'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' arrives on Region A locked Blu-ray with a beautiful 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 widescreen 2.40:1 presentation.
Please note that I did not use the word 'transfer' in the above description as 'Ben Button' was shot, for the most part, on high definition digital cameras - with no intermediate film print involved. The end result is a pin sharp, reference quality image with absolutely stunning levels of detail. This is a real test of the ageing make up as it has to stand up to the very close scrutiny of the 1080p cameras. The depth of the image is so great that I'd even apply the description of 3D-like to it. Black levels are the way we like them - dark, inky pools.
Various different colour hues are added to the footage to emulate the environmental light sources, such as the yellow of the lamps in the nursing home or the cold blue/white of the clinical hospital. None of it causes a grainy image or adds colour noise.
One thing that stands out is the level of shadow detail. In the old video days, no matter how hard you tried the shadows just looked like mud - so it shows how technology has advanced over the years. If I had to choose one word to describe the picture quality on 'Ben Button', it would be 'pristine'.
The audio on 'Ben Button' comes in a superb DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that provides us with nice crisp, clear dialogue even during the mumbled speech in the hospital ward through the centre speaker. There is excellent use of surrounds during the sequences on the tugboat 'The Chelsea', particulary in the scene involving the German submarine, where heavy machine gun fire and explosions rip your lounge apart.
In the Jazz club scene where Benjamin and his father hold a conversation, you have to strain your ears to hear what is being said above the music but this would be the case in real life. The dialogue is never totally drowned out but it comes close. This is the dubbing mixer walking a tightrope, as on some incorrectly set up systems the surrounds could just tip the scales too much in favour of the music. The golden rule, as ever, is to ensure your sound system is correctly calibrated.
The surrounds really fill the room with composer, Alexandre Desplat's captivating music that adds to the emotional pull of the film.
In short, this is one stonking good sound mix!
The Criterion Collection does it again, by providing hours of bonus materials across the two discs that will gladden the hearts of movie buffs. Only the Director's commentary is included on disc 1 beside the main feature with all the other supplements being on disc 2.
- Audio Commentary
Director David Fincher flies solo on this incredibly detailed commentary by discussing filming problems, camera tricks and shooting secrets. It's a mine of fascinating information for the die hard fans, but you have to be pretty obsessed to sit through it all.
The Curious Birth of Benjamin Button
This is a feature length documentary divided into four sections: First, Second, and Third Trimesters, with Birth as the final part.
First Trimester: Beginnings
This first section focuses on the development and pre-production stages of the movie.
- Preface (HD, 3 mins)
In this short introductory piece, David Fincher links his own personal experiences with life and death to the film's storyline.
- Development and Pre-Production (HD, 29 mins)
Producers Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Ceán Chaffin, and others share their memories on the film's development over a twenty year period.
- Tech Scouts (HD, 12 mins)
A peek behind-the-scenes detailing the methods used to bring particular descriptive elements of the script to life on location.
- Storyboard Gallery
This provides us with a collection of rough storyboard sketches and drawings for individual scenes.
- Art Direction Gallery
Another gallery of pics featuring set designs and props from the film.
Second Trimester: Production
This part focuses on the production process including a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes as well as a look at the costume design.
- Production: Parts 1 & 2 (HD, 55 mins)
Here we have a two-part investigation of the production with cast and crew interviews as well as footage covering locations, the making of individual sequences, the props and special effects.
- Costume Design (HD, 7 mins)
This interview with costume designer Jacqueline West shows the effort she went to in order to include as many different types of buttons in her designs.
- Costume Gallery
This collection of photos showcases the wardrobe designs and costumes.
Third Trimester: Visual Effects
While this part mainly investigates the visual effects and makeup, it also includes featurettes on the sound mixing and music composition.
- Visual Effects: Performance Capture (HD, 7 mins)
This short features the performance capture process and use of CGI technology to create the various stages in Benjamin's life.
- Visual Effects: Benjamin (HD, 17 mins)
This featurette covers Brad Pitt's transformation into Benjamin by producing plaster moulds of his face and aging them to use as scanning masters for computer modelling.
- Visual Effects: Youthenization (HD, 6 mins)
This clip discusses how some cast members were made to appear younger on screen by a process called Digital Cosmetic Enhancement.
- Visual Effects: The Chelsea (HD, 9 mins)
A look at the creation of the tugboat set in a studio with compositing done afterwards.
- Visual Effects: The Simulated World (HD, 13 mins)
This featurette shows how computer images were added to scenes from specific time periods as well as the creation of digital cityscapes.
- Sound Design (HD, 16 mins)
Here we see how sound effects were used to improve certain scenes and to mask faults in the original recorded sound.
- Desplat's Instrumentarium (HD, 15 mins)
This interview with French composer Alexandre Desplat gives us an inside look at his studio and orchestra.
This final part covers the films release.
- Premiere (HD, 4 mins)
A short covering the movie's premiere in New Orleans in 2008 with clips of cast and crew reminiscing.
- Production Stills
Another gallery with photos from the production.
- Trailers (HD, 4 mins)
The package is rounded off with a couple of nice theatrical trailers.
Three time Academy award winner 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' comes to Blu-ray in a Criterion Collection Edition with a youthful looking 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encode that's framed handsomely at 2.40:1. This demo quality, pristine image is pin sharp and packed to the hilt with detail, coming as it does from a digital source.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio is no less impressive than the picture with clean, crisp dialogue coming from the centre speaker while immersive music and effects emanate from the surrounds. The score by Alexandre Desplat is particularly atmospheric.
The unique story reels in the viewer and provides an uplifting experience as we follow Benjamin's curious journey through life.
The lorry load of extras delivers an in depth insight into the production in the way that only a Criterion can.
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