In a rare case of truth in advertising, "Babies" gives viewers exactly what's promised: 78 minutes of unfiltered infant adventure. It's not a documentary in the traditional sense, lacking a purring narrator or an expert opinion to anchor it. Instead, the picture provides an up-close glimpse of life at its earliest wobbly stages, tracking the rise of four new, bewildered members to the human race.
Instead of observing a single newborn on the way to the glory of its first steps, "Babies" covers four little ones from around the globe, greeting Ponijao from Namibia, Bayarjargal from Mongolia, Hattie from San Francisco, and Mari from Tokyo. From the moment of their birth, director Thomas Balmes keeps his cameras trained on their movement, watching as the babies develop in diverse areas of the world, while also monitoring the range of parenting techniques and instincts that help to keep the wee ones alive and happy.
"Babies" is pure behavior, which takes a few moments to process. Balmes doesn't interfere or comment on the children, but merely captures their purity of development and unfailing curiosity. While helped along by a few soundtrack cuts, "Babies" is primarily a silent viewing experience, with mighty passages of infant response taking center stage, as they coo, cry, and gurgle from desert huts to city high-rises, with their universal needs creating a compelling human uniformity despite diverse cultural backgrounds and environmental/economic disparity.
Educational in a roundabout way, "Babies" explores how infants communicate and seize their self-awareness, with the stars of the show working their way around the household, interacting with toys, sucking on homemade pacifiers (a piece of fat harpooned by a matchstick in Mongolia), dealing with jealous siblings, and often bombing around with domesticated animals (three of the homes have very patient cats). "Babies" is a chance to drink in the essence of experience, with extended takes devoted to these young things simply exploring their surroundings, which leads to bouts of joy or ungodly frustration.
Just who is "Babies" for? Seemingly indistinct as a documentary, the picture could easily become a valuable reflection of life for new parents, while the film also feeds into babyfever hysteria all too conveniently, with Bayarjargal rising as a filthy, snotty, 100% adorable star of the show as he giggles with every new revelation. Motherhood is also a huge component of "Babies," displaying the spectrum of reactions to everyday duties, including the disposal of fecal matter, refereeing horseplay, and breastfeeding. For outsiders looking in, "Babies" paints a persuasive portrait of parenting demands, though overall physical drain isn't addressed.
A film like "Babies" seems like an ideal fit for Blu-ray, permitting a more intimate experience to share with other children. The VC-1 encoded image (1.85:1 aspect ratio) presentation is a detail-laden affair, with infant hijinks and foreign vistas allowing the picture a wide assortment of visual business to study, preserved here with encouraging clarity, though the HD cinematography lacks a little muscle at times. With babies being babies, the textures of mischief are splendidly preserved, which can be a little off-putting during birthing sequences or close-ups of filthy kids. Colors are in terrific shape, with blue eyes and orange huts pushing through the screen, while shadow detail is in fine shape, able to preserve visual information from hair and fabrics.
Though "Babies" is gifted a 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix, there's little here that delivers a true sonic kick. Instead, the BD is a smooth, silent journey that preserves the coos and cries with a healthy frontal push. Atmospherics are subdued but effective, clarifying environmental changes, while scoring cues are delicate, but stable, filling a dimensional need when called upon. It's mild, but crisp and clean.
English SDH subtitles are offered.
"Three Years Later" (4:04) follows director Thomas Balmes as he reunites with the four families featured in the film, looking to capture the maturation of the young stars. It's a near-silent promotional piece with little substance, but it does offer an opportunity to see how the kids are doing and to observe their reaction to the film.
"Everyone Loves Babies" (2:06) is a brief collection of photos and videos from a contest held during the film's theatrical release.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
"Babies" also seems ideal for babies, who might delight in watching others enjoy the first few years of life. The documentary is best keeping to the infants, allowing the viewer to watch them comprehend the world and their own working parts, taking their first steps toward maturity, full on breast milk, tears, and a raging curiosity that seems as though it will last forever.