Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The (UK - BD)
Our Marcus checks out a case that he hoped would be more curious than this.
Based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story written in 1921, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button tells the tale of an unwanted baby, Benjamin (Brad Pitt), who is born at the close of the first world war with the curious affliction of coming into the world old and growing younger as his years pass by.
After many, many years of development and a handful of directors coming and going from the project, David Fincher finally becomes the guy to bring this story to our screens. Sticking out like a sore thumb from his filmography to date, Fincher brings his perfectionist approach to filmmaking to a less gritty tale, giving us a look at his softer side and with mixed results.
Thinking back to the first trailer for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I was absolutely mesmerised with what this new Fincher movie was offering. The images in that trailer, the way they were backed with the music from The Carnival of the Animals, the absolute delight of having Fincher’s visuals in this kind of story. It all just added up to something that could be more than just a movie and hinting that it could very well sit high on all time lists or be something truly magical. Alas the power of trailers once again missing the mark of what a movie actually is.
There is almost nothing magical about Benjamin Button (outside of the technical wizardry of course). This isn’t really about Benjamin’s journey or the power of the love in his life or even how profound his situation is. There’s no real message to take away from it and generally I just don’t think we’re given enough insight into the character to really feel much for him beyond enjoying his company for his journey through life.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, at its best is a series of moments. Small stories or events within Benjamin’s life that, like Forrest Gump, can be attached to pretty much anyone’s general life experiences. Insights like [x]“Your life is defined by its opportunities... even the ones you miss.[/x]” or [x]“It's a funny thing about comin' home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You'll realise what's changed is you”[/x] or even [x]“We're meant to lose the people we love. How else would we know how important they are to us?”[/x] are all very nice sentiments to make you stop and think for a moment but this is really all we get from Benjamin. For the majority of the movie, we get no insight into his feelings about his “curious case”, how it affects him in daily life or even the problems he may have faced. He merely is what he is and while that would work in a fairy tale, nothing is treated as such, so it feels a little one note and straightforward.
Beyond that small issue, which after a while, I learnt to accept as the way of things (there’s my own little Button-esq wisdom coming out) my biggest problem was the love story element. Cate Blanchett’s Daisy is basically a self important annoyance of a woman and I don’t really buy into Benjamin’s love of her at all. Maybe towards the end, but just too much along the way just left me baffled as to why he’d be so enamoured with her, especially considering he seems to have a whole lot more fun when she’s not around (and with other women). It’s just an element which seems like it would be the main heart of the story and it just isn’t strong enough to give you something to believe in.
Now, I know this all sounds negative, but generally I enjoyed hanging out with Benjamin Button through his life story, especially on this second viewing. The character is a thoroughly likable guy, even if it isn’t one that enables Brad Pitt to delve into anything much beyond the surface and I certainly don’t agree with the Oscar nod for it. I enjoy the majority of the vignettes of Benjamin’s life even some of the stories of the surrounding characters are pretty great (the guy that gets hit by lightning is awesome), but I just don’t really feel it as a whole. The last act where Benjamin decides to be alone as he's getting much younger are the elements I enjoy the most as they actually have some genuinely emotional dilemmas (which I think the movie avoids for the most part), but I just think that despite the spectacle of Fincher’s fine direction, the generally interesting idea and the entirely watchable nature of it, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button isn’t complete enough as a whole and beyond a few well captured notions, the old to young journey just doesn’t feel as extraordinary as it could have been.
It has to be said that this transfer is one of, if not the most solid one in my collection at this point. With much of the story bathed in warm golden lighting the image is strikingly clean, sharp, detailed and frankly glorious. Black levels are deep and really work when countered with the vivid and bold colour schemes of the movie and generally this adds to the ever growing catalogue of great looking Fincher discs.
Arguably the greatness of this HD image shows up some of the special effects more than it did on the cinema screen, but that’s hard to tell for me at this point as I had time to soak up what I was seeing on this second viewing and may very well have been looking for the trickery more than I was the first time when it was all about letting the story wash over me. That said, the majority of the effects are astonishing and beyond the weirdly animated, almost Beowulf style eyes in some of the old Benjamin segments, which will date the film in ten years time (if not sooner), there’s very little to fault.
The audio takes a soft approach for the most part, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. There’s plenty going on in the mix and it’s also quite a spacious affair with music drifting all around you, atmospherics popping up in many a speaker and dialogue placed strongly in the fronts with impressive results (though I agree with Gabe… why bother dubbing the young Daisy?)
This is a mix that you’ll probably not even notice is working so well and all for the right reasons. It’s subtle, it rich and fits the movie perfectly, as is the way of things with the majority of Fincher’s work.
Now whatever your feelings are on the movie itself, the features on offer here are what make this release an almost essential purchase.
Disc one comes with a David Fincher commentary, which is well paced, detailed and adds plenty of stories around what we’re seeing on screen. Lots of technical elements are covered but never in a dull way and generally this was an enjoyable commentary track.
As for disc two, and once you get by the dull-as-always Warner Bros. menu with its many selection and ‘play all’ selection, you are greeted with one of the most rewarding documentaries in quite a while. Split into three trimesters and broken down even further within those three, this whole thing comes in at three hours and three minutes in length and hardly a second of it is dull.
Starting with the Preface, you get an intro by David Fincher which is immediately engaging and inviting (in fact when I watched these with my wife, we intended on doing it in two sittings but the strength of this opener secured us in for the lot in one evening). Fincher's looking directly at camera approach as he talks about the movie and the reasons he chose to do it the way he did is personal and to the point and generally the rest of the documentary follows suit.
You then get an entire history of the project, from previous concepts, different directors (man I’d love to see Spielberg’s take on this movie) producers fighting to get it made, screenwriters finding a way to tell the story, finding locations and of course those wonderful special effects, which really shows off how good Brad Pitt actually is at doing what he does. On top of that, everyone involved in this comes with a personality. This isn’t just a generic making of, these people have stories to tell and they tell them well. Brad Pitt’s cheeky grins, the special effects guy’s expertly winging their way through the harder shots, the cast’s funny little on-set stories and of course Fincher, who actually comes off as pretty much the greatest guy in Hollywood in my eyes by the end of all this. Seriously, comments like “Everyone in this movie dies, so that’s how I was able to stomach all the rest of it” with that devilish smile were absolute class.
Outside of all that you also get ‘Storyboard’, ‘Art Direction’, ‘Costume, and ‘Production Galleries’ as well as the two trailers and even another featurette, Tech Scouts (HD 12:23), which is a great look at the locations and how different they are in the finished movie.
Essentially, this is a prime example of how to do a Blu-ray release. It’s packed with stuff but stuff that’s enjoyable, well thought out and entirely re-watchable. I’d almost go as far as to say, I found this better than the movie itself.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a solid movie but not one I’d consider as special. For me it’s missing a vital emotional connection, even if the story itself is thoroughly enjoyable without it. Yes, it has lots in common with Forrest Gump, and when you think of the similarities too much they can be a little distracting, but David Fincher has provided a nice change of pace to his body of work, without undermining his genuinely genius-like talents as a filmmaker.
The disc itself is nothing but spectacular on all fronts. A/V is great, with video really shining as show off material and to have features this enjoyable and interesting makes this almost a crime to avoid for all those Fincher fans out there that may have been underwhelmed with the movie itself.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 8th June 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Portuguese, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 German, Dolby Digital 5.1 Italian, Dolby Digital 5.1 Thai, Dolby Digital 5.1 Turkish, Dolby Digital 2.0 Audio Descriptive Service
Subtitles: Portuguese, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, English
Extras: Director Commentary, The Curious Birth of Benjamin Button Documentary, Galleries, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Elias Koteas, Julia Ormond, Tilda Swinton, Phyllis Somerville
Length: 166 minutes
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