Definitive versions of classics are Criterion’s bread and butter, so while the idea of upstart Benjamin Button being released on a label reserved for old-timers might suit the film’s subject matter, it’s sure to make critics grumble. Is David Fincher’s latest ready for canonization? Other modern Criterion picks have included Armageddon (troubling) and The Life Aquatic (really?). For all Button’s flaws—overly sentimental at times, more passive than active—the film represents an important landmark. With its groundbreaking visual effects, Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett aging not only forward but backward, it’s a story that simply could not have been told until now. The script waited for years until technology was able to catch up with its imagination.
That said, Criterion doesn’t quite make the case conclusively. Fincher’s commentary track includes entertaining asides, like the fact that Keith Richards’s hands provided the inspiration for Benjamin’s arthritic knuckles. But there are also three hours of fairly dull behind-the-scenes footage of location scouting and set construction, and stultifying sections devoted to the sound effects and score. More to the point, we’re shown how prosthetics added 50 years to Blanchett’s cheekbones, and we see Pitt being given the CGI treatment, his head covered in electrodes. This is scary sci-fi stuff: If Pitt can appear on screen looking as he did in Thelma & Louise, then Button has profoundly altered the fabric of Hollywood, its denizens able to take on youthful roles when they’re well past middle age. Surgeons should be afraid.—Anna King