Tuesday, May 5, 2009

DVD review: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

I am not trying to be flip when I say that the impressive set of extras that come with the two-disc DVD edition of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" are more enjoyable to watch than the movie itself.

Despite a Best Picture Oscar nomination, "Benjamin Button" curiously lacked emotional punch. The tale of a man who is born old and ages backward (based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald) was an unmitigated technological triumph, as director David Fincher and an army of computer animators believably changed Brad Pitt from a handsome middle-aged movie star into a decrepit old man and eventually a teen, and every age in between.

But even though the nearly three-hour running time skips along crisply, the film fails to resonate on a human level. Pitt comes across as a Zelig-like figure, trotting through history without his journey ever coalescing into a coherent theme or purpose. Even an affecting performance by Cate Blanchett as Benjamin's lifelong love doesn't overpower the fascinating physical transformation they both go through.

Every minute detail of how this change was achieved is explored in the special edition DVD (from the unmatched Criterion Collection). We see how a succession of body doubles wearing blue masks performed the early scenes, and Pitt -- wearing green kabuki face paint -- is recorded, his features aged and transposed onto the body.

The extensive featurettes can be watched individually, or as a single hefty making-of documentary that touches on every aspect of the production. Producers are unusually forthright in describing the two-decade-long process to bring "Benjamin Button" to the screen, with a succession of directors dropping out.

There is also a lavish set of still galleries including the entire film storyboard, and feature-length commentary by Fincher. In digesting all this material, one senses how seriously the entire cast and crew approached making this movie. Unwittingly, the extras provide an arresting portrait of a filmmaking effort gone awry.

Movie: 2 stars
Extras: 4 stars

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