“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 all of us, who is unable to stop time.
Films are a truly fascinating art form; each one speaks differently to each person. When we watch a film, we bring with us our personal experiences, successes, failures, hopes and dreams. It is for this reason that some movies spark an interest in some and fail to excite others. However, David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button represents that rare film that is capable of speaking to everyone in the audience, both young and old.

The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonBenjamin is born in New Orleans, just as World War I is ending and there’s something immediately peculiar about him: He is a normal size for a baby but he has all the physical features of an eighty-year-old man. Abandoned by his father Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng) (his mother died in childbirth) on the doorstep of an old-folks home and taken in by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), a kindly African American nurse. You’d think an old-folks home would be a good environment to raise a baby that looks like an old man. In a notable departure from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original story, Benjamin has the mental faculties of a child at birth and grows into a kind of mental adulthood, as his body moves back toward boyhood.
As Benjamin gets older, he starts to look and feel younger. He has all the natural curiosity and immaturity of a youth, stuck in a body that borders on decrepit. Played by Brad Pitt, his meticulously make-up aged face is digitally attached to bodies of the appropriate smallness. For a film that’s not about the special effects, the special effects here are amazing. The crew did a great job making it all look seamless; if that part of it hadn’t been so effective, the movie could have easily been a failure.
Anyway, when Benjamin is about 10 (and looking 70), he meets Daisy, the granddaughter of one of the old folks he and Queenie live with. She realizes it’s only his body that’s old, that his mind and soul are her own age, and they become partners in childish mischief. It’s the start of a love story that develops slowly over decades.
The movie itself spans Benjamin’s entire life, we watch as he sets out to see the world. He joins a tugboat crew run by Capt. Mike (Jared Harris), goes to Russia, attracts the admiration of a British envoy’s wife (Tilda Swinton), then becomes part of the U.S. war effort after Pearl Harbor is bombed and Capt. Mike’s ship is enlisted by the Navy. Daisy, meanwhile, becomes a dancer in New York and gets caught up in the worldliness of the post-war era, reading D.H. Lawrence and hanging out with beatniks. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is by no means a complicated film, just one that covers a lot of territory. By doing this, viewers are able to apply their own life experiences to Benjamin’s journey. Each person is bound to find a different meaning in the film but there is something for everyone.
Much of the credit for the success of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has to go to director David Fincher. His visual mastery and unsentimental approach doesn’t try to manipulate the audience’s emotions. He plays the story out as it is; as with any life, there’s celebration, sadness, accomplishment and failure. One never fails forced into a particular emotion which is a mistake many notable directors have made in the past. Instead, he allows the audience to take from the story whatever they wish. The fact that Fincher nor screenwriter Eric Roth never really acknowledge the unrealistic nature of the premise, allows the audience to go along for the magical ride as well.
The anamorphic transfer preserves the film’s 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio and all of its digital characteristics. The image is low-key and the colors subdued, much of the time looking like early silent-film monochrome. The picture can often look glossy, too, with strong white contrasts, which almost gleam off the screen. Hues are fine when Fincher chooses to emphasize them. The same with the film’s definition, which is usually soft and plushy but can, look extraordinarily sharp on occasion as well.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio sounds clear and clean. It crisply articulates dialogue and other midrange sonics, while nicely extending bass and highs. The engineers use the surrounds subtly to complement the primary sound, yet during the big fireworks, storm, crowd, and war scenes, they open up the rear speakers robustly, along with utilizing a tremendously wide dynamic range and a strong dynamic impact.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button debuts on DVD with plenty of special 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 informative. His information is pertinent and insightful, discussing the small tidbits of the film. 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 (2:55:24), a documentary longer 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 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 shooting of several 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 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. 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 is a pair of theatrical trailers (1:49 & 2:42).