Big Stars, a Big Budget and 13 Oscar Nominations
Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett give fine performances in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), which was nominated for 13 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Pitt) and Best Supporting Actress (Taraji P. Henson). The film is masterfully crafted and won Oscars for Art Direction, Makeup and Visual Effects.
The movie was inspired by a 1922 F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, but the filmmakers kept almost nothing of Fitzgerald's except his title and his premise: Benjamin Button ages backward, that is, he is born an old man, gradually gets younger as the years go by, and is an infant at the time of his death. This sounds gimmicky, but one of the film's great achievements is to seamlessly integrate technical wizardry, strong acting and eloquent visual storytelling so that the movie plays as an epic.
The film is set mostly in New Orleans, and the time period covered is 1918 to 2005. Oddly structured, the movie chronicles various episodes in Benjamin's life, one of the interesting ones being a sojourn in Russia during which he has an affair with an unhappily married woman (Tilda Swinton). But most of the key scenes involve Daisy (Blanchett), a free-spirited dancer who is the love of Benjamin's life. However, there are problems that severely limit the amount of time he and Daisy are able to spend together as a couple.
For some viewers, The Curious Case is a long, slow-moving, rambling movie that doesn't offer much dramatic tension. However, for those of us who can get into it, it's a stately, beautiful, lyrical, hypnotic, melancholy meditation on life's transience.
DVD Bonus Materials on the Criterion Collection Two-Disc Set
The Criterion Collection DVD set containing The Curious Case of Benjamin Button provides three-and-a-quarter hours of video extras plus four stills galleries. There are no scholarly observations and little critical analysis. Instead, the focus is on production history and technical aspects.
If you select Play All on the Supplements disc, you start an extensive, high-quality making-of documentary that runs nearly three hours. Alternatively, you can navigate the menu and choose from 12 different entry points into the documentary. If you're interested in how the film got made, including the decision to change the setting from Baltimore to New Orleans, try "Development and pre-production." If you want to learn about locations and sets, watch "Production: Part 1" and "Production: Part 2." Perhaps the most noteworthy material can be accessed via the four entry points labeled "Visual effects," which show how one actor's head is made to appear to be on another actor's body and how an actor can be made to look years younger ("youthinization").
There are two fairly good featurettes that are not shown when you select Play All. By selecting "Tech Scouts," you can watch the crew at various locations making plans about how they intend to shoot specific scenes. If you select "Costume design," Jacqueline West will talk about the 5000 costumes in the film, including Blanchett's wonderful red dress.
The DVD set also supplies a feature-length audio commentary by director David Fincher. He covers a wealth of detail, but the typical listener is likely to suffer fatigue.
Kent Jones' Essay
Packaged with the two discs is a six-page booklet containing a roughly 1400-word essay by film critic Kent Jones, who writes that director David Fincher "achieve[s] a vision of time so heartbreakingly acute as to rival those of John Ford and Orson Welles." Don't fail to read this thoughtful essay since it's the only part of the Criterion Collection package that seriously addresses the film's artistry, as opposed to technical know-how. As Jones points out, the movie "never stops to linger over this or that technical achievement. Fincher stays true to the character and the story."
Below I have listed all the details for the Criterion Collection two-disc DVD set containing The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. (Note: There is also a single-disc DVD edition that contains only the feature film.)
Release Date: May 5, 2009
Number of Discs: 2
Feature Film Runtime: 2 hours 46 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Brief War Violence, Sexual Content, Language and Smoking
Widescreen (2.40:1), Color
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Captions for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Audio Commentary by Director David Fincher
The Curious Birth of Benjamin Button (2 hr. 55 min.)
Tech Scouts (12 1/2 min.)
Costume Design (7 1/2 min.)
Storyboard Gallery (Stills)
Art Direction Gallery (Stills)
Costume Gallery (Stills)
Essay by Film Critic Kent Jones