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The Curious Case of BENJAMIN BUTTON – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #476 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 4, 2009 by  



“Absolutely superb!  Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett just shine in this film.  ‘The Curious Case of BENJAMIN BUTTON’ is storytelling at its best.  This Blu-ray release achieves perfection on all levels!  Magnificent picture and audio quality and lengthy special features that discuss nearly every level of filmmaking.  This is just a magnificent release that achieves perfection!  A+!!!”

Images courtesy of © 2009 Paramount Home Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Curious Case of BENJAMIN BUTTON – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #476

DURATION: 165 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Languages:  English SDH Subtitled , English SDH+ Subtitled , English Subtitled , French Subtitled , Spanish Subtitled.  Audio:     5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, 5.1 Dolby Digital

RATED: PG-13 (FOR BRIEF WAR VIOLENCE, SEXUAL CONTENT, LANGUAGE AND SMOKING)

COMPANY: Paramount Home Entertainment

RELEASE DATE: May 5, 2009

Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Directed by David Fincher

Screenplay by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord

Produced by Cean Chaffin, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall

Associate Producer: Jim Davidson, Marykay Powell

Music by Alexandre Desplat

Director of Photography: Claudio Miranda

Edited by Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall

Casting by Laray Mayfield

Production Design by Donald Graham Burt

Art Direction by Kelly Curley, Randy Moore, Tom Reta

Set Decoration by Victor J. Zolfo

Costume Design by Jacqueline West

Starring:

Brad Pitt as Benjamin Button

Cate Blanchett as Daisy

Taraji P. Henson as Queenie

Julia Ormond as Caroline

Faune A. Chambers as Dorothy Baker

Jason Flemyng as Thomas Button

Joeanna Sayler as Caroline Button

Elias Koteas as Monsieur Gateau

Mahershalahashbaz Ali as Tizzy

Elle Flanning as Young Daisy

Jared Harris as Captain Mike

Elizabeth Abbot  as Tilda Swinton

“I was born under unusual circumstances.” And so begins “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” adapted from the 1920s story by F. Scott Fitzgerald about a man who is born in his eighties and ages backwards: a man, like any of us, who is unable to stop time. We follow his story, set in New Orleans, from the end of World War I in 1918 into the 21st century, following his journey that is as unusual as any man’s life can be. Directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett with Taraji P. Henson, Tilda Swinton, Jason Flemyng, Elias Koteas and Julia Ormond, “Benjamin Button,” is a grand tale of a not-so-ordinary man and the people and places he discovers along the way, the loves he finds, the joys of life and the sadness of death, and what lasts beyond time.

When you watch a film and for several hours, taken away from reality, watching an adventure and almost like a roller coaster, emotional high until that one last dip where you know that the life of Benjamin Button is a film that is not only heartwarming and heartbreaking, but yet you come away feeling that you have just finished watching an epic, brilliant film.

Since 1988, the producers of ‘The Curious Case of BENJAMIN BUTTON’ have been trying to get this film made.  First in the hands of Steven Spielberg, the director became too busy with “Schindler’s List” and “Jurassic Park” that the script was passed on to a variety of writers, directors including Ron Howard and Spike Jonze and talents that were up for the part such as Tom Cruise.  It took almost 20 years to get this film made but fortunately, everything came together when David Fincher (“Zodiac”, “Panic room”, “Fight Club”, “Se7en”, “Alien 3”) took on the director’s helm for this film.

With a unique screenplay by Eric Roth (“Ali”, “Forrest Gump”, etc.) and Robin Swicord (“Practical Magic”, “Memoirs of a Geisha”, etc.) and the casting of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, these names behind the the 2008 film would prove to be magic, not only in box office sales but also to be nominated for 13 Academy Awards (winner of “Best Achievement in Art Direction, “Best Achievement in Makeup” and “Best Achievement in Visual Effects”) and grossing over $329 million worldwide.

The film starts off with an elderly woman in a hospital in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.  Her daughter is with her and the elderly woman named Daisy tells her daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond) a story about a blind clock maker named Gateau who was commissioned to create a clock in the New Orleans train station.

When Gateau received news that his son was killed during World War I, he created a clock that would run backward.  It was the clock maker’s way of hope in bringing back those who have died in the war.    The elderly woman, Daisy (Cate Blanchette) then asks her daughter to read her a diary written by Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt).

The film now goes to 1918, as New Orleans celebrates the end of World War I and a baby has been given birth by a woman, who then dies from complications from the birth.  As the father Thomas sees the baby, he is shocked and immediately runs off with it and leaves the baby on the porch at a nursing home.

Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) and her husband Tizzy (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) find the baby and immediately Queenie takes in the baby as one of her own.  When the doctor checks on the baby, we see the baby as almost like an old man.  According to the doctor, the characteristics of the baby is almost like an old man but Queenie decides that if this baby is going to die soon, she wants to be its mother (since she is unable to conceive a baby).

Flash forward a few years and Benjamin has grown older.  At 7-years-old, he has an appearance of an older, elderly man.  He is unable to walk and uses a wheelchair.  The story then flash forwards to 1930, Benjamin is now 12-years-old and Benjamin becomes smitten by the granddaughter of a woman staying at the home.  The girl’s name is Daisy (Elle Fanning).  Eventually, the two children become great friends but because no one believes Benjamin is a young man with an appearance of an older, elderly man, people like Daisy’s grandmother has gotten the wrong idea and think a lecherous old man is trying to get close to her granddaughter.

We then see that over the years, Benjamin’s physical body is getting younger.  He’s growing back hair, has muscles and by his late teens, he ends up working at a tugboat under the direction of his boss Captain Mike (Jared Harris).  He eventually exposes Benjamin to bars and brothels where Mike gives him his first sexual experience.

Meanwhile, Thomas Button spots Benjamin and has been keeping observation on him, finds the opportunity to be closer with his son and eventually  befriends him (not telling him that he is his father).

When Benjamin turned 17-years-old, he eventually leaves his family and home behind and gets his first major job by joining Captain Mike on the seas.  But before he leaves, he promises Daisy that he will keep writing her via postcard.  For the next few years, Benjamin works in the sea but also travels around the world.  Meanwhile, Daisy has become a professional ballet dancer and enjoys reading the postcards from Benjamin.

While in Russia, Benjamin meets a British woman named Elizabeth.  She looks rather bored and the two develop a friendship where they would meet each other in the wee hours in the morning and talk.  The talk eventually leads to an affair and Benjamin falls in love (despite their rules of their affair, they are not allowed to tell each other that they love the other person).

Unfortunately, the relationship is short lived due to World War II and Pearl Harbor is under attacked.  Elizabeth has taken off and during a meeting for his job, Captain Mike tells the crew that when they go out to sea, they will now be part of the war as they will have to be on a search and rescue and also by doing this, they will be serving the US Navy and their country.  During this time of Benjamin’s life, things become dangerous and the promise of sending postcards back to Daisy is interrupted.

After what had taken place on sea, Benjamin, now 27 years old and looking like he’s around his late 50’s,  returns home to New Orleans. Daisy has come to visit him and tell him of her amazing life as a dancer and Benjamin looks at her, full of life.  She wants to have a night with Benjamin but Benjamin does not want to have any sexual relation with her for a one night stand, since she has to go back to her professional dancing duties.  Upset, the two separate again.

Years have passed and now looking much younger (possibly looking like he’s in his late 40’s), Benjamin finds out that Daisy is a successful ballet dance now living in New York City.  He comes across Thomas Button who is much older and he wants to show him his company that manufactures buttons.  As he visits the company, Thomas comes clear with his secret and tells Benjamin that he is his father.  And learns all the details of what has happened that day he was given up and most of all, his father is dying and wants to pass the business over to Benjamin.

At first Benjamin is distraught and tells his mother Queenie about the situation, but Thomas eventually goes to visit his father who is now at the last legs of his life and wants his father to die in peace by taking him to an area where he can observe the beautiful sky and the sunrise.

Benjamin then decides to go to New York and visit Daisy but learns that she has a boyfriend and sees that she is part of a socialite life and living the time of her life.  Benjamin realizes that they have lived different lives and he leaves.

Years have passed and Benjamin is looking even much more younger, no longer sporting the gray hair or looking like an older man, he’s had his fun with several women but it was not until he receives news that something bad happens to Daisy in Paris, he flies right over.

Daisy was hit by an oncoming car and her leg has been crushed, she would not be able to dance professionally again.  When he visits her, Daisy is shocked but even more surprised of how much younger he looks.  A distraught Daisy tells him that she does not ever want to see him again.

Flash forward to 1962, Benjamin is now 44-years old but looks as if he’s in his 30’s.  He still lives at the retirement home and helps his mother out at the retirement home but one day, Daisy has arrived to New Orleans to meet with Benjamin.  Benjamin and Daisy now feel they are around the same age and become romantic with each other and from that point on, the two share their lives together throughout the 60’s and travel throughout the world.

Meanwhile, when they arrive back in New Orleans, they find out that Queenie has died.  Benjamin decides to sell the Button business and the retirement home to a new owner and he and Daisy would live their lives together.  All is well for the next few years until Daisy tells Benjamin that she is pregnant.  He worries that because of his reverse aging, he can not be a father.  In fact, he can’t bare to think of Daisy having to raise them both.

Without spoiling the final hour of the film, “The Curious Case of BENJAMIN BUTTON” is a wonderfully told story of the adventures of a man who has lived his life differently than most people.  But it’s how both Benjamin and even Daisy have lived their lives to the end that makes the story so compelling, heartwarming and yet heartbreaking.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

When it comes to “THE CRITERION COLLECTION” releases, I have not been disappointed.  The company prides itself in releasing a film with the original director’s intention.  Also, making sure that their releases are quality releases.

For “The Curious Case of BENJAMIN BUTTON”, there were a few segments shot on 35m film but the majority of the film was created in the digital realm, without ever being output to a film element and transferred.  The film was shot on the Viper FilmStream and Sony F23 Digital cameras and color corrected by Jan Yarbrough on FilmLight’s Baselight system.  This High Definition master was converted directly from the Digital Intermediate color space to SMPTE Rec.  709 24 frames-per-seond at 1080p.

The video quality is absolutely gorgeous.  Blacks are black.  No signs of scratches, dirt or artifacts.   Having been shot on digital video, “The Curious Case of BENJAMIN BUTTON” sports magnificent video and just a variety of colors.  You can see the details in every scene and this is just a film that sports stellar picture quality.

As for audio, the original theatrical sound mix was optimized by sound engineer Ron Klyce for home-video listening.  The audio is featured in DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless.  Although the film is primarily a dialogue film, everything from the rain and wind (recreating Hurricane Katrina) to the sound of the boat on sea, the crickets, the sounds of Louisianna and hearing the jazz music in the French quarters, the machine guns and tracer rounds during World War II, every channel on your home theater is utilized.   Of course, this is not an action film  but nevertheless, the film sports crystal clear audio and for scenes that utilize background sounds to the action scenes, you’re getting the best audio presentation.

So, both picture and audio quality are magnificent.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

Now, this is where “The Curious Case of BENJAMIN BUTTON” continues to shine.  I don’t think I have seen the filmmaking process covered so much in detail than what is presented on this Blu-ray disc and because of that, this is one of the best releases in terms of special features that showcase the filmmaking process.

DISC 1:

Audio commentary featuring Academy Award-nominated David Fincher –  David Fincher is one of those director’s that is very detailed on the filmmaking process.  For those who love to hear about the direction and what one wanted to accomplish, this is where you find out the details on what is behind-the-mind of this director.  David Fincher’s commentary was great!  The pacing was good and he kept delivering with details and what he wanted to accomplish.  Very well-done commentary!

DISC 2:

The second disc features the bulk of the features and this disc is packed!

  • The Curious Birth of Benjamin Button – This segment allows you to watch a near 3-hour feature of the making of the film but I highly recommend viewing them separately because there are segments that are separate from the “Play All” feature.  I will have to say that this is the most detailed special feature I have seen on Blu-ray that covers the filmmaking process.  Each feature is quite lengthy, informative and anyone wanting to get into film or appreciate the filmmaking process is going to love this segment.  Here is what is included:

– THE FIRST TRIMESTER

  • Preface – (3:08) Director David Fincher discusses his involvement of the film and discussing how the death of his father and the emotions that he had, came to play in directing this film.
  • Development & Pre-Production – (28:56) Kathleen Kennedy (Producer) and Josh Donen (Former Executive at Universal) discuss how they have been trying to get this film made since 1988.  How it landed in the hands of Frank Oz to Steven Spielberg, to Ron Howard and then Spike Jonze and rewrite after rewrite and nearly two decades later, having David Fincher directing the film.  Very informative details on the pre-production phase.
  • Tech Scouts – (12:21) This segment features the various scouting locations for this film.  “The Curious Case of BENJAMIN BUTTON” features so many locations and so many time periods, that this was going to be a challenge for the film and crew.  But everything worked out (especially in post-production) in making these locations come alive for the characters.
  • Storyboard Gallery – Storyboards of the locations
  • Art Direction Gallery – Gallery on the art direction of the film.

– SECOND TRIMESTER

  • Production Part 1 – (26:09) This featurette includes the casting process and interviews with the cast and behind-the-scenes making of the film.
  • Production Part 2 – (29:03) This featurette features interviews with Donald Graham Burt (Production Deisgner) and the creation of external parts of the homes to make things look authentic of that time period, creation of the tug boat to the silicone casts.  As well as creating a feel of winter with ice and snow during the month of May and everyone interacting with the director.
  • Costume Design – (7:38) Interview with Jacqueline West (Costume Designer) of recreating the various genres and using actual photos from that time period and the script as a way to come up with ideas.
  • Costume Gallery – Gallery of costumes for the film.

– THIRD TRIMESTER

  • Visual Effects: Performance Capture – (7:41) Interviews with Editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall.  Assembly of the sound and how they interacted with the Director of what worked and what didn’t work.
  • Visual Effects: Benjamin – (16:55) One of my favorite features on how they did the face replacements.  Interviews with Eric Barba (Visual Effects Supervisor) and the various production meetings they had in getting things right.  Interview with Paul Lambert and Janelle Crenshaw, Compositing Supervisors of Digital Domain.  How they would capture Brad’s face, use of silicone masks and how one wanted to quit because what the filmmakers wanted didn’t seem possible.  But they managed to make it happen.  Building of a new system to capture the face of the talents and using tracking and High Dynamic Range technology.
  • Visual Effects: Youthenization – (6:21) Featuring interviews with Greg Strause, Visual Effects Supervisor for Hydrauls and Edson Williams, Visual Effects Supervisor at Lola and how they would make the talents look younger using digital facelifts and cosmetic enhancements.  Working with a plastic surgeon who helped make things right with his comments and utilizing software to make the the talent look years younger.
  • Visual Effects: The Chelsea – (8:48) Interviews with Nathan McGuiness (Visual Effects Supervisor of Asylum) and Jascon Shugardt (Additional Visual Effects Supervisor of Asylum) who were responsible for the tug boat scenes.  Creating the water and backdrop and make things look real, especially during World War II and everything that relates to the tug boat, the Chelsea.
  • Visual Effects: The Simulated World – (12:52) – Craig Barron (Visual Effects Supervisor of Matted World) – How they would make certain locations come alive and feel they are from that genre, such as old Louisianna, New York City and Russia.  Also, how Thomas Buttons home was created via CG and mimicing reality and simulating environments.  Their goal was to create a real world from the virtual world.  Also, to make certain scenes consistent with lighting and sunshine when in reality there were rain clouds or gray clouds, etc.
  • Sound Design (16:03) Skywalker Sound in Marin, County featuring an interview with Ran Klyce (Sound Designer) who wanted to capture everything from children playing outdoors, horses walking and utilizing those sounds for a period piece.  From capturing the sound of jazz music at the French Quarters and achieving the quiet dialogue that the Director wanted.  But the challenge was getting Benjamin’s voice when he was younger and then using Cate Blanchett’s voice for young Elle Fanning (who plays young Daisy).  Very informative and interesting commentary.
  • Desplats Instrumentarium – (14:52) Making the music for the film with the direction of David Fincher.  Alexandere Desplat behind the scenes at the studio and with an orchestra.

– BIRTH

  • The Premiere of the film at the New Orleans Benefit Screening to a live audience – (4:20) Director David Fincher and Brad Pitt talking to the audience.
  • Production Stills
  • Trailers – The following segment features two theatrical trailers.  One with the duration of 1:44 and the other at 2:42.
  • Still Galleries – This segment features the storyboard, art direction, costumes, production stills
  • Subtitles

Also, included in this release is a three page essay by Kent Jones (author of “Physical Evidence: Selected Film Criticism”) about Director David Fincher and the film “The Curious Case of BENJAMIN BUTTON”.

“The Curious Case of BENJAMIN BUTTON” is a fantastic film!

The pacing of the film takes its time and thus it is told in 165 minutes but it’s the gradual ride of watching Benjamin’s life unfold in our very eyes through the various decades.  To watch the people that touched his life and vice versa, but then once you get to the third leg of the film where he and Daisy are now around the same age and fall in love, you just anticipate how things will end.

Screenwriter Eric Roth knows how to captivate the audience.  He manages to slowly pace things in a format that many may compare to another film which he wrote, “Forrest Gump” but is anything but.  The acting of the talents are just amazingly well done and makes every scene come alive.  Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett are both magnificent in this film but the supporting actors, may it be Tilda Swinton as Elizabeth Abbot for her scene with Benjamin in Russia or Benjamin’s mother Queenie played by Taraji P. Henson and even Jarrid Harri as Captain Mike, each of these characters contribute to this movie and have all brought something special.

With the direction of David Fincher, screenplay by Eric Roth and the acting sequences to be tremendous, the film continues to marvel with its beautiful cinematography and what was created technically via visual effects.

“The Curious Case of BENJAMIN BUTTON” has gone farther in technical achievement and pushing veterans in their field to do what was considered impossible.  Every scene featuring an elder Benjamin Button to the ballet dancing Daisy, were all other talents but with technology, the ability to take Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett’s face and mannerisms and digitally make things come together.  Everything looks realistic.  And nothing looks fake, the virtual world looks realistic.

This crew had to capture the 1920’s all the way up to the present and everything from scouting locations, visual effects, costume design, set design everything came together fluidly and looks so amazing!  And the fact that nearly everything was created digitally, the high definition transfer of the film was absolutely perfect.

Great care went to the visuals, the audio and the fact that this is part of the CRITERION COLLECTION, quality is what we got in all levels and I can’t imagine why a cinemaphile would not like this Blu-ray.  It’s absolutely reaches perfection on all three levels of picture and audio quality and special features.

“The Curious Case of BENJAMIN BUTTON – THE CRITERION COLLECTION” reaches perfection on all levels for this Blu-ray release.  For fans of film and the creation of film, this is the type of release that one can just be happy with.  You definitely get your money’s worth.

Highly recommended!






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