The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Criterion Collection) – DVD Review

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The Criterion Collection is usually reserved for films that have either stood the test of time as classics or are foreign films of similar quality that have yet to be discovered by a mass audience. Part of the beauty of Criterion is that the label usually means quality, but every now and again they release something thats a bit of a head-scratcher. Michael Bays mega-hit Armageddon, generally not know for being a masterpiece in most quarters, received a Criterion release as did another smash of his, The Rock. The first Robocop film has its own, even. So for all the classic films, even Criterion doesnt bat 1.000 in quality. Hence The Curious Case of Benjamin Button getting a Criterion Collection release of its own not even a year after being released into theatres.

Nominated for most of the major Oscars, and winning none, Button was a film that didnt garner the sort of universal praise and awards that a film bearing the Criterion label one imagines should receive. And its not that good, despite some amazing special effects work and the sort big, sprawling story one expects from a prestige picture like this.

Based on the F.Scott Fitzgerald short story in concept only, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button follows the life of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) who ages in reverse. Born as an infant with the features of a man significantly older in years, he ages towards a youth he never truly experiences. Along the way he meets Daisy (Cate Blanchett), a child with normal aging like him. As they grow up together, theirs is a love that finds a singular moment where they are the same age and then disappears as he grows younger and she gets older. Along the way he has adventures, including a dalliance with the wife of an Ambassador (Tilda Swinton), that lead him back to Daisy until the inevitable happens.

And for a film that has lots of material to mine, its more appropriate to refer to it as Benjamin Snooze Button because it takes what should be a 90-100 minute story and jams in about an hour of material that really isnt necessary to the films basic story. Fincher is known for big sprawling epics and Button doesnt have the girth to be the sort of story he wants it to be. This is a thin story being pushed into a thick film; theres too much filler in it for how little of a story it has.

This is a love story in reverse, so to speak, set amongst interesting circumstances, but its not very interesting because Ben never acts how old he is. He acts how old he looks, and its a major distraction. For Pitt its been his most honored role but it isnt his best. This is Pitt mainly acting like Brad Pitt; while its amazing when he gets younger, going from Fight Club to Thelma and Louise in looks then to a younger teenager, Pitt acts exactly how old he looks on screen. Itd be interesting to see what someone with experience in life who looks like a teenager would do; Ben just rides a motorcycle and seems like hes a teenager as opposed to being an old man in a young body.

The best comparison for Button is to Forrest Gump, coincidentally written by the same screenwriter (Eric Roth). Considering Roths pedigree as one of the better writers in Hollywood, and one of the more diverse, its odd hed revisit the same plot structure and a similar character.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a technical marvel, recreating several eras and aging its main character in spectacular fashion. But it doesnt have the steak behind the sizzle and is more of a curiosity than a masterpiece.

Presented in a Dolby Digital format, with a widescreen presentation, the film looks and sounds wonderful. This is a film that relies on its look more than anything else and it comes through spectacularly. If anything is a DVD that needs to be seen purely for the a/v aspect.

Disc One

The first disc features the film itself, as well as an optional Commentary from Director David Fincher.

Disc Two

The Curious Birth of Benjamin Button is an in-depth look at the film, from conception to reality. Starting as a project for Steven Spielberg alongside Schindlers List and Jurassic Park, the main problem with the film was the computer graphics needed to age Button backwards. Fincher had wanted to do it before Alien 3 but the CG was not ready for it yet.

It went through an obscene amount of people attached to it, as well. Ron Howard, Spike Jonze, Spielberg and others signed on over the years to direct while Tom Cruise, Martin Short and others were attached to it as a starring vehicle. Pitt and Fincher, who previously worked together for Fight Club, had always wanted to collaborate on another picture and when the CGI caught up everyone was ready to do the film.

One of the nice parts about this is that they bring out archival footage of early CGI testing, et al, that gives you an exact idea of what Fincher and crew are talking about. The key to the film getting made was a short period right after Fincher made Zodiac; the expense of the film, about “$75 million too much” according to Fincher, was a main holdup that came to light through the flooding of New Orleans. The State of Louisianas attempt at bringing the film industry after Hurricane Katrina was a big factor, as the tax credits were the proper incentive for Paramount to make the film. Pitt was a big factor in this, especially after Katrina.

The especially fascinating part about everything is that everyone has a great level of candor. Fincher and his crew, as well as the cast, have a level of frankness about the film as well as the actual filming process itself. The film used digital cameras, which was a unique process to some of the main principles, made the film more of a theatrical process as opposed to a more traditional filming process since it allowed for more takes and less downtime.

Running around three hours, its about as thorough as it gets and absolutely magnificent.

There are Stills Galleries as well as a collection of the films Trailers and an Essay about the film from film critic Kent Jones.

While the film isnt perhaps the type of quality Criterion is known for, the DVD is. The making-of documentary is absolutely amazing and worth the viewing in and of itself. Its well worth it for the special features, even if the film is a bit lackluster.

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The Criterion Collection presents The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Directed by David Fincher. Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett. Written by Eric Roth based off a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Running time: 166 minutes . Rated R . Released on DVD June 2, 2009. Available at Amazon.com

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