This two-disc edition of the film, being released under the Criterion branding, is pretty much what you would expect from a release for a David Fincher film. Like the two-disc release for his previous film, Zodiac (which was one of my favourite DVDs from 2008 I might add) the supplements on here are incredibly extensive and at times exhausting, covering every aspect of the film. In total the supplements come in at around 6 and a half hours.
(I should note this DVD is actually a Paramount release and has some quirks common for bigger studio releases. Unlike other Criterion titles the second disc opens with the Criterion and Paramount logos, a copyright warning, and a disclaimer about how comments made in the features do not reflect the opinions Paramount Home Entertainment. All of this is not skippable so you have to wait to get through them to get to the menu. Surprisingly the first disc actually goes right to the menu and doesnít feature any of this.)
The supplements are quite strong on this release and actually prove (for me at least) more interesting than the film. I must also admit that they actually made me appreciate the film a little more.
Disc one only presents one feature, which is an audio commentary by director David Fincher. I like Fincherís commentary tracks and this one is another excellent recording. It is heavy into the technical details of the film, which is usually what Fincher talks about since heís very visual, but he also touches on some of the filmís themes and does defend it from some of the criticisms thrown at it. Thereís a lot of talk about the special effects in the film, the hard task it was to age and then ďde-ageĒ (I guess you could say) the performers using computer effects, and he even points out places where effects were used and not at all obvious. He also talks a lot about how tight money was, despite the filmís rather large budget. The death of his father seems to have been a huge influence over him in the making of this film, and he mentions it every once in a while, which leads him into the filmís themes of death. Thereís mention of deleted sequences, including another ďlightening storyĒ scene, but they arenít found on this DVD (probably the only item this DVD is missing) and he talks about working with the two studios, Paramount and Warner Bros. An interesting aspect of the track, early on, is he mentions there was a real desire by the big wigs to cut what is actually my favourite part out of the film, the opening clock sequence with Elias Koteas, but Fincher managed to keep it in. By the sounds of it there was a lot that was cut and trimmed, but the sequences mentioned arenít found anywhere. Overall itís an excellent track, and I have to say it did actually make me appreciate the film a little more, caused me to think about it a bit more and Iíll more than likely revisit the film again sometime in the future.
The remaining supplements are found on the second dual-layer disc.
The big feature is a 2 hour and 55 minute documentary on the making of the film called The Curious Birth of Benjamin Button, probably one of the most comprehensive documentaries Iíve ever seen on the making of a newer film. This feature covers just about everything about the film, down to every little detail. More amazing is the fact itís even longer than the film.
You have a few options to watch the feature. When you select it from the main menu you are taken to a sub menu that gives you the option to ďPlay AllĒ, which plays the entire documentary. Itís also broken out into 4 sections (which Iíll cover further on in the review.)
The documentary covers pre-production, production, and then post-production (and also quickly covers the filmís premiere.) It begins with how the project first came into being, way back in 1986. Since then itís moved from studio to studio (Universal to Paramount and then as a co-production between Paramount and Warner Bros.) and from director to director (it began with Frank Oz attached and then went to Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard) and from actor to actor (believe it or not, Martin Short was first attached, then Tom Cruise.) Finally, after Spike Jonze walked away, it went to Fincher. Itís long history had to do with the technical limitations at the time. After some starts and stops after getting to Fincher, some script revisions (with Eric Roth completely redoing the original script by Robin Swicord), and issues with his two stars Pitt and Blanchett (Fincher shamelessly admits he was glad the two ended up dropping out of The Fountain, though offers apologies to Aronofsky) the film finally went into production, almost 20 years after it first started going around town.
The production section covers the actual shooting, offering plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, and also offers some footage without finished effects shots. The attention to detail in this doc is quite good. For example, one sequence early in the film presents a quick WWI battle sequence that really only lasts a few seconds. The documentary spends at least 5-minutes covering how the sequence was done, even getting down to the nitty-gritty of how the explosions were done (old school pyrotechnics.) The documentary also features interviews with members of the cast including (but not limited to) Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Jason Flemyng, Taraji P. Henson, and Jared Harris, who jokes about how his friends would ask him what it was like working with Pitt, despite the fact he did most of his acting with Pittís body double (Pittís head digitally inserted into those scenes later.) It covers location shooting in New Orleans and then Montreal, which apparently presented a less friendly work environment (and the Montreal people are described as ďwonderful people who were happy to see us go.Ē) Thereís also extensive amount of detail about the sets and their construction, and like Zodiac, there are plenty of sequences that use CGI that are not obvious at all and I was sort of surprised when the documentary points these scenes out.
the post-production section (the longest section of the documentary) heavily covers the filmís special effects. It begins with the filmís editing process, showing how Fincher would approve of the editing (using software that reminds me of bug tracking software Iíve used.) It then gets into how the aging effects were done, starting with motion capture on Pitt (and it looks like most of Pittís performance was actually done in a warehouse while attached to a rather uncomfortable looking device) and then goes through the rather surprising number of steps it took to insert an aging Pitt into the film. It then covers the effects that were done to make their actors look younger, which is nothing new in Hollywood apparently (one effects member comments that they do this for plenty of movies but arenít allowed to talk about it, this being one of the few cases where they can.) I actually found this aspect interesting as they talk about the techniques and formulas used to make someone look younger (with the aid of a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon of course.) Thereís plenty of step-by-step sequences, before-and-after comparisons, and plenty of shots of actors being trapped in something as their heads and/or faces are scanned. The whole documentary is actually quite fascinating but this section is of course the most intriguing and the one most will jump right to.
The post-production section also covers the sound effects in the film, including Pittís change in voice, which was mostly him, but there were some modifications through computers. And then there is a long bit with composer Alexandre Desplat, who talks about writing the score for the film, and includes footage of him editing/writing, and then recording the score with an orchestra. The documentary then ends with its premiere in New Orleans.
Like previous Fincher releases, this is an extensive, fascinating, detail-oriented (and extremely technical) making-of, and alone is worth the extra bit of money when compared to the price of Paramountís single-disc edition of the film. I found it completely fascinating, and much more honest and revealing than other documentaries of this nature. Itís long, but well worth it.
This documentary pretty much makes up for the supplements on this release, though thereís some other things hidden in here.
As I mentioned before the documentary is also broken out into four sections from its sub menu and then each item contains its own sub menu. These sections contain segments from the complete documentary and then also contain material not found in the documentary. Iíll go through each one.
First Trimester presents two sections from the documentary, Preface, running about 4-minutes, and Development and Pre-production, running 28-minutes. This section also includes 12-minutes worth of footage under Tech Scouts, covering some of the location scouts. It shows some discussion on how some scenes will play out and how the camera will move, and even shows locations that were ultimately not used (as noted.)
Two galleries are also found here, including a storyboard gallery and an art direction gallery. The storyboard gallery is an extensive collection of hand drawn and computer rendered boards, and Iíll be honest and state I didnít get through it all. At first I thought the entire collection of boards were included here, though after what I think was 50-60 frames this obviously wasnít the case. The opening sequence looks to be extensively covered, as are a lot of the moments on the tug boat. The art direction gallery is also a long one, presenting various photos of the sets and locations in the film.
The next section, Second Trimester again has two parts from the complete documentary, including Production: Part 1, running 26-minutes, and Production: Part 2, running 29-minutes. Not included in the documentary is Costume Design, which is a 7-and-a-half minute interview with Jacqueline West, who talks about her influences for the costumes, which were a mix of handmade and found pieces. Thereís also sketches and photos mixed in.
Youíll also find a Costume Gallery, which is actually a very short collection of photos showcasing the filmís costumes. Unfortunately no sketches are included, which I at least would have liked.
Third Trimester doesnít present anything exclusive and only presents sections that are shown in the complete documentary, including Visual Effects: Performance Capture (8-minutes), Visual Effects: Benjamin (17-minutes), Visual Effects: Youthenization (6-minutes), Visual Effects: The Chelsea (9-minutes), Visual Effects: The Simulated World (13-minutes), Sound Design (16-minutes), and Desplatís Instrumentarium (15 minutes), which is the interview with the composer.
Birth presents the Premiere, a 4-minute bit also found in the documentary. Youíll also find a gallery of Production Stills, a good sized collection of photos from the set, which includes some of the effects work, sculptures and renderings, sets (in front of blue screens), stand-in actors for Pitt, group shots of various crew members, lots of shots of Fincher, and more blue screens.
Outside of the documentary section of the release, on the main menu, youíll find Theatrical Trailers which takes you to two of them, and a Stills Gallery, which contains the same galleries found elsewhere (storyboard gallery, art direction gallery, costume gallery, and production stills gallery.)
And of course it wouldnít be a Criterion Collection release if it didnít contain some sort of insert. Criterion has been going ballistic with booklets lately, but this release only contains a small insert with a short three page essay by Kent Jones, which offers praise for the film and Fincher, and is actually a pretty good read.
And thatís it. Technically speaking Criterion had very little to do with putting this release together, the special edition being handled by David Prior who has produced all of Fincherís prior DVD releases (as I understand it.) Since the film is so new thereís very little in the way of analysis of the film, something most Criterion releases offer. Still, itís a very thorough, complete package, almost up there with the 2-disc Zodiac release. Admirers and fans of the film will most assuredly be happy with this. 10/10