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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Criterion Collection)
DVD disk
May 26, 2009 By: Aaron the H
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Criterion Collection) order
Director:
David Fincher

Actors:
Brad Pitt
Cate Blanchett
Taraji Henson

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
At the close of WWI, Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is inexplicably born with the body of an 80-year-old man in New Orleans. As the 20th century unfolds, and everyone around him grows older, Benjamin’s body grows younger and younger.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Like Benjamin Button himself, this film is somewhat of an anomaly. It’s an absolutely amazing technical achievement. It features a stellar, Oscar-winning cast. It’s brought to us by a talented and visionary director. And it presents an incredibly unique and intriguing concept. And yet, despite everything this film has going for it, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button ends up curiously flat.

After watching the special features on the DVD, I almost feel bad bashing this film. The amount of work poured into it is absolutely insane. Unfortunately, I think the film ended up failing as a result of what I call “George Lucas Syndrome”. We’re all well-aware that the last three Star Wars flicks blew a big fat donkey schlong, and the reason for that was (in my opinion) that Lucas was so wrapped up in showing off his cool new Special FX toys (which were nothing to write home about) that he forgot to work on a little thing called “story” and he forgot to direct a few little things called “actors”.

Make no mistake, Fincher is ten times the director Lucas currently is. But while the acting and script of Ben Button run circles around Lucas’s recent body of work, there is much here left to be desired in both departments. Brad Pitt, in what should be a captivating performance, is about as dry and dull as an old bag of raisins; rarely does he show even the slightest tinge of emotion. This may be what Fincher intended, who knows, but if we’re going to sit through over 2 and a half hours of watching this man on screen, damnit we want to get emotionally invested in him. Cate Blanchett fares a little better as Daisy, the love of Ben’s life who ages normally like the rest of us. However, while Blanchett is one of the best actresses in the biz, her performance as a 90-year-old woman is excruciating to endure and incredibly boring to sit through, and at times her elderly voice is impossible to understand (I literally had to use subtitles once or twice). This entire story-point, which is peppered throughout the film, is highly redundant and catapulted me right out of the narrative everytime we cut back to it (which is about every fifteen minutes).

Written by Eric Roth, who won an Oscar for his Forrest Gump adaptation, this script actually feels a lot like that film, minus the lighthearted tone and narrative cohesion. As Benjamin wanders aimlessly through life, the film seems to just wander aimlessly with him. Where Forrest seemed to cleverly interject himself at the forefront of numerous historical events, Benjamin simply sits on the sidelines with his hands in his pockets. BORING. Also unlike that film, sideplots feel like they are unfinished or pointless and supporting characters are often insufficiently developed. In other words, this script is just a droll mess.

There is a grand-scale love story for the ladies, but since we're working with Fincher here, it takes decidedly dark turns and this film does not have your traditional fairy-tale ending (I liked that aspect).

As for production design, VFX, music, makeup and cinematography...everything on screen is just astounding to look at and listen to. All in all, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is by no means a bad film. It simply isn’t a great one.
THE EXTRAS
DISC 1:

Audio Commentary with director David Fincher: Fincher is an extremely intelligent, extremely talented filmmaker, and all that comes through here. If you love Fincher or the movie, give this a go. He talks often, but only when he has something meaningful to say.

DISC 2:

Preface (3:56) - A short, strange speech by David Fincher about the death of his father, which he uses to transition into why he wanted to make this film.

Development and Pre-production (28:04) - A nice, in-depth feature that kicks us off with the film's early roots and brings us up to the decision to shoot in New Orleans. There is a really cool early FX test thrown in too.

Tech Scout (12:24) - Fincher doin' work. Decent featurette showing the director and his crew scouting out locations before shooting. Cool seeing the before & afters, but this moves way too fast trying to cover every location, should have focused more specifically on a few. Production part 1 (26:11) - A nice run-through of the production phase with very candid cast and crew interviews, on-set footage, makeup tests, camera tech jargon, robo-babies, and more (in no particular order). A great piece if you’re a fan of the filmic process.

Production part 2 (29:02) - More of what we had in part 1. This one focuses a lot more on Brad and Cate, and Fincher’s work process (one word: PERFECTIONIST). Overall this, combined with part 1, is one of the best ‘Making Of’ featurettes I’ve ever seen.

Costume Design (7:25) - If costumes pique your interest, you may wanna give this a go. Costume Designer Jacqueline Witt takes us through her exhaustive process of designing over 5000 period costumes for the film.

VFX - Performance Capture (7:41): After watching this featurette, it’s slowly starting to become clear why Brad Pitt’s performance was so wooden. The first third of the film is basically performed by a computer (and a series of short actors who don't get nearly enough credit).

VFX - Benjamin (16:53) - Good God. This is a crazy special feature, actually somewhat frightening to see how these computer geeks at Digital Domain made "young" Benjamin's shockingly realistic digital head. Still, with how wooden Digi-Ben’s performance turned out, wouldn’t it have been easier and more effective to simply put age makeup on Brad and green-screen his head onto the small bodies? Hey, what do I know?

VFX - Youthenization (6:20) - Not to be confused with euthanization, which is no fun at all. Another insanely cool, well-made featurette, this time about how they made Cate and Brad look younger. I don’t understand a lick of what the tech guys are saying, but I like the pretty pictures.

VFX - The Chelsea (8:45) - Maybe Fincher gets sea-sick, or maybe he’s just a huge a fan of CG, but this feature shows us how the entire at-sea portion of the film was shot on a soundstage in Los Angeles. I, for one, could tell, and it really took me out of the story.

VFX - The Simulated World (12:50) - This featurette describes how pretty much half this film was created on a computer. The skies, the buildings, the people, even the flippin’ clock. They say they did this to effectively create the look of the old days. Know what they didn’t have in the old days? CGI. Contemplate that one for a bit.

Sound Design (16:04) - If you’re into the post-sound process, you’ll love this. Another well-crafted and in-depth featurette. That said, I still don’t understand Fincher’s horrid decision to put Cate Blanchett’s 39-year-old voice in 10-year-old Elle Fanning’s mouth. FAIL.

Desplat’s Instrumentarium (14:51) - An overly long and fairly boring featurette about composer Alexandre Desplat’s film scoring process. Desplat seems like a cool guy. I’m willing to bet that with that long hair, European accent and his skills with an instrument, the dude gets just an insane amount of tail.

Premiere (4:20): Cast and crew recount their experiences and express how pleased they were with the end result of all their hard work (interspersed with footage of the premiere). Brad Pitt rocks a sweet Inglorious ‘stache.

You also 2 trailers for the film, tons of Production stills, a Storyboard gallery, an Art Direction gallery, and a Costumes gallery.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is sort of like a beautiful painting. Stunning to look at, and often-times thought-provoking. But a painting is not likely to engage you for 2 hours and 45 minutes, and neither is Ben Button. (On a sidenote, the special features are well-worthy of the 'Criterion Collection' honor, even if the film is not).

Extra Tidbit: Directed David Fincher spent his early days working over at ILM, which is very likely the site at which he contracted his mild case of "George Lucas Syndrome".
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