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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button [Blu-ray] | DVD Review

It’s actually a very good film and a wonderful journey with great performances and visuals, but it just doesn’t really have much of a point.

Some say that life is about the journey not the destination and that its whole purpose is what we experience along the way not where we get to in the end. That might work for life, it’s not like we have much of a choice, but not for a film.

I am immediately aware that this is akin to saying that a film about life should not actually be like life, however when you are offering up 2 ½ hours your own life you want there to be a point stronger than “nothing lasts”.

This is not to say that this is a bad film. It’s actually a very good film and a wonderful journey with great performances and visuals, but it just doesn’t really have much of a point.

This film about a man who ages in reverse and the people who he meets throughout and how they are affected by their encounter has been met with persistent comparisons to Forrest Gump, and with good reason. They share the same writer and essentially the same plot structure. Where this film differs, and comes up shorter, is that while Forrest actively engaged his experiences and sought more and grew as he learned to understand people, Brad’s Benjamin doesn’t really do all that much. He just seems to wander about without much purpose engaging in the occasional love affair or war or whatever happens to present itself to him.

It’s this aimlessness that leaves the film flat.

Missing is the palpable tension that audiences have come to expect from Fincher’s films. While diverting from the norm is fine and understandable for a director, there is no semblance of Fincher on this film at all and that’s a bit of a shame. In an era where there are very few auteur filmmakers in the mainstream who are given access to the kinds of funds necessary to make a film of this size and scope, it’s so important that those who do use their position to leave a mark.

Directors Commentary: David Fincher is a guy who doesn’t have too much of an issue with saying what he thinks. And while the commentary on this film has the usually anecdotes and insights one comes to expect from a commentary, it’s really Fincher’s personality that makes it a great listen. Whether he’s eloquently explaining the creative process of a particular scene, or being self-aggrandizing or complaining about an actor’s behaviour he comes across assured and makes for one of the better commentaries. And it’s also conveniently mapped out along with the chapters in the film’s timeline.

The Curious Birth of Benjamin Button:

Playing on the theme of birth, the special features are rather neatly divvied up into trimesters aptly relating the various stages of production. Criterion, long considered the gold standard in special features doesn’t disappoint here. Although perhaps missing is something more about the original short story by Fitzgerald. One area where they did fail, almost drastically, is the sound on the videos. The sound was really low and muddy and difficult to hear without really cranking your sound up. Hopefully that is just the result of a bad pressing.

First Trimester:

Preface: Fincher discusses his experience with his father’s death and how it when he read the script he was able to connect a lot of those same emotions about love and sacrifice. Sort of a set up of what his mindset was in undertaking this film.

Development and Pre-Production: Comprised mostly of interviews with all the main players covering the lengthy gestation period of the film as it passed through the hands of several writers, producers and directors including Spielberg. The biggest stumbling block being the concern of how to tell the story of someone’s entire life by using actors or CGI or a combination of both (this issue becomes a recurring theme throughout the special features). One of the neatest moments being a scrolling timeline of the lifespan of the project from F. Scott Fitzgerald writing the short story to Spike Jones leaving the project. Also covered are anecdotes about the selection of the cast and how the film ended up shooting in New Orleans.

Tech Scouts: This is a great look at how locations are scouted which is an often if not categorically ignored step in the production process. There is no voice over or explanation to this which actually works in its favour. Instead we get a great onsite POV that gives us a real sense of what they have to look for, what their concerns are and how they make decisions.

Storyboard Gallery: A huge series of storyboards raining in complexity from rough lines and circles to pre-textured computer generated frames. Some of these are absolutely stunning, especially some of the pen tone renderings.

Art Direction: A collection of set pics, reference photos and still frames from the film.

Second Trimester:

Production Part 1 & 2: Most behinds the scenes “making-of’s” tend to be dry, simplistic and bland snippets of “here is how a film is made” studio approved moments from the set. What makes these videos great is the unguarded-ness of the participants, especially the constantly cursing Fincher. Most of what they talk about is how they dealt with various problems and “how the hell are we gonna do this” issues which really gives the viewer an understanding of just what an undertaking making a film like this is. Instead trying to smokescreen us with “Hollywood magic” they give us the nuts and bolts reality of filmmaking and that is what makes it a worthwhile watch.

Costume Design: Jacqueline West did a terrific job with the daunting task for dressing 100’s of people in a film spanning eight decades. This bit is short and a bit light but covers just the right amount of material the most interesting of which is how she not only had to consider how a costume looked on screen but how it would move for certain scenes.

Costume Gallery: A small set of on-set and still frame pictures of various actors and extras in costume.

The Third Trimester:

Performance Capture: Starting off with a peek at the assembly process that Fincher employs with his editors then moving on to show how they matched Brad Pitt’s performance to the footage that they already shot.

Benjamin: The special effects team from Digital Domain takes center stage here as they delve into to further detail on how they put Brad Pitt’s head at various ages on to the body of other actors. The fascinating thing about this aspect of the film is that, as everyone involved keeps repeating over and over again, they weren’t sure if it was going to work and wouldn’t know until it was all finished. Considering how much studio money Fincher spent shooting the film up until that point, you have to admire his gumption for taking such a huge risk in making a film in a way that had never been done nor did anyone think could be.

Youthenization: This video covers the de-aging process used by effects company Lola to make Brad and Cate look younger throughout the film. An effect that only somewhat worked in the film itself. While Cate’s de-aging could be considered convincing to an extent, Brad’s just made him look creepy and plastic.

The Chelsea: A standard video about how the effects shots were done for the Chelsea. Not to diminish the excellent CG work, but the video is nothing that we haven’t a hundred times before.

The Simulated World: Much like the video about the Chelsea this is pretty standard behind the scenes special effects fare.

Sound Design: Another aspect of filmmaking that is all too often left out of making-of’s is sound design, and understandably so. Yes, sound design is a key component of filmmaking, but footage of an engineer sitting behind a giant mixing board, fiddling with wave forms just isn’t very compelling. This video however, brilliantly avoids the agonizingly technical explanations of the whole process and instead focuses almost singularly on how they dealt with voices in the film which is a much better way to make it easier for a laymen viewer to understand and appreciate at least a small portion of this facet of filmmaking than trying to bombard them with the global scope of it.

Desplat’s Instrumentarium: Score composer Alexander Desplat discusses his methodology and approach to scoring a film. There’s little that hasn’t been said or herd before but there is the interesting reveal about how the theme for Benjamin was played in reverse at certain points in the film.


Premier: A nice little wrap up of various member of the production talking about what a great experience making the film was intercut with footage from the premier.

Production Stills: It is what it says.

Unfortunately despite it technical and performance merits, the Curious Case of Benjamin Button will be a film that falls into the same category as “A Beautiful Mind”, a terrific cinematic achievement that is quickly forgotten.

Movie rating – 3

Disc Rating – 3.5

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