The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Blu-ray (2009)

by | May 6, 2009 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Blu-ray (2009)

Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett
Director: David Fincher
Studio: Paramount/Criterion Collection 476, 2 discs [Release date: May 5, 09]
Video: 2.40:1 anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9 color 1080p HD
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio, English/Spanish/French DD 5.1, DD stereo
Subtitles: English SDH, English, French, Spanish
Extras: Commentary track by David Fincher; (on sep. Blu-ray disc:) Interview with Pitt & Blanchett, Documentary on Fincher’s creative process, the storyboards, costumes and art direction, Details on the Academy-Award-winning visual effects and makeup, Examination of the motion-capture process used for aging Brad Pitt, Interview with soundtrack composer Alexandre Desplat, Stills galleries incl. behind-the-scenes production photos, Printed essay by film critic Kent Jones in supplied booklet
Feature Length: 165 minutes
Rating: *****

I’m trying to forget that $150 million was spent in making this film.  Most likely in the future, with inflation, that will be forgotten, but for now it’s on my mind in spite of being bowled over by the achievement of this film. It began as a tiny short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald – about a man born old who grows young, set in Baltimore. A long and tortuous history led up to the final production of the film; Steven Spielberg was going to make it at one point. During the initial site location work, the setting was moved from Baltimore to New Orleans and the time moved ahead about half a century. The original film script had a strong jazz emphasis left over from Fitzgerald’s roaring twenties, but that was eliminated in the final script by Eric Roth (Forrest Gump), evidently in the interests of appealing to a wider audience. It is certainly a curious film; in the documentary Brad Pitt says its general theme is love, but director Fincher feels it is about death.

The story is introduced by a young woman reading from Benjamin’s diary to her mother, Daisy, as she lies on her deathbed just prior to Hurricane Katrina hitting.  His story starts at the end of WWI with his birth as an 80-year-old man in the body of an infant. The anamatronic baby shown in the extras seems quite convincingly human. Benjamin is abandoned by his button-factory-owner father after his mother dies in childbirth, and is adopted by a black mother who runs a home for the elderly. As he develops into a more normal young man he starts on a journey taking him to Siberia as a sailor on a tugboat, his first romance – with the wife of a British spy – then, still on the tugboat, fighting in the Pacific in WWII, to New York and Paris in the 50s and the Far East in the 80s.

At the center of the story is the love affair of the two main characters. Daisy and Benjamin first meet in the old folks home when she is a child and he is an old man in a young man’s body.  Later he returns to the home and as Daisy has grown up the two “meet in the middle,” and after some challenges begin a serious relationship. After the birth of their daughter, Benjamin realizes that he will not be there as a father for her due to his life going in the other direction towards childhood, and he leaves. His curious life is shown to us in perfect little fragments in which all the costumes, surroundings and even gestures and behavior of people authentically fit the particular era in the timeline.

Fincher has jumped into the digital era with both feet, perhaps making the biggest-budget all-digital production yet. But he’s a whiz with the technology and always uses it in expressive ways. For example Cate Blanchett mentions in the extras how the digital medium allowed Fincher to shoot many retakes very quickly – with no time required for loading film and other adjustments – and even to retain rehearsals which sometimes were used.  Nearly the entire film was shot on the HD Viper FilmStream and Sony F23 digital cameras, and Criterion converted their output directly to 24fps 1080p for Blu-ray, while the multichannel audio for the theaters was remixed for presentation in the home. There are many very dark scenes – if your set is one of those which has trouble displaying black areas, your enjoyment might be compromised a bit. Being Lawrence Of Arabia aspect radio also means plenty of black areas above and below the widescreen, so this is not very appropriate for viewing on a smallish 4:3 display.  The best thing about the exemplary Criterion Collection transfer is that all of the extra features are also in Blu-ray HD rather than the usual standard DVD quality.

— John Sunier

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