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June 2nd, 2008:
Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" tells the story of an elderly man who ages backwards. At the age of 50, he falls in love with a 30-year-old woman and then must come to terms with the relationship as they literally grow in opposite directions.What to Expect:
Every year movies come out that have a ton of potential, but fail to live up to it, but this year there may be one that does: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It is one of those movies that has just too good of a pedigree for it to not be a masterpiece. It features a proven cast, proven director and a proven writer adapting a classic book, making it a shoe in to get at least five Oscar nominations including best picture. More importantly, it is a movie that people are actually going to want to see. The cast, style and simple curiosity will draw people to it, but it is the touching story and the heart of the characters that will really elevate this film from a good movie to a timeless classic.
The biggest asset this movie has is the plot itself. It is based on an original short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald of the same name, which tells the sad and humorous tale of Benjamin Button, a man who is born old and then ages backwards for the rest of his life until his death as a baby. Paramount has owned the rights to this story for ages, but the various writers who attempted to adapt it failed to create a viable script until Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) took a stab at it. Roth threw away all the attempts that preceded his and much of Fitzgerald's original work. He just kept Fitzgerald's characters and main concept of a guy aging backwards, while the rest of it became original Roth writing. Article continues below
His story begins in 1919 with the birth of Benjamin, while Fitzgerald's original started out in 1860. Benjamin Button's delivery is marred in complications that result in the death of his mother and him being born a seventy five year old baby. Benjamin's father is so distraught by the loss of his wife and his son's condition that he abandons Benjamin in front of a random door with a simple note. Fortunately for Benjamin, the seemingly random door is a retirement home run by a kind hearted black woman named Queenie, who at this point has failed to have children of her own, and thus decides to take Benjamin to raise him as her own son. Since he cannot attend normal school being that he is a child trapped in the body of a seventy five year old man, Benjamin spends his time talking to the retirees living at the home. The retirees were glad to have someone around to impart their vast knowledge upon in Benjamin. Through these people he learns that the most important thing in life is to do what you were meant to do, no matter how trivial, a theme that is repeated throughout this story. Benjamin continues to grow younger and wiser, eventually learning to walk, speak and read and is happy at his home. One day in 1930 (Benjamin is now 11, but looks like he is in his sixties), he meets a six year old girl named Daisy. Daisy and Benjamin become instant friends and spend most of their time together talking and reading and after awhile they realize that they love each other. His father also reemerges in his life, but never tells Benjamin the truth of his family or his birth. In 1942, Benjamin embarks on his travels on a tug boat which first takes him to a Russian port. Then with the outbreak of WWII, the tug boat gets commissioned to escort supply ships from America to England. On these travels, he meets all kinds of people and gets to see the tragedy and triumph of the human experience. Yet, as he globe trots he never once forgets about Daisy, corresponding often and saying "good night Daisy" before going to sleep. After the war, he returns to America and reunites with Daisy in NY. At this point she is a talented dancer, while he is still an old man, quickly realizing that she needs to live her life. Finally, in the 1950's when the two are similar enough in age, Daisy and Benjamin are allowed a time to be together which becomes the happiest part of their lives. Unfortunately, as Benjamin gets younger and younger, he realizes that he cannot be with Daisy and leaves so that she can have a normal life instead of caring for a child. The only thing he leaves for her is his journal which chronicles his travels and his life which serves as the narration for the entire film.
The entire story ends up spanning the entire 20th century, culminating with Button dying as a baby at the start of the 21st century, but the story is really bigger than Button and his condition. Button just serves as the vehicle to introduce us to a slew of characters and as we learn about them, we really learn the meaning of life, which is to live life well, as summed up beautifully in Button's last journal entry: "And maybe all that matters is no matter if we live our lives backwards or forwards...it really does not make a difference as long as we lived our lives well." In this one movie we get to see a lifetime of trials, tragedy, sadness and the few moments of happiness and reconciliation that really characterize most of our lives. This type of storytelling can't help but draw favorable comparisons to Roth's other great script, Forrest Gump. If you think about it, it was Gump's good hearted conquest of his many handicaps that inspired us, and it was the people who he met along the way that made the story so memorable and touching, much like this film. As you can see, this story is pretty good, but so many great scripts have been ruined by the wrong director or bad casting. Fortunately, this movie really does not need to worry about bad directing with David Fincher
at the helm. Fincher has spent most of his career doing dark thrillers until he came across Roth's script in 2002. He immediately fell in love with the story and pitched it to his friend and favorite actor, Brad Pitt
. Both men, each with millions of fans, have eagerly awaited the opportunity for the two to work together since their first two attempts produced two great movies: Fight Club and Seven. Pitt, who has a knack for picking out good projects, also liked Roth's script and eagerly agreed. Opposite Pitt, Fincher cast Cate Blanchett
as Daisy. Blanchett was an excellent choice because of her timeless look that made her so good in other period pieces like The Aviator and Elizabeth, both of which earned her Oscar nominations. With his two stars locked up, Fincher spent the next two years working with Roth to tweak the movie to his liking. Firstly, he is a very dark director and even though he was leaving the thriller genre, he still did not want to make a love story. As he put it, "I think it's a story about death: To love somebody enough to be there when they breathe their last breath." To accomplish this, he worked with Roth to rewrite the script to be even darker to fit Fincher's style. Fincher also did not like that the story was set in Baltimore, which was the setting in both Fitzgerald's original and Roth's screenplay. Fincher decided to switch the setting to take place in New Orleans. He felt Baltimore "lacked a certain warmth. It lacked the sense of history and patina of New Orleans." I am sure Pitt also pitched New Orleans pretty hard considering he has permanently relocated to the hurricane ravaged city to help rebuild. Fincher's final important decision was how to age the characters throughout the movie. In films prior to this one, like Forrest Gump, different actors were used for the same character throughout their lives. Fincher decided to go in a different direction by using the newly developed motion capture technology called Contour System. CS allowed Fincher to tape other young and old actors and then to seamlessly place other faces on to their bodies. This allowed him to create young and old Pitt and then place that face onto the bodies of an actor of the respective age. As a result, all the shots of Button throughout his life will actually be Pitt. The set back with using CS is that it is untested and takes an extremely long time to implement, actually doubling production time. However, Fincher being the perfectionist that he is felt that was worth the lost time. With the story, cast and technology set, filming was finally ready to begin in 2007.
Shooting the movie in New Orleans turned out to be more challenging than first anticipated. Simple things like getting plywood to build sets became a challenge in the Hurricane ravaged city. Another unforeseen side effect of New Orleans was the presence of the ever insecure Angelina Jolie. One scene called Pitt to have a passionate kiss with a beautiful, young actress. Jolie threw a fit refusing to allow Pitt to do the scene, claiming that the actress was too "stunning." Eventually she settled down and shooting resumed. Another scene called for Pitt's bare bottom to be filmed, but to everyone's surprise, he demanded a "butt double" which is strange, since his butt has been shown in other films. Obviously, rumors began to circulate that it was once again Jolie's jealousy at work. If these rumors are true then it would make Jolie a huge hypocrite considering she is naked in almost every movie she does. However, it was not all bad with the Pitt-Jolie family being on set. The kids quickly became a favorite during filming and often served as a calming factor when things got rough. Pitt's youngest daughter, Shiloh, even ended up saving one scene. What happened was two toddlers were on set to film for young Daisy, but both babies were extremely uncooperative. Shiloh, having Hollywood blood surging through her baby veins, calmly stepped in and filmed the scene. So in seventeen years when she is a huge Hollywood star, this will be considered her first part.In Conclusion:
It looks like it is going to be three for three for the Fincher-Pitt team. Fincher took an already great script and applied his signature style to make a great movie. One person who has seen the final project described it as "beautifully dark and touching." Thus if you enjoy a movie that can make you cry tears of joy and tears of loss, and haunt you for days to come then this might be one of your favorites, and come Oscar time we will all hear a lot about Benjamin Button.Similar Titles: Forrest Gump
, Big Fish
, Legends of the Fall