Everybody loves babies. This according to the box art for Babies, a Focus Features documentary chronicling the first year in the lives of four infants, each from a different part of the world. And while everyone might not love babies, those that do will likely enjoy this film. Narrative and dialogue be damned, Babies is 80 minutes of unscripted cuteness, akin to a baby Baraka or Planet Earth without David Attenborough.
French documentarian Thomas Balmès traveled the globe to capture the first moments of four babies: Ponijao, from Namibia; Bayarjargal, from Mongolia; Mari, from Tokyo; and Hattie, from San Francisco. Instead of filling the film with facts about child development or interviews with the parents, Balmès lets the images speak for themselves. Other than a few words spoken from parent to child, Babies is almost completely lacking in dialogue.
Choosing to shoot everyday events like feeding, baths and playtime, Balmès effectively captures the personality of each child within their respective environment. He also refrains from putting the babies in situations that feel staged. Other than a few shots where parents are questionably absent, the babies are shown living pretty typical lives for their cultures. Babies also highlights the joys of discovery for each child, whether it be their first shower or first steps.
Balmès also wisely avoids trumpeting one upbringing over another. Hattie's parents may shop at Trader Joe's and attend Earth Day celebrations, but Ponijao appears just as happy crawling around the dirt floor of his family's hutch. Each baby's routine may be different, but their development is very much the same. While parents play an indirect role in the film, it is especially interesting to observe each child's maternal and paternal relationships, or lack thereof. Babies pleasantly reaffirms that there is more than one way to raise a child.
It is hard to fault a film with such arresting visuals, which extend past the babies to their beautiful surroundings, but the last few minutes feel repetitive, and a more triumphant ending would have been appreciated. Despite these small hiccups, Babies is an immensely enjoyable experience. The featured babies will have a great memento of their childhoods, and Babies allows viewers to enjoy the young lives of others. The film will undoubtedly strike a chord with parents, and should satiate those not quite ready to take that step. For those that do not like babies, even the cute ones, I'd steer clear.
Universal presents Babies on DVD in a superb 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The documentary was filmed in high definition, and looks stunning on this DVD. The image is razor sharp, colors are bold and skin tones and scenery appear lifelike. Detail is abundant, and close-ups and wide shots both look amazing. Despite a lack of grain, Babies retains a nice film-like appearance, and I noticed only a few shots where production limitations caused a slight dip in quality. No digital tinkering was present outside of the slightest bit of edge enhancement in a couple of shots. Overall, Babies looks fantastic on DVD.
The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 track is similarly excellent, and, despite the lack of dialogue, effectively channels the environment around each baby. The infrequent score comes through nicely when present, and the surrounds are used during bustling shots of Tokyo and outdoor scenes in Namibia, among others. English SDH subtitles are available, but really only pop up during the San Francisco scenes.
Universal chose to let Babies speak for itself, and the DVD is nearly barebones. The Babies - Three Years Later (4:05) is a quick video-montage update on each of the children. Though the director does not speak directly to the camera, the piece shows Balmès interacting with the children and their parents. Everybody Loves...Your Babies Sweepstakes Winners (2:07) showcases the winners of a contest the studio ran for the film. Pictured categories include babies with siblings and babies with animals. Judging from the quality of the winners, there must have been very few submissions.
Babies is just delightful. Thomas Balmès' documentary captures four babies in the early moments of their development outside the womb. The lack of story and dialogue may be off-putting to some viewers, but the images speak for themselves and Babies captures the beautiful innocence of childhood in four distinct cultures. Universal's DVD lacks bonus content but is technically outstanding. The replay value of Babies may be low for some, but the package is solidly Recommended.
William lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.