Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 2008
Directed by David Fincher
Nominated for 13 Oscars, Won 3
Lost BP To: Slumdog Millionaire

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is loosely based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It tells the story of Benjamin, who was born as old man, and who ages in reverse. That is, to say, he gets younger instead of getting older. In this film version, directed by David Fincher, Benjamin was born the day the Great War ended. His mother died in child birth, and his father was horrified by the sight of him. He was born with cataracts, wrinkled skin, and arthirits. His father contemplated throwing him in the river but leaves him on the doorstep of a home (whether random or not, we're not sure). A young black woman named Queenie, who helps run a seniors home, takes him in and cares for him. Thinking he doesn't have long left anyway, Queenie keeps him. And he begins to get younger.

This story is told by the way of a young woman, reading Benjamin's diary to her dying mother, who is in the hospital during, what we think is, the beginnings of Hurricane Katrina. The old woman's name is Daisy. The love of Benjamin's life. Benjamin meets Daisy when he's very young (or still very old), and she's around 6 or 7. Her grandmother lives in the seniors home, and they are kindred spirits and become pals- in the way little girls and old men do.

The movie is Benjamin's entire life. Him getting younger, leaving home, living on a tugboat in Russia, having an affair with a married woman, working the tugboat in WWII, being attacked by submarine there, falling in love with Daisy, being apart from Daisy, being with Daisy, and getting younger.

The idea for this film had been floating around for a long time. The rights to the story was bought back in the 70s, Jack Nicholson originally slated to star. Other buyers of the rights included Steven Spielburg (in the 90's, with a Tom Cruise slated as Benjamin) but went on to direct Jurassic Park and Schindlers List. Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall were sold the rights. Several different directors and stars were slated. Ron Howard (starring John Travolta), Spike Jonze, Gary Ross, and finally David Fincher, with several, several screenplays having been written. But finally, Brad Pitt was cast as Benjamin, Cate Blanchett was Daisy, and filming began in November 2006.

The film clocks in at 2 hours, and 46 minutes. The film spans Benjamin's entire life, from birth to death. The first time I watched this movie with my family, we complained it was so long, and so boring, and who cares. But then, as I've had before, I had the urging to rewatch it. So I did, and it's become a favourite film (just missing my top 10- taking the 11th spot). Many others have shared in my initial complaints that it was long and dull, and some have even compared it to Forrest Gump, being the story of a man born with defects that he eventually overcomes. He falls in love with a young girl while their both young, are companions, and aren't together for a long time (she rejects him), and eventually come together for a short time, shorter than they would've liked, lived on a boat, went to war, and had mother's who gave them quotes about not knowing what to expect of life. Eric Roth, penned the screenplays for both films and many have compared them, though they are incredibly different, even if they sound similar.

This is one of those movies that makes me feel an enormous range of feelings. Seeing Benjamin travel the world, making the most of his life, falling in love, and then, not being able to stay with Daisy makes me feel a lot of things. Its the movie that makes me feel the most.

Brad Pitt is, in my opinion, fantastic as Benjamin. He plays the subtleties just right, and acts the old man and the young man just right, making distinctions between both, all while having this wiseness beyond his years (ironically or not). Cate Blanchett is also lovely, playing both the teenage/young adult Daisy, the ballerina, and the dying woman we see in the beginning, who is unrecognizable. Other fun apprearances include Tilda Swinton, as Benjamin's first grown up love, in Murmansk, Russia and Taraji P. Henson as Queenie.

While this movie was nominated for 13 Oscars, the leading movie of the year, it only won 3. And the ones it won were truly, truly deserved. The Visual Effects, for the things like the "old man" baby, and the old Brad Pitt. In an interview with VFX Supervisor, Eric Barbra, he explains how the first 52 minutes of the film, is a 3D head. They made 3 head casts of Brad Pitt, aged 80s, 70s and 60s, then scanned into a computer, 3D. Brad would perform the facial expressions of a scene, as it was being digitzed, filmed from 4 different angles, and were matched to a scene/moment. Body actors were used on set, and essentially, Brad every facial movement and emotion was mixed with the digitized headcast (whichever age), and then photoshopped on top of the body actor. After the first 52 minutes, Brad does a full body performance, with makeup now deaging him, until he becomes a child and then a baby, when child actors are used. In the end, this gives me so much more appreciation for Brad's work on this film. Every facial expression was thought out, recorded without doing the action, only watching the body actors performance. It's incredibly complex, and the capturing of the facial expressions was the first of it's kind. (for more info on this all, see interview and the official Benjamin Button VFX Website). And how Brad Pitt doesn't have an Oscar yet is beyond me. Especially after this and Tree of Life.

In the end, I have a lot of respect for this movie, for how well it was performed, the technical and visual aspects, as well as the directing. And while it deserved the 3 Awards it won (VFX, Makeup, Art Direction), it deserved that and more. This should've been Alexandre Desplat's year for winning Original Score, in which his themes for Benjamin and Daisy was played forward, and then backwards (a technique used frequently in the film). He was truly, truly robbed. It's one of my favourite film scores ever.

However, I love this movie, understand why not everyone does, but I love it anyway. Forgive me for this long, technical review.


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