TELLURIDE FILM FEST
Early Reaction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Footage
by Alex Billington
August 30, 2008
My first event here at the Telluride Film Festival was a tribute to David Fincher, arguably one the best filmmakers currently working in Hollywood. The tribute featured about 45 minutes of clips from his previous filmography, an incredibly lengthy and somewhat boring on-stage interview (thanks to Variety's unexciting critic Todd McCarthy as the interviewer), and roughly 20 minutes of select footage from his upcoming film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Highlights from Fincher's Q&A included referencing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as the the film that sparked his interest in filmmaking as well as mentioning I Saw What You Did, Jaws, and Rear Window as the movies that he remembers most as a kid. And as for the Benjamin Button footage - it unfortunately wasn't that great.
As everyone hopefully already knows, I've been proclaiming that Benjamin Button will be Fincher's next masterpiece. This excitement is purely based off of the beautifully crafted trailer that played in front of Indiana Jones this summer. Part of the problem with this footage at Telluride was that it was snippets of scenes, a sampling of various moments throughout the film. I couldn't tell where things fit in, how they progressed, or any of the actual story structure. Instead, it just flipped back and forth between some amazing moments and boring or hilarious scenes. The result was quite unimpressive, but I'm left wondering whether it was the editor to blame for this 20 minute cut or whether the film really has problems.
There is one thing that will never change with David Fincer - his movies have always and will always look amazing. I'm a guy who is dependent on strong visuals as well as a strong story and with Benjamin Button, he succeeded again. There were some scenes, particularly when a young (although he looked old) Ben Button was on a ship and they encounter a transport ship / cruise liner that had been torpedoed and was burning in the water. These kinds of moments, and countless others, did look fantastic, but that only confirmed what I knew was coming. Whenever a film is sold as an epic and gripping drama (refer to this trailer) and then pulls a bait and switch and starts rattling off humor that causes audiences to laugh wildly, it really annoys me. And there were very "funny" lines that made the audience laugh, but left me sitting with a frown.
Here's the thing - I'm not claiming that Benjamin Button is Fincher's first downward turn. In fact, I've still got very high hopes. I'm just confused and honestly concerned. Maybe Paramount is right to try and cut some of the film out and edit it down. I thought Zodiac felt a bit long as well, despite being an otherwise fantastic film. The footage didn't leave me with any higher hopes than before, but it didn't exactly destroy my expectations. We were shown footage from almost all of Fincher's previous films just before, and watching all of that made me realize yet again how amazing of a filmmaker Fincher truly is. He's done nothing to hint that he won't succeed yet again and I'm still looking forward to Benjamin Button.
Fincher explained during the Q&A that the film is really about the people and the experiences that leave an impression on one's life. And although I didn't exactly love all of the footage that I saw, it was obviously clear that this was truly the message that Fincher was getting across in his film. I love that concept and I think that idea will really shine through in Benjamin Button, I just hope that we'll get a thoroughly compelling story as well. Only time will tell if the finished product will differ.