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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button(2008)
"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.
For more about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and the The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Blu-ray release, see the The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on May 1, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Julia Ormond, Jason Flemyng, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali
Director: David Fincher
» See full cast & crew
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Blu-ray Review
This masterful film receives a masterful treatment courtesy of Criterion.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, May 1, 2009
You can be mad as a mad dog at the way things went. You can swear and curse the fates. But when it comes to the end, you have to let go.
A man is born, lives, and dies. Simplicity at its peak. Nature at its best. The world revolving as always. Nothing new, nothing surprising, nothing noteworthy -- until something changes. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button tells the story of a man's life, his physical and emotional growth, his struggles, his triumphs, his failures, his loves, and his death. He leads a normal life, one filled with sweeping adventures, love, friendship, happiness, sorrow, and all of life's emotions and experiences that define one's character, one's heart, and one's soul. In the eyes of the passer-by, at a glance, a snapshot, or an instant -- Benjamin's Button's life was no more or no less interesting than that of most others -- except for the fact that he experienced it backwards. Born an infant but with the physical characteristics of an elderly man, and growing younger rather than older with time, the entirety of Benjamin's life was marked by his astonishing and seemingly incomprehensible development. Regardless of his differences, no matter his stage in life, and despite his very existence that defied all logic and scientific explanation, Benjamin's place in the world remained firmly grounded in love -- both given and received. Stamina, strength, vision, and hair may come and go, but man's one everlasting quality, no matter his age or physical appearance -- the simple act of love -- proves once again to be the foundation of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual contentment regardless of how normal, or abnormal, a man may be.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, based on the short story of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby), tells the tale of Benjamin (Brad Pitt, Seven Years in Tibet), a man born the size of an infant but with all the characteristics of an aged gentleman. His mother dead as a result of labor complications, Benjamin is left on the steps of a New Orleans nursing home by his father on the night of his birth, the same day the city is celebrating the end of the first World War. Taken in by the gentle-hearted Queenie (Taraji P. Henson, Not Easily Broken), Benjamin defies all odds, surviving one year to the next and growing taller -- and younger. As time passes, Benjamin's crooked back and hands straighten; his once-bald head grows hair; and he finds himself no longer confined to a wheelchair. Over the years, Benjamin discovers the true meaning of life on board a tugboat, in war, and in the arms of the girl he's loved since childhood, Daisy (Cate Blanchett, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). While he grows younger, the world around him matures. Friends and relatives die, love comes and goes, but his heart and soul remain steady, fashioned over time by those who took a chance on -- and loved -- a human being living a blessed, unusual, and certainly curious life.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a movie about life and death, but also about what defines man in between those dates etched in stone at the end of days. The process of living -- the people and the experiences that shape a man's fundamental understanding of himself and the world around him -- depends not on a number, a tuft of hair, a physical countenance, or even the ability to walk, talk, or fully comprehend the world, but rather on the heart and its ability to give and receive, to cherish and accept, no matter the circumstances. Unconditional love -- that which defined Benjamin's life and, in particular, both his formative and final years -- served as the foundation to his very existence, the fact that he was born wrinkly and ill or died a smooth, unblemished baby mattered not to those that saw fit to give their hearts fully and in turn receive the joys of love returned in their lives. Those two individuals that shaped Benjamin's life -- his caregiver and de facto mother Queenie and his lifelong love interest Daisy -- each accepted Benjamin not as a curiosity or an accident of nature but rather as a human being, worthy of love, affection, acceptance, understanding, and happiness.
Aside from being an emotionally stirring and deeply profound masterpiece that shows that it is the whole of the experience of one's life and the importance of one constant -- love -- rather than a snapshot or even a biologically-correct series of stages and events that makes a man, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is also a technical triumph, the film awarded with thirteen Oscar nominations, including Best Motion Picture, Best Achievement in Directing (David Fincher, Se7en), Best Performance By an Actor in a Leading Role (Brad Pitt), and Best Performance By an Actress in a Supporting Role (Taraji P. Henson). Henson's character, Queenie, serves as the film's emotional core and most important character. In many ways, she represents the ideal human being, one who always offers a helping hand to those in need and regardless of their physical and mental capacities. More than any other, she shapes Benjamin's life through a continuous display of tenderness and affection, taking him in as her own, looking past his most curious superficialities, and seeing instead a soul which, thanks to her guidance, remains forever young. The film also features seamless transitions from one version of Button to the next. As the years go by and the man grows younger, the passage from one look to the next never interrupts the flow of the film, sacrifices believability, or otherwise takes the audience out of the story.
Most importantly, though, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a sweet movie, one told with the utmost respect and compassion for the story, the characters, and even cinema itself. The story is both at once spellbinding and expertly-crafted into a simple and innocent yet incredibly moving and effective picture. Perhaps not since Sling Blade has a movie said so much about the power of love in the face of difficult challenges and circumstances revolving around ordinary, everyday life. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button deals with the complexities of life made more challenging by one man's unusual experience, but despite what is often weighty subject matter, the film remains tender and gentle in its approach, look, and feel. The warm, inviting and sometimes sepia-toned interiors, roughly-reproduced flashback scenes (complete with fading, jumping, scratches, and dirt galore), and some surreal imagery all compliment the tone of the film wonderfully. Brad Pitt's narration, too, is superb, his tone and delivery perfectly matched to the incredibly well-written and sometimes even poetic words that both move the story forward and serve as a source of fascination and enthrallment throughout.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button unfolds on Blu-ray with a stellar 1080p, 2.39:1-framed transfer. Shot almost exclusively -- and transfered to Blu-ray -- digitally, this transfer is a pristine example of high definition photography at its very best. From the opening studio logos where a cloudburst of buttons rain onto the screen and onward, the image impresses, this opening scene only hinting at the clarity and definition of the transfer to come. Parts of the transfer are less-than-pristine, but intentionally so; some of the flashbacks scenes show intentional damage and wear: vertical lines run through the image, accompanied by flickering, spots, and speckles, reminiscent, in a way, of Planet Terror but here instead intending to recreate the look of film from a far earlier era than the 1970s. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button features plenty of dark scenes; the opening nighttime shots in post-World War One New Orleans feature deep and dark blacks, while interior shots offer a heavy yellow and golden tint, many colors washed away under the sepia-toned appearance. Detail is excellent, too. The crusty brick walls of Queenie's bedroom reveal plenty of texture and information, while the more lavishly-appointed, warmer, and more inviting interior of the nursing home looks relaxed and cozy. The inside of a revival tent, too, seen in chapter three, reveals all the grime and dirt on the cloth sides. When the film sees brighter colors, it truly sparkles. Young Daisy's bright blue eyes dominate every frame they are in; the yellow of a taxi features an extraordinarily real tone; and various outdoor shots offer vibrant greens that are stunning, to say the least, across the entire spectrum. Flesh tones, too, are rendered nicely. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button's digital transfer is sharp as a tack and makes for a reference Blu-ray disc from Criterion.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button features a high quality and realistic DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. The film presents a broad spectrum of sonic experiences, each excelling in the lossless presentation. Subtle sound effects that add a lifelike touch to the film sound great in most every segment. Rain hitting the window, the sounds of the medical machines in the room, and the chatter in the hallways of the 2005 New Orleans hospital, all make for a nice, realistic experience. The track picks up in intensity as it flashes back to the night of the end of the Great War. Fireworks explode all around the soundstage with solid, deep, and rattling lows while revelers cheer in the streets and cause quite the audible ruckus, the listener immediately placed in their midst. Music, too, deeply and clearly penetrates the listening area, with a wonderful amount of detail and clarity, focused mainly in the front but with strong rear-channel and subwoofer support. Many sound effects are quite powerful; the blasts of thunder that precede Hurricane Katrina and the fog horn of Captain Mike's tugboat, for example, feature tight, low bass and a realistic presence. Perhaps most impressive is a shootout on the high seas during World War Two. Presented in chapter seven, the sequence is a sonic marvel, the tracer rounds audibly flying across the soundstage with the impacts of the bullets both heard and felt as they clank off metal in every corner of the listening area. Also featuring clear and precise dialogue reproduction, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button makes for an outstanding soundtrack.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button debuts on Blu-ray with plenty of bonus features, most of which may be found on a second disc. Inside the case is a small insert with technical notes on the video and audio transfer, supplemental video credits, key cast and crew listings, and the essay The Man Who Watched the World Go By by Kent Jones. Disc one of the set begins with a commentary track featuring Director David Fincher. Fincher offers a solid track that flows well and proves entertaining and informative. His information is pertinent and insightful, discussing the small tidbits of the film and lines of dialogue that lend to the film it's overall feel, casting, the performances, effects, and plenty more. Also included is a timeline where viewers may select a scene based on the segment of the film or the themes of the commentary.
Disc two features The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (1080i, 2:55:24), a documentary lengthier than the film itself. The piece is divided into four sections (First, Second, and Third Trimester and Birth) with some segments not included in the "play all" option. First Trimester begins with Preface (3:08), a short piece featuring Director David Fincher discussing life, death, and briefly touching on the overreaching theme of the film. Development and Pre-Production (28:56) examines the history of the project more than 20 years in the making, featuring a series of interviews with most of the primary cast and crew and behind-the-scenes footage, focusing on, among other things, the casting, the proposed use of technology in the film, and the shooting locations. Next up in First Trimester are three features not included in the "play all" option: Tech Scouts (12:23), a piece featuring the crew discussing shooting locations and how they will be incorporated into the film, Storyboard Gallery, and Art Direction Gallery.
Second Trimester begins with Production: Part 1 (26:15) and Production: Part 2, a pair of segments that look at the making of various scenes and a discussion of the breadth of the production, populated by raw behind-the-scenes footage, plenty of interview clips with cast and crew, a look at the construction of props, sets, and special effects, the challenge of assembling some shots and creating specific looks for each location, the importance of precise acting to the film, and more. Also included are two features not included in the "play all" option, the self-describing Costume Design (7:38) and Costume Gallery.
Third Trimester focuses on effects and music. Visual Effects: Performance Capture (7:43) looks at the role that advanced, computer-based effects techniques played in bringing the movie to life. Visual Effects: Benjamin (16:55) takes a highly fascinating look at the complexities of bringing Benjamin's character to life, showing the lengthy physical and digital processes necessary to get the look and performance just right. Visual Effects: Youthenization (6:21) looks at the technology behind "digital facelifts." Visual Effects: 'The Chelsea' (8:48) examines the process of bringing the ship and the environments around it to realistic life. Visual Effects: The Simulated World (12:52) features an examination of bringing historical locations to the screen. Sound Design (16:06) takes an interesting look at adding to and editing the film's sound effects and dialogue. Finally, Desplat's Instrumentarium (14:53) takes an in-depth look at the film's score.
Birth features two segments. First up is Premiere (4:20), a short but entertaining piece showcasing the film's New Orleans premiere on December 1, 2008, accompanied by reflections from the cast and crew. Also included is a segment not available via the "play all" option, Production Stills. Rounding out the supplements are a pair of theatrical trailers (1080p, 1:49 & 2:42).
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Suffice it to say, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button represents cinema at its finest. Recounting a simple tale; easing the burden of, but not eliminating, the more weighty and deeper complexities of the narrative; and presented with tenderness and affection for the story, the characters, and the medium of film itself, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button makes for enthralling, moving, and important cinema. Though failing to garner the Best Picture Oscar in a year featuring several deserving films, there is no doubt that it will continue to be recognized as a monumental accomplishment in filmmaking for its approach, themes, acting, and special effects. The Criterion Collection presents The Curious Case of Benjamin Button on Blu-ray with stellar results, the disc easily one of the best overall packages on the market, taking into account the strength of the film, the reference-grade technical presentation, and the inclusion of plenty of worthwhile bonus features. This disc easily and enthusiastically earns my highest recommendation.
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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Today on Blu-ray - May 5th - May 5, 2009
Before we start, I'd like to apologize for not posting my usual weekly post last week. External events consumed my available time last Tuesday, and with no time to write a proper post, I elected to skip it altogether. But we're back this week with a couple of huge ...
• Benjamin Button Gets Criterion Treatment - March 19, 2009
The Criterion Collection in conjunction with Paramount Home Entertainment have announced the technical specs and special features for the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button', which is due to hit store shelves on May 5th, day-and-date ...
• Paramount's Oscar Winners/Nominees Get Blu-ray Dates - March 19, 2009
Paramount Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring the Academy Award-winning film 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' on May 5th, day-and-date with the DVD release. Additionally, they will bring the Academy Award-nominated films 'Revolutionary Road' ...
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