Sunday, March 29, 2009

Benjamin Button vs. Armageddon

I was going to post about this when it was announced, but I didn't get a chance: the announcement that Criterion will be releasing The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has been the most controversial Criterion announcement since, well, since a decade ago when they released Armageddon.

Armageddon will probably turn out to be the less embarrassing entry, as a movie, because that's just a dumb action movie and never pretended to be anything else, and Criterion management defended it at the time by saying that the collection needed an example of the modern Hollywood blockbuster. Benjamin Button is... well, nobody knows what it is, and it's there mainly because David Fincher wanted a big extras-packed release and Paramount probably didn't want to do the work itself.

The amusing thing is that when Criterion signed the deal to release this film, they probably didn't know how negative the reaction would be. (I'm assuming they must have been working on special features for the film since before it was released.) David Fincher is a director with a high, if not exactly deserved, reputation, and doing a DVD of one of his films must have seemed like a good idea.

But then, something similar applies to Michael Bay: when Criterion released Armageddon and The Rock, Bay's reputation wasn't quite as low as it became; it took the atrocity of Pearl Harbor to establish him as the world's most-hated director. Yes, Armageddon was terrible, but because his first two projects for Bruckheimer weren't bad as dumb testosto-movies go (Bad Boys and The Rock suggested he migght at least be better than Tony Scott), it wasn't clear that he was completely evil. You could argue that the Bay of the '90s diluted the Criterion brand less than the post-'90s David Fincher.

Of course, I think the Criterion brand can stand to be diluted a bit. I like Criterion; I have a lot of their discs; when I finally succumbed to peer pressure and got a Blu-ray player, their disc of The 400 Blows was the first Blu-ray I bought. But it's important for collectors to understand that Criterion is a DVD company, not a film canon. Just because Criterion brings out a movie doesn't mean it's great, but more importantly, just because a movie isn't great doesn't necessarily mean Criterion shouldn't do a special edition of it. (But while there are some bad movies I'd watch on DVD in a special edition, Benjamin Button is not one of them.)


Thad said...

I'll tell you what it is: it's a cribbing of Forrest Gump, a movie that celebrates stupidity. Therefore, it's also a movie that celebrates the celebration of stupidity.

Not the first shitty movie Criterion has put out, and it won't be the last. But it's way too damn mainstream to warrant a release under this banner.

PNeski said...

Gee this seems silly to me
Don't they have dvds of these
"Bottle Rocket"
"The Rock"
"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"
"The Life Aguatic"

hardly great Films!!!

Nick said...

It's unintuitive, but maybe the recession's crunch will help Criterion out, in a way, because the big studios, no longer wanting to invest in producing their own special editions, might be more willing to licence mainstream, recent movies to them again, as they did a lot more in the laserdisc and early DVD era. While Benjamin Button wouldn't be my first (or second, third, and eighteen-thousandth) choice for inclusion, David Fincher's last movie, before that, Zodiac would fit in pretty well.

Tony said...

I've got a Criterion DVD of "The Blob" with Steve McQueen. I wouldn't call that a high quality movie either (although I did enjoy it more than "Armegeddon")