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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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The first 'Benjamin Button' screening: Abort! Abort!

November 21, 2008 | 11:16 am

A bunch of us were crowded in an elevator at the Directors Guild, heading down to the parking lot last night after the first screening of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," David Fincher's much-anticipated epic portrait of a man--played by Brad Pitt--whose life unfolds in, well, the wrong direction. Everyone had a strong opinion of the movie--"It was great!" one guy said. "It stunk!" said another. "Oscars all around!" someone else chimed in.

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Alas, we were all joking. It was gallows humor time. About 25 minutes into the 2 1/2 hour film, the screening was aborted. Apparently cinematographer Claudio Miranda (who's worked as a gaffer on nearly all of Fincher's films) noticed with growing horror that one of the digital projector's color channels was out of whack, producing a washed-out image. Not that anyone around me noticed a thing, mind you, all of us assuming that if the film had a slightly pale look, knowing Fincher's fondness for visual trickery, it was surely intentional. But it wasn't. After spending nearly half an hour making adjustments and trying to reboot the computer, the Paramount staff threw up their hands and canceled the screening.

I can only imagine the backstage drama. Having to pull the plug on your film's first screening is sort of like being at the opening night of a swank new Peter Morton restaurant, with all the critics and glittering guests at the tables, only to discover that the oven isn't working. Miranda was the unlucky person who had to phone Fincher, a notoriously prickly perfectionist, with the bad news. But kudos to Paramount PR exec David Waldman, who was unbelievably cool under fire. He ordered the catering staff to serve as much food and drink as possible, which seemed to quiet the potentially riotous crowd of parched critics and writers milling around in the DGA lobby.

Paramount will take another shot at screening the film Saturday at noon and 6 p.m. Maybe the computer will be more cooperative the second time around. After seeing the first 25 minutes, I'm ready to jump back into the pool. But judging from this post at Sproutblog, Karina Longworth--who saw the entire film at an earlier screening--is not eager to put her bathing suit on again. 

Photo of Taraji P. Henson, left, and Brad Pitt in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" from Paramount Pictures   

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