Trailers for the film were out months before the film would even see its theatrical release in December of 2008. They created a sense of wonder, saying very little about the film itself and instead left most of it a mystery. By the time the second trailer came along, more had be unveiled about the film online and in the media and before it arrived in theaters shouts of “Oscar!” were heard throughout the movie industry. While the near three-hour film would later be portrayed as an intense film in television ads with fast and exciting music mixed with war-time visuals, the truth is the film is much more somber and deeply moving production, although it is not without humor and action.
“I was born under unusual circumstances.” And so begins “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” adapted from the 1920s story by F. Scott Fitzgerald about a man who is born in his eighties and ages backwards: a man, like any of us, who is unable to stop time. We follow his story, set in New Orleans, from the end of World War I in 1918 into the 21st century, following his journey that is as unusual as any man’s life can be. Directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett with Taraji P. Henson, Tilda Swinton, Jason Flemyng, Elias Koteas and Julia Ormond, “Benjamin Button,” is a grand tale of a not-so-ordinary man and the people and places he discovers along the way, the loves he finds, the joys of life and the sadness of death, and what lasts beyond time.
Where do you begin with a film like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? It’s already such an acclaimed and prestigious film it seems as if it was deemed a classic before it even debuted in theaters. Its run time certainly led credentials to its worthiness, as not a single moment of it felt rushed to progress the film, leaving the story plenty of room to breathe and expand without any real sense of urgency. Although it didn’t win any of the “major” Oscars, it did (rightfully so) take home awards in the Art Direction, Makeup and Visual Effects categories. Could this film have been made in one of its many iterations over the years? Most definitely, But it couldn’t have been done with the visual wonder than the final product came out with—through the years the characters looked genuinely like Brad Pitt and it’s those small little additions that make the film a visual wonder.
Strip away all of that, however, and the film does reveal itself to be a bit of a gimmick. What gets you to the theater is the idea of seeing a man age in reverse, but at its core it’s really just a love story. If you take away the visual effects, it’s really just a man about finding his place in life, although it would decidedly be a lot less interesting. The middle of the film, however, really is just about two people in love, while the bookends are really where the “supernatural” elements take place. Not to say the film would work without either of the pieces, however, as it’s such an emotionally moving and visually stunning film to behold, both because of the special effects but also because of the cinematography which is relentlessly beautiful.
It’s really the small moments in this film that make it so memorable. Whether it’s Benjamin growing up and playing with army men or the first moments he spends with Daisy, the film is just constructed of great bits and pieces from start to finish. I especially love the little touches of the elderly that Benjamin grew up with (particularly the quick cuts to the man who was struck by lightning—it added humor so easily to the film and was just a wonderfully done part of the film). On top of that even the most minor of characters left a lasting impact, whether it be Tilda Swinton or Jared Harris, there just was not a single element of this film that wasn’t enjoyable.
Even the way the film was told, with the cuts back and forth from Daisy on her death bed to the past with Benjamin, I never once felt the three hour run time of the film as something that was too weighty to enjoy. It’s really the type of film you can dwell on for hours about, as there’s so much to pick apart in the film and digest that even though you feel mentally full after absorbing everything in this world of Benjamin Button, you wonder what happened to after all was said and done.
Somber, emotional, and beautifully directed, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is as entertaining and exciting as you’d expect from a film that was nominated so thoroughly in almost every category. I can easily see it going down as a modern classic in the film world, as there isn’t a frame out of place here nor a piece of dialogue that didn’t fit like a puzzle piece. Besides—how many modern films come out on Blu-ray and DVD for the first time via the Criterion Collection? You just know it’s a special movie when that happens. Must See.
Nominated like crazy for awards, yet there is not a single mention or critic quote on the front cover to this film. Subdued and bathed in black, the cover art is an elegant shot of Pitt and Blanchett in a framed portrait area. Flip the set over, however, and the back is drenched in text, covering everything from the films description to the contents of this two-disc Blu-ray edition. And let me tell you right now—if you even remotely enjoyed this film or think that you will, then pick up this two-disc edition. The extras on the second disc are unbelievable.
Shot almost entirely on Viper FilmStream and Sony F23 digital cameras, the film looks as brilliant and magnificent as you’d expect, with warm colors mixed in with a fantastic color palette from beginning to end. The AVC encoded transfer brings to life the brilliance of the modern day life and mixes it with the sometimes subdued hues of the past (and mixed occasionally with the old film-stock look with waving images, burns and scads of dust/scratches) that really creates a visually amazing presentation. Those who like to show off their home theater should have no problem taking Benjamin Button out for a spin, as whether it’s the celebration from World War I’s ending to the battle in the sea, the video and audio mixes that accompany every scene are quite frankly perfect in every way. Did you really expect anything less from a Criterion release? After all, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 shakes, rattles, and fills the room with copious amounts of surrounds and delivers crystal clear dialogue out of the front channels. From beginning to end this film is a fantastic experience.
As expected, Benjamin Button comes packed to the gills with extras. Why is this expected? Well, for the obvious reason it’s a Criterion release, but for another it’s because of director David Fincher. You know him from Fight Club mainly, but he also directed the absolutely brilliant Zodiac, which received a similarly fantastic treatment from Paramount on the Blu-ray and DVD release, which packed in an extended cut of the film along with slew of extras. Benjamin Button has two full discs of content and we start out with a Commentary by David Fincher on the first disc. If you’ve never heard Fincher talk, then this would be a great film to start with—he’s informative, an endless fountain of knowledge, and relentlessly entertaining. Granted, there was so much involved in bringing this film to the big screen, so it’s not a surprise that he’s so passionate about it…but he really delivers a fantastic track from beginning to end.
Dipping into disc two we find the exhaustive The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2:55:24, 1080i) documentary, which covers every little aspect of the film in just about every way possible. The segment is subdivided into First Trimester, Second Trimester, Third Trimester, Birth and feature cast and crew interviews aplenty (yes, even with Pitt and Blanchett). Fincher is no stranger to these extras either, even going so far as to give a three minute preface to the whole thing. While it may sound boring to watch a three hour documentary on a three hour film, it’s really a learning experience and Fincher’s style of directing is just so damn interesting that like the film, the three hours of the documentary seem to go by before you even notice.
The documentary is available in separate seven to ten minute bursts as well if you’d rather not venture into it all at once. Taking it in singly gives you the opportunity to flip through some photo galleries as well, from pre-production art to rendered images of the visual effects. Rounding out the disc is a set of Trailers and some Still Galleries.
Overall The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is not only a fantastic film but also an absolutely stunning Blu-ray package. While it isn’t exactly the type of film that you’ll ever be in a certain mood to watch, it’s hard to deny how engrossing and wonderfully done it all is…and watching these extras only further your appreciation of it. Highly Recommended.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on May 5th.