Buttoned-up and ready to go
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a film you’ll either love or hate. Ebert called it a “profoundly mistaken premise” and couldn’t wrap his head around the idea of someone aging backwards. Seasoned adfolks are, of course, comfortable with such concepts—mainly because we’ve presented advertising ideas that are even more complicated.
We open with 81-year old Daisy (Cate Blanchett) on her deathbed. Meanwhile, Hurricane Katrina is raging outside and about to devastate the town. This means it’s time for Daisy to tell her worried daughter about her ex-lover.
Her story begins with a blind clockmaker working on a clock for the New Orleans train station. After receiving news of his son’s death in World War I, he decides to make the timepiece run backwards, in the hope that it would bring back those who died in the war.
There are a couple of important lessons we can learn here:
1) Never hire a blind clockmaker, because when he screws up, he’ll come up with some ridiculous story about his work being some kind of war memorial.
2) The New Orleans train station CEO is the man to see if you have a bridge in say, Brooklyn, that you want to sell.
We then cut to the part where Benjamin is born. He is the vilest, ugliest, oldest-looking baby that ever came out of a woman’s womb. Surprisingly, nobody contacts Barnum & Bailey or the stations to propose a new reality show.
Next, Benjamin grows up with regular old people in an old folks’ home. This is where he meets normal-looking 6-year old Daisy. Again, nobody finds it disturbing when she frolics with old man Benjamin under the table late at night. Thus begins a whirlwind romance described by director David Fincher as an “elaborate parable of Biblical proportions.”
Suffice to say, the movie is nothing like the book. Apart from retaining the protagonist’s name and reverse aging process, everything else is completely made up by screenwriters Eric Roth (of “Forest Gump” fame) and Robin Swicord (“Memoirs of a Geisha”). The original story had Benjamin born 5 feet 8 inches tall with waist length beard. This must have required tremendous pushing on his mother’s part, and one can only imagine the size of her tummy before delivery.
So what’s in the DVD and is it worth getting? In the commentary, Fincher does a rather dry take throughout and if it doesn’t instantly cure your insomnia, you’ll at least gain some fascinating insights into the movie’s themes, and why Brad and Cate deserve to win several Oscars at least.
The producers talk about how long the script has been floating around and how the movie could only be made when CGI technology had sufficiently advanced. In other words, nobody wanted to take the risk. The script went through several directors (including Steven Spielberg and Spike Jonze), and lead actors (Tom Cruise, John Travolta)—all of whom got involved in other projects along the way.
We also get to hear from the makeup people on the whole process of ageing and de-ageing. Poor Cate had to sit through five hours of makeup to play a much older person. Add that to her strenuous late night schedule, and you’ll realize the woman probably wasn’t acting when she starts to mumble and fall asleep.
The youthenization of Benjamin takes up a whole segment. Some people may find this interesting, especially since this is the heart of what made the whole show possible. It was a little too technical for me though. Technology can do a lot of things these days, including being able to skip to the next special feature.
Admittedly, there’s quite a lot of it in the DVD: 14 in-depth behind-the-scenes featurettes trace the film’s evolution, from the rights negotiation to its premier. Watching it, you get a sense that this is a project people genuinely cared about. You take away the collective energy and passion that went into its production. Six hours into the DVD, you can also feel your bones growing older and more brittle. The latter part is what they call an “interactive experience”.
But yes , “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is worth watching again. Look out for the director’s little touches. Like how Daisy’s voice seamlessly morphs into Benjamin’s. The visual poetry in the final scenes. And the many parts in between that will make you go “Wow”, “Ahhh” and “Hey, it’s all done with soft lighting!”
Every film has its detractors and critics. For this 166-minute long performance, one suspects it is mostly among those with highly irritable bowels. The DVD release should solve that problem. Be thankful Fincher does not to make us sit through an extended director’s cut.
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