Blu-Ray Review: ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ Mesmerizes in Criterion Edition

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CHICAGO – I have been writing about DVDs and now Blu-Ray titles for the better part of a decade and have literally worked my way through hundreds of them and the Criterion Blu-Ray release for the widely acclaimed and Oscar-nominated “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett is one of the best home releases I’ve ever seen.

HollywoodChicago.com Blu-Ray Rating: 5.0/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 5.0/5.0

If you somehow missed it during its critically-acclaimed theatrical run, director David Fincher’s shockingly ambitious film tells the story of a man born as an old man and aging in reverse. What would you learn about life if you lived it in the other direction? If you were born with the calm wisdom of an older gentleman, how would it affect the way you approach the world?

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was released on Blu-Ray on May 5th, 2009.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was released on Blu-Ray on May 5th, 2009.
Photo credit: Paramount/Criterion

After his mother dies in childbirth, Benjamin is taken in by a woman (Taraji P. Henson) who runs an elderly home. Because he looks old, Ben fits in with the elderly but still has the optimism of a child. At the home, Ben (Brad Pitt) meets Daisy (first played by Elle Fanning and later by Cate Blanchett) and the two form a bond that will serve as the through line for the entire film. Fincher and writer Eric Roth weave in and out of the love story and include a sailor (Jared Harris) and an affair with a married woman (Tilda Swinton).

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was released on Blu-Ray on May 5th, 2009.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was released on Blu-Ray on May 5th, 2009.
Photo credit: Paramount/Criterion

Pitt, Blanchett, and Henson are spectacular in this modern fairy tale that’s almost purposefully designed NOT to provoke an emotional response. Fincher is a director who likes to keep his audience at arm’s length. He’s the anti-Spielberg, far more interested in the recreation of something “Curious” than sentimental. It’s an expertly made film by one of the best directors alive and it’s a work that gets significantly better on repeat viewing.

Most DVD and Blu-Ray releases serve simple purposes. They bring a film home usually with a pretty standard video & audio transfer and special features that accompany the work. Every once in awhile, a home release does more than the standard and those are the ones that deserve your attention. The Criterion edition of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is one of those rare releases.

Why? To start, the film was practically made for Blu-Ray. The merging of the digital and the human at the very core of the film’s title character nearly demands that you see it in HD. Whatever you may say about the film itself, it’s design and effects can not be slighted and the movie looks and sounds as good as anything I’ve ever seen in the form. Honestly, the picture and audio quality nearly brings a tear to my eye and I look at HD Blu-Rays every single day. “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Godfather” are the two Blu-Rays I usually reach for first to show off the potential of HD. This is the new number one.

What truly separates the “Button” Criterion release is something that this company has been doing for years. They assemble special features that don’t just ‘accompany’ a film, they enhance it. There’s no filler on a Criterion release. You won’t see a “Button” gag reel.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was released on Blu-Ray on May 5th, 2009.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was released on Blu-Ray on May 5th, 2009.
Photo credit: Paramount/Criterion

What you will find is one of the best filmmaking documentaries in years - “The Curious Birth of Benjamin Button”. Running even longer than the film itself at 175 minutes, the documentary chronicles the entire process but not in a cold, EPK way, but through the words of the people who made it. It’s an oral history of an ambitious, complex film from early draft attempts through the complex post-production. If you’re interested in how a film gets made, even if you don’t like Fincher’s work, you must see this documentary. It’s a stunner.

The incredibly well-spoken and interesting David Fincher also sat down for an audio commentary and Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett came in for interviews, but the three-hour documentary is all you’ll really need. I can’t stress its quality level strongly enough.

And what about the film itself? Hearing Fincher discuss his intent with the film allowed a few of my initial flaws with the final product to fall away. Maybe it was the rush of expectation and the exhaustion of awards season, but I think I undervalued the film a few months ago and it’s a work that I look forward to watching multiple times over the years. The fact is that most of Fincher’s films have aged well (go watch “Zodiac” again if you don’t believe me) and I think “Button” will age better than most (pun only mildly intended).

There are very honest “must-owns” on the Blu-Ray market. Some have been surprised that the technology hasn’t taken off as quickly as they predicted. It’s because most of the HD releases aren’t significantly better than the standard DVD released at the same time. If there were more titles like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” were released, that perception would change quickly. Even if you don’t own a Blu-Ray player, buy the Criterion version of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. It’s one of the first things that you’ll want to watch on it when you eventually do.

‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ is released by Paramount Home Video and stars Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Jared Harris, Jason Flemyng, and Tilda Swinton. It was written by Eric Roth and directed by David Fincher. The film was released on May 5th, 2009. It is rated PG-13.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

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