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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

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Benjamin Button 00

I will attempt to refrain from making comparisons between this film and Forrest Gump (1994) by stating one simple and short sentence: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button IS Forrest Gump. Screenwriter Eric Roth is being honored at this year’s Oscars ceremony with a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for this film. He wrote Forrest Gump fifteen years ago and when recently asked about the similarities he, astoundingly answered with: I had Benjamin Button on my mind when I wrote Forrest Gump.

How? What does one have to do with the other? I read the F. Scott Fitzgerald novella, all 21 pages of it, and I ask myself “how did Eric Roth adapt a 21 page book into a 2 hour and 45 minute film about a man who ages backwards?” And unlike the book, this Benjamin Button is not born old in physical and mental terms, only physical.

Now knowing that, if you take out the reverse aging aspect from the story you have the same film.

I issue a spoiler warning right now.

Brad Pitt plays Benjamin Button utilizing a very bland performance and the titular character is, as stated above, born old. At first he is a baby but has very shriveled skin and his bones are weak. He is such an abomination that his father, upon first glance, steals the baby from the hospital and drops him off at a retirement home. Because he is physically old he can not walk but, guess what? Neither can a baby. Infants and the elderly are almost one and the same: they lack hair and teeth, they can barely walk, and they have a weak skeleton. So if Ben Button was to be born an infant this film would still be the same.

Button befriends a young girl named Daisy and they hit it off. She finds him strange, an old man who hides under tables and plays with little girls, and he finds her to be what he wishes he was. Then again, Benjamin, fueled by a lackluster performance by Pitt, is so bland that whenever you look at his face or into his eyes you see nothing; it’s like running into a brick wall. Benjamin is a simpleton, recently dubbed a Southern Naïf, and therefore, completely and utterly uninteresting. That is when the supporting players must come into play and make everything around Button interesting. But alas, we already saw Forrest Gump. I am not kidding when I say that you will know everything that is going to happen.

Button grows up with a walking disability and overcomes it and then he decides to travel the world. He cruises on a tugboat with a drunkard and witnesses the follies of World War II. Upon returning home, in his early 20’s and looking like he’s in his late 60’s, he reunites with his slowly aging mother and with Daisy who now looks like a prettied-up Cate Blanchett. They hit it off well, but only as acquaintances, and she leaves to pursue her career of dancing the ballet.

Time goes by where nothing happens. Button’s dad decides to meet him and to give him his button-making company before he dies. Then Daisy returns home and decides to live with Button as a couple.

That’s an hour and a half of the film so far. In the next hour and ten minutes not much else happens except that Button grows younger, Daisy grows older, they have a child and grow apart. Then they reunite again and again they cannot be together. Then Button is an infant.

The End.

The cinematography, the second-most notable aspect in this film is truly fantastic. Giant superimposed shadows like in noir pictures, flashbacks that look like footage from the 1910’s with flickering images and color tinting, long tracking shots that seem impossible but we know that in the movies nothing is impossible! The most notable aspect is somehow invisible to the general audience and it is that Brad Pitt is entirely computer generated for the first half hour of the film. From when Button is born until he is as tall as Brad Pitt he is entirely computer generated. I can tell because his features are perfect, he is constantly shiny and glossy, and when his clothing wrinkles they wrinkle in a repeated sequence. This means that for cinephiles, this movie should be rather annoying. Why not use the Lord of the Rings approach (a film series that I greatly dislike) and simply shoot those difficult scenes twice? Or how about state of the art special effects makeup? I’m quite certain that this film is being nominated for an Oscar for its makeup but it lacks it a bunch.

Don’t let my rating for this film fool you, it’s not a 50% deal. I am not recommending this film at all to anyone who likes original films that stand out due to having a great story and great performances.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is being nominated at the Oscars this year for 13 awards and I think it only deserves one: Best Cinematography. But hey, film students and experts can’t be in the Oscar committee so my opinion is superfluous. I don’t hate this film I just think it’s an hour too long and is entirely unimportant and uninteresting.

Shame on you, David Fincher. You are one of my favorite living American filmmakers and now you have directed, to quote Roger Ebert, two “good-looking BAD movies”; the first one was Alien 3 (1992).

I love Zodiac (2007) and placed it in the #3 slot in my Top 10 Films of 2006 list, right behind Letters from Iwo Jima (#1) and The Departed (#2). I also love Fincher’s Se7en (1995), The Game (1997), and Fight Club (1999). So what ever happened to substance in films? Is it no longer important?

Do yourselves a favor and read the novella. It’s a terrific social satire and it’s really neat. Just forget about The Curious Case of Forrest Gump.

2 comments:

  1. oh come on! 2/4? I know it's over rated but it's at least a 3 star movie, what with the production value and cast and so forth.

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  2. I do not believe that good filmmaking alone makes a good movie; a good script makes a good film.
    A good script, good cast, good acting, and then good filmmaking makes a great film.

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