The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Rating – ***1/2

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Finally David Fincher, in my opinion the most brilliant director of his generation and the closest thing we have to a modern-day Kubrick, has been recognised by the people who hand out shiny gold statues. He’s already delivered a couple of undeniable masterpieces (Se7en and Fight Club) without even one lousy nomination. The strange thing is, Benjamin Button isn’t even his best film. But it’s the first time Fincher has shown his warm fuzzy Spielberg-ian side. Also, comparisons to Forrest Gump are inevitable but don’t actually do Button any favours. Gump was a below average man who lived a life defined by incredible events. But Button doesn’t do too many notable things other than try to cope with his unique life cycle. I was surprised by the lack of focus in parts of the film. The key to entire story is the touching but doomed romance between Pitt and Blanchett. So why do we need to spend such a long time sailing around the world and getting caught up in sea battles? The production design and visual effects are astounding throughout this section of the film but it adds little to Button’s character, all he does is duck for cover! I watched several people walk out around this point, obviously they were morons but it’s worth noting. Lets call it The Laborious Case of Benjamin Button, which is probably why this review is so long!

Once Pitt and Blanchett cross paths again the film gets back on track. The central concept is so perfect, moving and bittersweet. Pitt sums it up with his flawless delivery of the line “I was just thinking how nothing lasts… and what a shame that is”. After that blissful period where their ages meet in the middle, the rapid decline is heartbreaking and actually quite haunting. Towards the end, Fincher has a perfect moment to end the film but he continues for five or ten minutes longer without adding much. I also question the decision to frame the film with scenes of an elderly Blanchett on her hospital deathbed. They detract from the timeless fairytale glow of the period scenes. And worse still, they loosely resemble the often parodied old lady scenes in Titanic.

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As for the cutting edge CGI, this is when I wish I wasn’t in the film industry and that I wasn’t aware of exactly how they did it. Instead of just watching the film I was scrutinising every single shot and occasionally wincing from the most subtle tell-tale signs of digital trickery. This is stunning work, a breakthrough worthy of inclusion in VFX history alongside The Abyss, T2, Jurassic Park, and The Matrix. By using a 100% CGI head to portray the central human character for almost an hour, Fincher and his crew plunge deep into the treacherous “Uncanny Valley”. They soar over the smouldering wreckage of Final Fantasy and The Polar Express, emerging on the other side almost unscathed. On the small screen it seems the effect is almost flawless, but in the cinema my eyes were less forgiving. It seems like maybe the animators tried SO hard to make the movements realistic, that they become overly choreographed. It’s not the compositing or lighting causing the problem and there are perhaps a dozen shots which truly are flawless. The rest is 99% successful, and I think it will probably feel more satisfying with future viewings at home. I really shouldn’t be this critical, they richly deserve an Oscar for this work. I overheard a group of muggles (non VFX folk) chatting after the film and they had no idea how it was achieved, job done. In conclusion, Benjamin Button is a slightly flawed but stylish, moving, romantic, and thought provoking fairy tale propelled by cutting edge technology… it’s just not as good as Fight Club.

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~ by thewholebuffalo on July 19, 2009.

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