Among the Special Features in the two-disc edition of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, directed by David Fincher (Criterion), is the standard Making-Of documentary, which I found more absorbing than the feature film itself. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button takes a wisp of a tale by F. Scott Fitzgerald and runs it through the Hollywood Blockbuster machine. First the story is expanded and rewritten to touch more firmly on universal themes—Love, Loss, Redemption—and then it is re¬located from Baltimore to New Orleans so that Hurricane Katrina can become a timely plot element. Some A-list actors (Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton) are hired, the latest high-tech digital film toys (motion-capture and CGI) are used whenever possible, and then the finished product has the hell marketed out of it at Oscar time.
The result is a film of surfaces, with an emotional flatness that cannot be blamed entirely on Mr. Pitt et al. For the first third of the film the body of Benjamin Button (chronologically a child, but physically an old man in his seventies) is played by three different actors in sequence, with a CGI re-creation—a computer model—of Brad Pitt’s head spliced onto each neck in turn. As Mr. Button ages in reverse we eventually find Mr. Pitt playing the character with only the standard pancake makeup to assist him; toward the end we get a Button played by a Pitt whose face has been given a rigorous digital slimming (courtesy of a software package named Lola) that has un-furrowed his brow, de-bagged his eyes, de-wrinkled the skin around his mouth, then overlaid the entire Pitt facade with a dewy glow beyond the reach of even the most advanced cosmetics.
What a shame that Lola was unable to work similar wonders with the film’s narrative.