Babylon A.D.
Fox // Unrated // $39.99 // January 6, 2009
Review by Ryan Keefer | posted January 18, 2009
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Graphical Version
The Movie:

When it comes to Babylon A.D., I only found out later that its director Mathieu Kassovitz (La Haine) had gone out of his way to eviscerate his film because of interferences from any and all outside parties including 20th Century Fox. However, I did read something about the final film not being Kassovitz' cut, and that 15 minutes were excised from it. For what its worth, this uncut DVD is closer to that "Director's Cut" if you will. But after all the fighting and hubbub, at what point do you ask if this was worth fighting for?

Kassovitz adapted Maurice Georges Dantec's novel Babylon Babies, and Vin Diesel (Boiler Room) plays Toorop. Toorop is a mercenary exiled in Russia or a similar Eastern European country who's given a tempting offer by Gorsky (Gerard Depardieu, Cyrano de Bergerac). He's given the chance to smuggle a girl to America, problematic considering he's on a terrorist list there. Gorsky promises him that his identity will be purged and he can get there safely, so he doesn't have to come back. He picks up the girl named Aurora (Melanie Thierry) and her guardian, Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh, Sunshine) at a convent and starts the journey. Aurora possesses a secret so valuable that people would kill for it, and they try to, but along the way Toorop's cold mercenary heart warms to Aurora and Rebeka. Or at least as much as one with Diesel's acting talents could.

And that's pretty much how Babylon A.D. rolls. At least Toorop doesn't come with a backstory, so you don't have to be worried about pesky things like his reasons for going back to America or any sort of conflicted feelings that he might have for Aurora. And he tries to restrict as much contact with as possible. To his credit, Diesel throws in some occasional moments of character reflection that are obligatory in a film like this, but it's hardly worth the effort. Rebeka isn't given much character exposition either; she vigorously protects Aurora and has quite a bit of skill in self-defense when threatened. The action is predictable and the acting is the same, and even when the end of the film comes (which occurs with a slight though preposterous flourish), you're left asking yourself one question: Is that it?

And what of what Kassovitz was trying to accomplish? It was supposed to be something that, ruminated on geopolitical themes, then it became a morality play on the power of influencing children. Yet none of these messages come through in the final product. And if it was as bad as it says, why not bite the bullet and bolt? It's a shame because he's done some compelling work in the past, and I have no doubt that he's going to get back to it again at some point. But if it's going to be the same formulaic action film with barely a story holding it together, the least you could do is not make a film set three years from now and make it look like you stole the production design concepts from Alfonso Cuaron. Ultimately that's what you're left with in Babylon A.D.; uninspired production values, repetitive and unoriginal storytelling, with a certain lackadaisical attitude by all involved.

The Blu-ray Disc:
Video:

The 2.35:1 widescreen presentation is encoded with the AVC MPEG-4 codec and looks outstanding. Facial detail on Diesel is amazing, I could spot the real stubble, fake scars and make out what the tattoo on his head was. When he got into the tank with Gorsky, the fake light was accurate, and once they got to America, the visuals were breathtaking. In the action sequences and Russian/Kazakh environments blacks look exceptional and the depth in the image is adequate. The film tends to lose some sharpness and a multi-dimensional feel when it goes outdoors occasionally (when Toorop starts driving Aurora and Rebeka), but otherwise the film looks much better than it deserves.

Sound:

The DTS-HD Master Audio lossless 5.1 soundtrack doth bring the goods when it needs to, that's for sure. With all this action you get gunfire and explosions that are dynamic and well-balanced, providing a subwoofer punch when they were needed. From the opening scenes where a series of soldiers invades Toorop's home, and the train station, they're all powerful (my wife noticed it upstairs while I was watching). A key scene later when a Russian submarine bursts through the ice is both powerful and smartly immersive with the ice breaking in all speakers. Similar directional activity during the marketplace and club sequences is also effective, with excellent speaker panning. It's a shame that such a bad movie includes such a powerful and amazing soundtrack, but it's another reason why this lossless stuff is fantastic.

Extras:

Fox has included their "BonusView," feature on this disc, which is basically their version of a picture-in-picture for Blu-ray discs that you can either play individually, as a group, or during the film itself. "Evolution of a Scene" (50:50) looks at some of the larger action sequences at various points in the film, while "Babylon A.D. Commercials" (2:44) are nothing more than the in-movie commercials that were produced. A deleted scene (2:32) showing more of a fight between dueling Hummers is included, and in HD no less. The six futurities are also all in high definition. "Babylon Babies" (11:05) is an interview with Dantec as he discusses the film and his other literary works, along with working with Kassovitz. He talks about the characters he's created and particular inspirations for this book, and it's nice to see him on here. "Arctic Escape" (11:41) is a sequence which covers the snowmobile fight, and includes ample interview footage with the drivers of said vehicles and the stunt coordinator who pulled it all together. "Fit for the Screen" (7:04) shows some work on additional sequences and working with Kassovitz on them, and how Diesel fit into the process. "Flight of the Hummers" (8:00) looks at the stunt driving in the film, and an animated prequel to the film, titled "Genesis of Aurora" (5:08), is the last feature on the first disc. A digital copy is housed on the second disc that completes the package.

Final Thoughts:

If I told you the story about film set in the future, starring a bald action hero who is asked to take a mysterious one-named woman on a "save the planet" type quest, in an action film directed by a Frenchman, you'd have thought I described the plot outline for The Fifth Element. But because this sounds so similar, you can get an idea of how original it is. The performances are uninspired, but at least the movie looks and sounds good in Blu-ray. But I like The Fifth Element, and I don't like Babylon A.D.. It's not worth your well-invested time.



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