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Babylon A.D. (2008)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 1/6/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/8/2009

Back in 1989, I had to choose a CD to fulfill my membership with Columbia House, so I took a chance on the band Babylon A.D.. They played a brand of hair-metal which was in no way original, but was still satisfying. Speaking of things which used to be cool, Vin Diesel was a hot commodity in the early part of this decade after starring in movies like Pitch Black, The Fast and the Furious, and xXx. These two ideas oddly come together as Diesel returns to the world of science-fiction with the film Babylon A.D.. Will this slick film create a comeback for the actor, or will it be another forgettable outing?

Diesel stars in Babylon A.D. as Toorop, a mercenary living in New Serbia in the not too distant future. He's an expatriate American who has been banned from his homeland for being a terrorist. Gorsky (Gerard Depardieu) offers Toorop a job to deliver a package to the U.S.. He will be given a falsified passport which will allow him to enter the country. Toorop agrees and learns that he will be transporting a young woman named Aurora (Melanie Thierry) and her caretaker, Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh), from an isolated convent to New York City. Things are awkward at first, as Aurora has never been outside the convent and is overwhelmed not only by the world, but by the brash Toorop. Their journey isn't easy either, as this is a decaying and barbaric world, and Toorop must fight or scheme their way through several stops. As their journey progresses, Toorop begins to realize that there is something unusual about Aurora, and he'll soon learn that several factions will do what ever it takes to apprehend her.

There's nothing wrong with a movie being multi-faceted. Be it an action/comedy or a comedy/drama, anytime that a film wants to bring in different parts to liven things up, it's a good thing. But, when a movie has multiple personalities, that's something else entirely. Babylon A.D. follows the typical three-act arc of a movie, but the three acts feel as if they've come from three different movies.

The first part of the movie feels like any other bleak future movie. It's very dark and murky, everyone is dirty, and there's a general sense that the world is an awful place. The middle section of the film is more of an action movie, but even this feels like it's culled from different genre. The cage-fighting match at the train-station resembles something from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, while the snowmobile chase could have been pulled from a James Bond film. The third act, takes a sudden turn into a more dramatic and science-fiction driven realm, and the viewer is suddenly bombarded with new characters and subplots. Not plot twists really, but entirely new stories. The result is a movie which never finds its footing, and thus, probably won't satisfy many viewers. For example, you may love the middle, but hate the beginning and ending.

The version of Babylon A.D. presented on the DVD and Blu-ray Disc runs some 11 minutes longer than the version shown in U.S. theaters. (The box proclaims it to be "Raw and Uncut".) I didn't see the movie in the theater, so I can't comment on the differences. What I can say is that this doesn't appear to be a Director's Cut, as rumor has it that director Mathieu Kassovitz walked off of the project after having creative differences with Fox. So, we must assume that this version is someone's attempt to piece together a longer cut of the film based on the available footage. With this, we get a movie which shows promise, but can't deliver. Based on what little I knew about Babylon A.D., I'd expected it to be terrible, but the action scenes are very well-done and the whole thing looks quite expensive. However, it all falls apart at the end when the story suddenly shifts and far too much new information is thrown at the audience. Instead of adding new footage, they should have simply has someone appear on-screen and explain to us what is supposed to be happening.

Perhaps the greatest problem with Babylon A.D. is that it will remind the viewer of so many other movies. Elements of Escape from New York, Waterworld, Children of Men, Ultraviolet, and the aforementioned Mad Max films abound in the movie. (Although, it must be said that the way in which Toorop gets to the convent was a new one.) But the lack of originality would have been forgivable, had the film found any truly satisfying conclusions. As it stands, Babylon A.D. will only impress those who were dying to see Vin Diesel return to the action genre. The stunts are impressive and the movie has a wide scope, but it simply peters out.

Babylon A.D. has a ridiculously deep voice on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no distracting grain and no defects from the source material. Even the snowbound scenes show no grain, which is impressive. The colors are good, but the image is a bit dark at times. The DVD offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo and surround effects are very good and the action scenes truly circle the viewer in sound. The subwoofer effects are good as well, as the explosions produce a nice rumble.

The Babylon A.D. DVD contains several extras. "Babylon Babies" (11 minutes) contains comments from author Maurice G. Dantec, who wrote the film's source novel, Babylon Babies. He talks about the book, explaining how he viewed the story, and his involvement with the film. Dantec goes on about the themes of the book, getting way out there at times, but never gives an opinion on the movie. Stunt coordinator Bob Brown discusses the snowmobile scenes and introduces us to "Slednecks" in "Arctic Escape" (12 minutes). "Fit for the Screen" (7 minutes) again features Brown, this time talking about the cage-fighting scene. "Hummers in Flight" (8 minutes) offers stunt coordinator Kenny Bates explaining how a car-chase scene was done. "Babylon A.D. Commercials" (3 minutes) offers seven brief ads, which I guess were visible in the background of the film. The DVD offers one DELETED SCENE, which runs about 2 1/2 minutes -- oddly, it's the car chase featured in "Hummers in Flight". We also get a STILL GALLERY. The final extra is "Prequel to Babylon A.D.: Genesis of Aurora" (5 minutes), which is a partially animated graphic novel.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has also brought Babylon A.D. to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The film's slick look is well represented in this transfer, as the picture has a nice crispness to it and the level of detail is quite good. The picture has good depth and is never too dark or bright. The only issue that I noted was that flesh tones look a bit waxy in some shots. The Disc holds a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We have another good track from Fox here, as the stereo effects are very detailed and show good stereo separation. The surround sound is constant in some scenes, and the action scenes really benefit from it. The subwoofer effects are excellent, providing wall-shaking bass. Overall, a good BD package.

The Blu-ray Disc contains the same extras as the DVD, plus "Bonusview" which offers picture-in-picture interviews and behind-the-scenes footage for specific moments in the film.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long