By the time 'Babylon A.D.’ was eventually released in theaters late last August, following months of delays, word got out that director Matthieu Kassovitz (‘Gothika’) had completely turned his back on the project and shunned the film. Apparently, the studio had creative differences with Kassovitz’ vision, and their constant meddling turned the movie into an entirely different entity than what he had intended. Now I’m not defending Kassovitz, as I don’t know if his version would have been any better, but having seen the finished result on Blu-ray, I’m perplexed as to why they just didn’t let him do his thing in the first place. I certainly can’t see it being any worse than this backseat directors’ mess of a hack job.
The story takes place in the not-too-distant future of war-torn Europe, where a suspected terrorist named Toorop (Vin Diesel) lives out his days after being exiled from the United States. Thinking he’d never set foot on home soil again, Toorop reluctantly seizes the opportunity to return to his native nation when a crime lord known as Gorsky (Gérard Depardieu in one of his most one-dimensional roles ever) entices him with an offer he can’t refuse. In exchange for a new identity and forged passport, all the job entails is escorting a girl called Aurora (Mélanie Thierry) from Russia to New York City safe and sound—and then he’s home-free.
At first, Toorop doesn’t know why he’s delivering Aurora and her keeper -- a nun named Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh)-- to the states, and he really doesn’t give a damn. All he cares about is finding a way back to his family’s plot of land in upstate New York and building a new home. But along their perilous journey, it becomes clear that Aurora has strange talents, and armed mercenaries are gunning for her. As a result, Toorop begins to have second thoughts about the arrangement with Gorsky as he realizes there’s much more to this girl than meets the eye.
I’ve never read Maurice G. Dantec’s novel “Babylon Babies,” but the film version attempts to adopt elements from ‘The Transporter,’ ‘Children of Men,’ ‘xXx,’ and ’Blade Runner,’ and unfortunately it does none of them particularly well. What we get is a movie that feels like someone raided the Hollywood archives and Scotch-taped sections of those films together as a makeshift sci-fi blockbuster. From one act to the next, it was almost as if someone changed the channel -- we begin in the dilapidated slums of a world gone haywire, enter an action-filled chase across continents (including crazy stunts on snowmobiles), and finally reach our destination in a futuristic cityscape. There’s lots of eye-candy to be sure, but nothing really flows smoothly.
Here’s the thing: most decently crafted movies jump back and forth to different scenes and mix things up a bit, and I’d assume that’s the same structure this film was originally supposed to follow before being mutilated by the studio. From what I’ve read, though, over an hour of Kassovitz’ footage was axed in order to cut the movie down to a more manageable size, and the movie really suffers from this. I don’t normally care for overly long movies, but I would much rather have sat through two or two and a half hours if it meant enjoying a more fleshed out plot with a more interesting story foundation. Plus, most novels have a lot of substance to them and require enough space to breathe, otherwise it’s not doing the original any justice.
The ending was another disappointment. I’m not going to go into any details so I don’t spoil anything, but the big revelation, which is supposed to be the twist from what I can gather, comes so fast and furious that it didn’t make one iota of sense. We are beaten over the head with so much information in the last ten minutes or so that there really wasn’t much time to process it all. To make matters worse, it seemed some parts were missing altogether, so I still have no clue what exactly happened. Honestly, the whole movie felt rushed, and the experience was jarring, like sitting on a poorly constructed rollercoaster that hurts more than it entertains.
At least ‘Babylon A.D.’ boasts a pristine 1080p (MPEG-4/AVC codec) transfer presented in its original theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This one has a color palette that is all over the map -- starting with an intentionally bleak and washed out look for the run-down European ghettos, then moving on to the bright snow-blinding whites of the arctic, and then to the vibrant neons of the bursting metropolis of tomorrow.
Black levels remained deep and inky, and the picture is free of any noticeable bouts of noise and edge enhancement. A hint of grain is present throughout, but on the plus side it doesn’t detract at all from the image. Depth is solid, although not as exceptional as some releases so it didn’t quite have that 3D illusion. Detailing is impressive as well, especially the tattoos and battle scars on Toorop. I thought the flesh tones were a bit waxy at times, but overall the Fox engineers manage to create a visual delight.
The best part about this Blu-ray disc, is the top-notch sound — and the sound alone is what makes the sloppy movie somewhat tolerable.
Included is an aggressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that teleports the viewer smack dab in the middle of the action. Bullets whiz by in all directions and the helicopter sequence felt like it was landing right in my backyard. The bass is heavy, delivering loud rumblings from explosions and roaring thumps from hip-hop music. Dialogue is also crisp and clear, and the only time I thought it may have been a little too soft was when Sister Rebeka was conversing with Toorop on the train. Otherwise, I didn’t find myself straining my ears to decipher what was being said at all, and was thoroughly impressed with the entire package. It’s loud and is bound to wake up the neighbors—just the way I like it.
Rounding out the audio features is an optional French Dolby Digital 5.1 track, as well as subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish, Cantonese, Korean, and Mandarin.
Fox includes an average set of extras, most of which are the same ones found on the 2-Disc Special Edition DVD. This is one case where I’m actually glad we don’t have any commentaries. It would have been a test of patience sitting through this movie again in such a short timeframe.
Maybe it’s just me, but when a movie is shrouded in controversy, belly-flops at the box office, and has a main character whose name just happens to be an anagram of “poo rot,” the outcome doesn’t smell all that appetizing. I had still hoped ‘Babylon A.D.’ might turn out to be a fun popcorn flick, but it’s really hard to get past one of the worst editing jobs I’ve ever seen. At least it wasn’t a total write-off thanks to fair supplements, excellent video, and amazing audio—so this one is a coin-toss between skipping and renting.