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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/5/2009

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/4/2009

One of the basic tenets of movie criticism is comparison. If one is seeing their very first movie, they will most likely have a hard time deciding if they liked the movie or not because they will have nothing with which to compare it. So, when we say that we liked a movie, we are saying that it was better than some other movies that we've seen, and vice-versa. We compare movies based on era, genre, style, and background (independent vs. Hollywood). But, when a movie reminds you of another film, things can go beyond simple comparison. This was my experience with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button opens in a New Orleans hospital room in 2005 during the height of Hurricane Katrina. A woman lie in the bed, dying. She urges her daughter, Caroline (Julia Ormond), to read a diary to her. The diary is that of a man named Benjamin, who was born the size of a newborn baby, but he had the body of very old man. Abandoned by his birth father (Jason Flemyng), he is left on the back steps of an old folk's home. He is taken in by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), who raises him as her own. Despite the fact that the doctor predicts that the baby won't live long, Benjamin begins to grow. While much smaller than the other residents of the home, as he appears to be an old man, he fits right in. As he gets older, it becomes obvious that he's aging backwards. He meets a girl named Daisy, the granddaughter of one of the residents, and is immediately taken by her. Benjamin gets a job on a tugboat, and this leads him to a journey around the world. During his travels, he never forgets about Daisy. When he returns home, now older, but appearing younger, he tries to have a normal life, and he wants Daisy to be a part of that.

When I first saw the trailer for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, my first thought was "That looks like Forrest Gump." After seeing the movie, my reaction was, "That was a lot like Forrest Gump." Is it any coincidence that both movie concern a man who is born in the south who is unusual, who grows up in a house full of people, who meets his true-love at a young age, who goes off to travel the world, and who never gives up on being reunited with his dream-girl? Is it any coincidence that both films were written for the screen by Eric Roth? I could list how note-for-note and beat-by-beat the stories of the two movies are incredibly similar.

But, while the stories are similar, the tones of the two movies are very different. While I know that many people find the movie corny, Forrest Gump is an emotional roller-coaster which offers scenes which are both very sad and very funny. However, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an oddly emotionless film. Director David Fincher is a truly gifted filmmaker, but he also has a style which is very cold and clinical and that approach doesn't do any favors to this movie. We watch people fall in love and die and get hurt and achieve triumphs and the whole thing feels very detached. We hear Benjamin narrating the bulk of the story, and yet he remains inscrutable for most of it. How does he feel about everything happening around him? We rarely know. The movie could also use some levity. There is one funny moment here. There were more laughs in Fight Club.

The story also contains some oddities. The core idea, taken from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is an excellent one, and the movie attempts to take this fantastic idea and bring it into the real world. And yet, it's impossible to tell in which world this is happening. We assume that those in the old folks home know what is happening to Benjamin, but very few others every question how or why he's getting younger. Doesn't anyone wonder about this? And the motivations behind Daisy's behavior in the middle part of the film is inexcusably lame. In Forrest Gump, we know that Jenny is rebellious and unattainable because of her relationship with her father. Daisy's excuse? She was young and stupid.

These issues with the film are truly a shame, as this is an incredibly well-made movie. The film's Academy Awards for Visual Effects and Makeup are deserved, as the combination of other actors and effects to create someone who looks like Brad Pitt at various ages is simply amazing. The effects here are seamless, and the use of New Orleans locations adds charm and depth to the film. There are some beautiful shots in the movie, and the supporting cast is excellent. But, despite this quality, I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd seen it all before, and seen it done better. The curious thing about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is why someone didn't step in and say, "Isn't this Gump?"

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button looks like a newborn on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 32 Mbps. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. The image is never overly dark or bright. The colors look great, and the skin tones appear realistic. The picture has an impressive amount of detail and the landscape shots show amazing depth. Overall, a stellar video transfer. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. This is an impressive track. The stereo effects are very good, and any crowd or street scene reveals detailed noises and a fine amount of stereo separation. The surround sound effects are very good as well. The battle at sea really shows off the sound here, as the bullets go from the front channels to the rear channels, making the scene very real. This scene also offers great subwoofer effects. In short, a great Blu-ray Disc.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. Disc 1 features an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director David Fincher. This is a good commentary, as Fincher speaks at length throughout the film. A very hands-on director, Fincher is able to refrain from being too technical here, and sticks to talking about the story, the actors, and the locations, often sharing anecdotes for particular scenes.

The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 2. The bulk of this is made up of "The Curious Birth of Benjamin Button" (3 hours), a four part documentary. Oddly, choosing "Play All" doesn't actually get you everything. Does that make sense? It should be noted that in his introduction, Fincher reveals that his feelings towards the project came from an emotional place, which is ironic given the unemotional nature of the movie. From there, the producers discuss the discovery of the short story, the writing of the scripts, and how the project went from director to director. Fincher steps in and talks about how he got involved and his feelings towards the story. These discussions are interesting, as the speakers are very frank about the process of getting this movie made. The actors then talk about their involvement. Location scouting and the decision to shoot in New Orleans is discussed. The piece then begins detailing the film's production, giving specifics on how many of the major scenes were created, including lighting, production design, and special effects. Of course, the most interesting aspect of all of this is how the visual effects were created to placed Brad Pitt's face on various other actors. Rarely do I get excited about watching an extra, but I wanted to know how this was done. We also get a look at the many visual effects in the film which create unique locations. The sound and music are also examined. The Disc contains two TRAILERS and four STILL GALLERIES (Storyboards, art direction, costumes, and production stills).

Paramount Home Entertainment has also brought The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to DVD. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing basically no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look good and the picture is never overly dark. However, when compared to the Blu-ray, we see that there is haloing and jagged lines around some objects. The DVD offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, as are the surround effects. Again, the battle at sea really shows off the sound here.

The extras on the DVD are the same as those found on the Blu-ray Disc.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long