Josh begins to really enjoy the adult world he now lives in, he has a tough choice to make.
I loved Big when it first came out in 1988 and I enjoyed it just as much on Blu-ray. I was fifteen when I first saw the film in its initial theatrical release. Like Josh Baskin, at the time, I had a simple wish: I wanted to be big. Now, some 21 years later, with adulthood firmly achieved, I can see that Big brings out the child in all of us. Many of the funniest scenes in Big come from watching Hanks so skillfully convey his inner little boy through physical means — such as the film’s “Heart & Soul” piano musical number that is now justifiably famous, or the simple pleasure in watching Josh respond like a gleeful 13-year-old to his first grown-up paycheck. But at its heart, Big understands that intertwined with the joy of growing up comes the difficulty of growing old and the film’s bittersweet tone is perfect.
Big stands as one of Penny Marshall’s best directorial efforts; she expertly handles story and pacing but her most intelligent decision is to keep things focused on Hanks, who is at his funniest and reveals himself, for the first time, as a nuanced performer. Seeing Josh’s breakdown in the St. James Hotel as his neighbor screams was, for a young movie fan at the age of fifteen, was amazing. A little over two decades after its initial release, Big remains a miraculous movie.
Fox presents Big in a remastered 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (1.85:1). Both the original theatrical and extended cuts are offered (with the latter running about 20 minutes longer) via seamless branching. The presentation is OK — the film doesn’t really get much benefit from the move to high-def, and I’ve certainly seen far better remasters of catalog titles of the same age.
The source is in generally good shape. There is some film grain and a speckle of dirt here and there, but it’s otherwise clean. Blacks are solid but contrast is pretty flat, with the image rarely exhibiting any appreciable depth. Colors are also dull — the palette never pops, and more saturated hues (particularly reds) feel a bit bloated and less-than-smooth. Fleshtones are fine, if sometimes muddy. As for visible detail, close-ups look good, but wider and more cluttered shots hardly look like high-def. Fox has produced a clean encode, and there is no overdone edge enhancement to compensate for sharpness.
A DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit) is provided for Big. The film is dialogue heavy and it sounds pretty good. It’s intelligible, with only the quietest voices sometimes a bit too low in the mix. Dynamic range is standard-issue — decent mid-range, slightly flat highs and a subwoofer that hardly sticks out. Surround use is relatively meager, with only a few minor instances of noticeable discrete effects, and little sustained ambiance. Howard Shore’s memorable score is nicely presented.
This first Blu-ray release of Big ports over the same package of extras found on the recent special edition DVD. It’s a pretty good set and fans should be pleased. (All video is presented in 480i/MPEG-2.)
Audio Commentary – Dubbed The “Big Brainwashing,” and available on the theatrical cut only, we get a spliced together track with DVD producer Pete Vantrella as narrator, and co-screenwriters Anne Spielberg and Gary Ross. This is not screen-specific, and was actually spliced-together from cassette recordings that Spielberg made during the writing process with Ross. Spielberg and Ross do discuss interesting changes made to the story and characters (the script went through many drafts) including a more downbeat alternate ending that was audience-tested but dropped. We also hear about the hiring of Penny Marshall (at one point, Spielberg’s very famous brother Steven was considered) and the casting of Tom Hanks.
Featurettes (SD, 50 minutes) – A sizable collection of three featurettes is included: “Big Beginnings” (17 minutes), “Chemistry of a Classic” (24 minutes) and “The Work of Play” (10 minutes). The first two are the real meat, with Marshall, Ross, Spielberg, producer James L. Brooks, and stars Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia, and David Moscow all contributing interviews. Unfortunately, the last featurette “Work of Play” is a needless piece on real-life toy workers. Padding.
TV Special (SD, 21 minutes) – Also included is this episode of the AMC series “Backstory.” This dates back to 2001, and at least includes some archival material with Hanks. It’s a bit glossy, and repetitive with the other featurettes.
Deleted Scenes (SD, 12 minutes) – Eight scenes in all are presented, though Marshall only provides introductions on five of them. These are all culled from the extended cut, too, so if you’ve already watched the longer version of the movie, you don’t need to watch these scenes.
Theatrical Trailers (HD) – Finally, we get the film’s original theatrical trailer, plus previews for other Fox Blu-ray titles, all in full HD video.