Pain is universal... but so is hope. From acclaimed Director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams) comes the third film in his trilogy, Babel, a critically celebrated and emotionally gripping film about the barriers that separate humankind.
A tragic accident in Morocco sets off a chain of events that will link four groups of people who, divided by cultural differences and vast distances, will discover a shared destiny that ultimately connects them. Brad Pitt (Mr. And Mrs. Smith, Oceans 12), Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett (The Aviator, The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy) and Gael García Bernal (Y Tu Mamá También, The Motorcycle Diaries) lead an outstanding international ensemble cast in this breakthrough film.
For more about Babel and the Babel Blu-ray release, see Babel Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on September 11, 2007 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
In the Book of Genesis, the story of Babel reveals how mankind's push to overachieve backfires, leading to the spread of divine confusion and spiritual pain. The biblical story has inspired many artists over the centuries and director Alejandro Iñárritu is certainly an artist. If there was any doubt of that before, he dispels it here. His vision is powerful, his actors perform magnificently and his story, despite flaws and risky subject matter, is accessible and even noble, if not rising to its spiritual inspiration. Iñárritu achieves riveting performances from his entire cast--from children and foreign actors never before seen in Hollywood to superstars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.
The Tokyo subplot of Babel revolves around a deaf/mute girl who is lost in her attempts to win affection and attention.
The film weaves tales of confusion, miscommunication, terror and alienation in Morocco, Tokyo,
San Diego and Mexico. It begins as an arab father buys a rifle for his two sons to protect a goat
herd from jackals. In a horrid test of target practice, the boys take aim at a bus winding on a
mountain pass below. With dramatic camera work and haunting music that bring audiences into
the characters' locales and psyches, Iñárritu creates a strong gravitational force that moves
through an ultradramatic narrative. This force pulls all the more strongly with 1080p stark
realism in exotic locations and with fist-clenching suspense that evolves with the character
The stories unfold in a nonlinear way as Iñárritu attempts to weave together the seemingly
disconnected subplots. He valiantly attempts to link them together. Perhaps the strands should
have been left separate and produced as different vignettes, each in a linear way, from beginning
to end. But I admire Iñárritu for attempting to resolve a tricky narrative with so many unrelated
characters. Whether he pulls it off is debatable, but his skill and vision is beyond doubt.
Babel is one of only a few Paramount releases of any critical acclaim prior to the studio's
announcement that it would stop production of Blu-ray discs. Enough has been said about that
elsewhere. I will say only that early adopters of Blu-ray are lucky to have Babel available prior to
Paramount's announcement. The film is not for everyone and has some disturbing content that
portrays violence and nudity in ways that audiences are unaccustomed to seeing. The power and
intensity of Iñárritu's craft is disarming. For those of us who like to be drawn into a truly inspired
cinematographic experience, Babel comes strongly recommended. And Paramount did a fine job
with the Blu-ray.
Babel is a captivating visual experience, and the MPEG-2 codec delivers good detail and depth. The camera plays over the terrain and the faces of characters, revealing nuances that in standard definition are completely lacking. Look at the way Paramount's Blu-ray resolves the rugged landscape of Morocco, dotted with shanties, rocks, shrubbery and goats. Faces, too, are rich with detail. Brad Pitt is among the most photographed and filmed stars in the world, but you have never really seen him until you watch this BD. The wrinkles around his eyes and brow, the grey stubble on his chin--they communicate an age, weariness and desperation unlike we have seen from Pitt before. And that is as much attributable to the 1080p resolution of the Blu-ray as to the direction and camera work.
From the desert plains of the Mexico-US border to a Tokyo nightclub, Iñárritu's lens captures intense depth, dramatic contrast and challenging lighting. The Blu-ray reveals it all with no visible flaws. Even in the most tricky scene, where a strobe light flashes in a discotheque, black level and bright light are resolved without artifacts. Detail in dark scenes is adequate with no significant pixellation. The color saturation may be a little shy, but I believe this is an ever-so-slightly washed-out look adopted by Iñárritu for stylistic reasons. It is not nearly as washed-out as films like O Brother Where Art Thou, Letters from Iwo Jima or 300. Ample reds, vibrant greens and azure blues are visible, as is small-diameter film grain.
Even though Babel has no lossless PCM content, its Dolby Digital track is not bad at all. The sound of a solo guitar is a powerful introduction to the opening scene. While not highly detailed, the resonances of the guitar's body are delivered with adequate realism to generate a strong mood. When I'm watching a movie, I can forgive instrumentation that doesn't image convincingly in the soundstage. The most important sounds are, of course, voices. Babel provides clear, strong dialogue, well recorded and optimally engineered for DD.
Returning to the scene in the Tokyo nightclub, the DD soundtrack has some minor issues with the denser sounds. The music in the club is a Japanese cover of Earth Wind and Fire's "Sing a Song". The audio communicates a club feel, but the sound is congested. In fairness, I have never heard a club soundsystem that didn't sound muddled. I would have liked an LPCM track for purposes of comparison, but either Paramount is unwilling to produce that content or the filmmaker only had DD available for the Blu-ray. For a single instrument or voice, the DD was perfectly adequate, but resolving a more complex chorus of sounds, such as the nightclub atmosphere or the Mexican wedding, was a bit problematic. Still, the average listener will have absolutely no complaints about the audio.
Paramount's bonus features for Babel are nonexistent. Selecting the "extras" tab from the menu pulls up a choice to see a theatrical trailer or a mish-mashed montage of previews that extolls the virtues of Paramount's Blu-ray offerings. Even at the time of these previews and Babel's production, it seems, Paramount was not committed to delivering the best Blu-ray product to its customers.
Alienation, pain and miscommunication are universal themes, common to all humanity. Babel captures these themes well and weaves adept, muscular stories around them. The film does not achieve absolute spirituality and timelessness, but the stories are handled with great care and artistic vision. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker than Iñárritu, these plot lines would have come unglued, but to Paramount's credit, we are treated to a Blu-ray of ample quality and of emotive, spellbinding content. The book of Genesis tells of mankind's push to build a city, a tower, reaching to the heavens. In the modern world, many of our cities have such towers. And Iñárritu's stories come to an end on one of these high risers, looking out over the lights of Tokyo at night.