The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Directed by David Fincher
Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson
Paramount Home Entertainment
Release Date: May 5, 2009
A wonderfully witty and magical tale coming from a 1921 F. Scott Fitzgerald short story is what caught the eye of director David Fincher. That this odd fable can still be able to gather up the natural resources that it takes to create an emotional love story that harkens back to the earlier style cinema romances is a head scratching miracle. Fincher’s previous work has always been spread across the table, working with films that can’t be classified within a certain genre: Fight Club and Seven. His films specialize in making the brain feel numb, helpless, and absorbed; all in which were in top form with his last film, Zodiac. With The Curious Case of Benjamin Button he wants to see life from an entirely different perspective than that of what previous films have depicted and in a different way as he shot the film digitally giving the film a bitterness and isolated feel. In doing so the result is that of a perspective that we can’t even begin to fathom, let alone appreciate.
We can’t appreciate moments in the film because our central character doesn’t fully appreciate them. His name is Benjamin (Brad Pitt) and he was born in 1919 as little as an infant but as old as an 80-year-old man. He lives life backwards as time goes by, decreasing in age while his looks become younger. All the while his brain tries to function what exactly is going on.
This perception should instill Benjamin in many marvelous moments of depth and intimacy and where sense of time becomes abandoned. Commanding more authority, though, is the way Benjamin is disconnected with his society. He was taken in by a boarding house run by the caring Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), after his father left him on the house’s steps. Having been raised around old individuals Benjamin realizes that the death of these people he admires so much will constantly be growing rapidly within the years of his life. Soon, he withdraws himself from intimate relationships, afraid that death will conquer all he loves. His disconnection with individuals in his years breaking out of his old man shell becomes tedious, and that seeps through to the audience feeling no pulse with these, what should be, magical moments that generate no plentiful satisfaction.
Those early years are the years where the full image of Brad Pitt is absent. Using cutting-edge computer technology Fincher is allowed to seamlessly connect Brad’s face (covered outstandingly with make-up) to a totally different body evoking an image of Man that hasn’t been seen before: At times both scary and eerie, even occasionally funny but never consoling or comforting.
Once Benjamin enters his forties, the prime of his existence, is where real sensuality can’t be resisted. Pitt is Pitt and his embodiment of a lost soul searching for the love of his life in a world he can’t comprehend is as touching a love story you’ll find on screen this year. This is where The Curious Case seizes its purity and deepened subject matter that Fincher hoped he could capture throughout the entire film. In search of a girl he fell in love with, Benjamin’s willing to break free of the disconnection he’s been plagued with in order to pursue love; a world class ballerina dancer, Daisy (Cate Blanchett).
Within these scenes Fincher produces an image of life that is beautiful, surprising and deeply felt. All the while still beyond our comprehension. Distributions of movies like these are scarce. That’s partly why we can’t embrace a film that’s drenched heavily in ideological existentialism. We’ve seen it this year with Synecdoche, New York and are likely to see it more in the future. Maybe the anecdote to conquer such elaborate films is to watch them many of times, dissecting each moment studiously that passes and, most of all, don’t ask any questions or let the mind wander off the subject matter.
The script was written by Eric Roth, who also wrote the script to Forest Gump. Like that film, The Curious Case sinks so deep into a man’s life that it’s willing to wither away there. Spending the first hour-and a-half on the bulk of Benjamin’s encounters with distinct characters, along with discrete meeting grounds, The Curious Case deters from its inevitable love sequences that are unmistakably Fincher’s suitable platform for this film.
High-Definition Picture: Director David Fincher shoots this entire movie on digital rather than on film. The result captures magic unlike anything you’ll see. The movie begins in 1918 and spans all the way to 2005 when Katrina was about to strike New Orleans. The Blu-Ray transfer from Criterion captures all the authenticity present in the current time frame. The movie starts off with a short story about a man who built a backwards clock. This story is presented in a grainy fashion resembling some of the first reels of footage ever captured. With the high definition transfer the picture still retains the “old-fashioned” cinematography while at the same time it brightens and darkens particular colors to enhance the quality. It’s a stunning achievement. On the bigger scale, the Curious Case transfer is impeccable. Most of the movie is dark and gloomy and set in disconsolate settings such as lonely hotels, dirty ships and ominous towns. When the film does shed a bit of light it is done so to perfection. The scene where Pitt rides his motorcycle across the landscape of New Orleans is a triumph of restrained beauty. Fincher could have easily endowed his audience with exotic and fiery color schemes, but he stays true to the scheme of things. He conceals his beauty with dull and casual color schemes. This Blu-Ray transfer does the best job at realizing Fincher’s dedication to mood and setting.
Commentary by David Fincher: Here is a commentary that isn’t worth watching. For the most part, it’s a rehash of what disc two presents, and in a more thorough manner.
The Curious Birth of Benjamin Button: HD (180mins): A 3-hour powerhouse that will feed your brain until it can’t any more of Mr. Button and his curious case into creation. The feature is separated into three different sections. The first is called First Trimester, in which development and pre-production are discussed, as well as the premise of the book by Fitzgerald that at once seemed to be a filmmaker’s worst nightmare. At one point, in the early 90s, Steven Spielberg was once tied to this project. The Second Trimester covers more in depth of the production process. While the Third Trimester deals with visual effects of Benjamin, costume design, visual effects, effects of the simulated world, sound design and Alexander Desplat instrumentarium. Also making their way into the special features are two glorious high-definition still galleries and two trailers of the film. Being a Criterion Blu-Ray, the supplements are worth much of your attention and they don’t let a topic go by unscathed.
Movie: *** out of ****
Special Features: *** out of ****
HD Picture Quality: ***1/2 out of ****