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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button BD impressions

Blu-ray

A couple of nights back, we watched the BD release of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and I must confess that I found it a real disappointment, considering that I’ve enjoyed everything else David Fincher has signed his name to. This is his first true misfire, a bloated, overlong and fundamentally insincere fictional biopic based on a premise that simply can’t sustain itself for its duration. The film, which was stuck in development hell for years, is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Eric “Forrest Gump” Roth’s script plods lethargically from scene to scene, failing to give us anything noteworthy beyond the central gimmick that the protagonist ages backwards. I haven’t read Fitzgerald’s short story, but I assume it must have played better in that form, because there’s nothing in the material to justify the film’s running time of almost three hours. At times, it seems more like a tech demo for digital de-ageing technology than anything else. It actually pains me to see a director of Fincher’s calibre wasting his time with a sluggish, maudlin biopic such as this. I know a lot of people felt that Panic Room was beneath him, but at least it was well-paced, engaging and, most importantly, entertaining. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button will make you go “Wow, how did they do that?” a couple of times, but that’s about it.

The BD release is a joint venture from Paramount and Criterion, but from what I understand of the matter, Paramount was responsible for the lion’s share of the disc’s content, including the encode and all the extras. (Perusing the reactions to Criterion basically “whoring out” their “C” logo is actually more entertaining than watching the film.) Regardless of who was responsible for the transfer, though, they did a bang-up job. Barring a small number of 35mm-based inserts, Fincher shot the movie digitally, and while you can debate the relative merits of the technology’s aesthetics (personally I find it to be remarkably dead-looking, although this may be partly due to the sheer amount of CG manipulation), there’s no denying that the BD looks spectacular in a technical sense. Whereas Fincher’s previous film, Zodiac (also shot digitally), suffered from some slight edge enhancement in its BD/HD DVD incarnation, you won’t find any of that here - just a pin-sharp image that reproduces every single pore and wrinkle that hasn’t been airbrushed out as part of the de-ageing process. The one overt flaw that I noted in the image was some rather pronounced ringing during the sequence where Brad Bitt and Cate Blanchett cavort in the sea and on the beach (see Example 12). This could be a flaw of the original photography or it could be the result of some form of manipulation, but it distracts for less than a minute. A very solid effort all round. 9.5/10

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
studio: Criterion; country: USA; region code: A; codec: AVC;
file size: 44.2 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 38.18 Mbit/sec

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Posted: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 7:46 PM | Comments: 8
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology

 
Comments

1.

"considering that I�ve enjoyed everything else David Fincher has signed his name to."

Does that include Alien 3?

Posted by: D. Pincher, May 20, 2009 8:43 PM

2.

Bugger - knew there was one I’d forgotten. Okay, I’ve enjoyed Se7en, Fight Club, The Game, Panic Room and Zodiac. :)

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, May 20, 2009 10:52 PM

3.

Alien 3 is underrated. It's a sloppy mess, but not due to Fincher. It's remarkably dark, too, and he did do his hardest to prevent sequels with that ending.

Oh, and I agree on the script of Button, but I think the directors, cast and crew did a remarkable job at capturing ephemera.

Posted by: Tyler, May 21, 2009 1:24 AM

4.

Oh, and the cinematography was damn good too. It doesn't look dead to me at all. Fincher does make digital look distinct without looking sterile or like film. The use of color and shadow is incredibly rich.

Posted by: Tyler, May 21, 2009 1:26 AM

5.

I've also enjoyed nearly anything Fincher has done with the exception of Alien 3, so I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Those who enjoy his films and have yet to see his music video work, he did a FANTASTIC music video for Madonna in the early 90s entitled "Bad Girl" with Christopher Walken playing a death-like figure. Wonderful color recreation of film noir.

Posted by: Marcus, May 24, 2009 4:26 AM

6.

...What on Earth was the point of the present day scenes involving Hurricane Katrina? I've seen better framing devices in British horror anthologies of the 1970s.

Posted by: Marcus, May 26, 2009 8:27 AM

7.

Beats me, unless it was a lazy “Look, this shit is IMPORTANT!” ploy.

What did you think of the film overall, Marcus?

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, May 26, 2009 9:41 AM

8.

Well, first the good: I found it watchable, enjoyable, and above all visually stunning. But if it wasn't for Alien 3, I'd consider this Fincher's worst so far. As you said the film does not take advantage of its fascinating idea. The F. Scott Fritzgerald story had Button born as an old man both physically and mentally, while the filmmakers have the brilliant idea of making it a merely physical trait. But instead of doing something interesting with it, Eric Roth simply rewrites Forrest Gump all over again.

Benjamin Button himself, despite being a fantastic special effects enhancement, is a dull character with no purpose or motivation. Last but not least Fincher is just the wrong man for the job. Forrest Gump at least had a director who knew how to pull off corny melodramatic epics, Fincher is too cold and technical of a director to do this.

Once again this year's Academy Awards Best Picture list was by far one of the most disturbing I've ever seen, despite fair qualifications of Milk and Slumdog Millionare... giving Oscar whores like Benjamin Button (Forrest Gump 2.0), The Reader (All Things Fair 2.0), and Frost/Nixon (The Queen 2.0) nominations was a big no-no. Especially considering The Wrestler, Doubt, and Wall-E were far better films (and even got better reviews as far as I know).

Posted by: Marcus, May 26, 2009 5:32 PM

Comments on this entry and all entries up to and including June 31st 2009 have been closed. The discussion continues on the new Land of Whimsy blog:

http://www.landofwhimsy.com

 

 
 
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