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Everybody loves... BABIES. This visually stunning new movie simultaneously follows four babies around the world - from first breath to first steps. From Mongolia to Namibia to San Francisco to Tokyo, BABIES joyfully captures on film the earliest stages of the journey of humanity that are at once unique and universal to us all. The children are, respectively, in order of on-screen introduction: Ponijao, who lives with her family near Opuwo, Namibia; Bayarjargal, who resides with his family in Mongolia, near Bayanchandmani; Mari, who lives with her family in Tokyo, Japan; and Hattie, who resides with her family in the United States, in San Francisco.
For more about Babies and the Babies Blu-ray release, see Babies Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on September 28, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Bayer, Hattie, Mari, Ponijao
Director: Thomas Balmes
» See full cast & crew
Babies Blu-ray Review
"A baby is God's opinion that life should go on."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, September 28, 2010
Babies may strike some as extraordinary, irresistible, joyous, buoyant and wonderful, but others will simply wonder what all the fuss is about. French director Thomas Balmès' documentary is as minimalistic as they come -- not a hint of narration, scant cultural context and little substance -- and its wafer-thin message about commonality grows redundant long before its 79-minutes come to a close. I smiled, sure. I even laughed quite a few times as Balmès' bouncing baby subjects plucked at my heartstrings. But I found myself growing restless; tapping my fingers with the been-there-seen-that weariness of a man who's been around plenty of babies, even nurtured one of his own, yet finds their current cultural celebrity status terribly baffling. That being said, if a mousy voice deep within the squishy recesses of your brain is whispering, "but they're soooo adorable," Babies is definitely for you. If your wife or girlfriend can't contain her requisite "awwwwww" at the mere sight of the documentary's cutesy coverart, add Babies to your shopping cart post haste. No review required.
Babies is built on an intriguing concept: to follow four newborns from four wildly different cultures and document the similarities and differences that emerge over the first year of their lives. And, to his great credit, Balmès makes four excellent choices. Ponijao, a young boy from Opuwo, Namibia who learns the ins and outs of fighting with his brother; Mari, a determined little girl from Tokyo who can't quite sit up as well as she'd like to; Bayar, a bubbling baby boy from the mountains of Bayanchandmani, Mongolia; and Hattie, an inquisitive American newborn living in San Francisco. The children stare, coo, grasp and grab, eventually crawl their way into mobility and inevitably stand to view their world from a new perspective. Along the way, they encounter environmental hazards, hand-made playthings, domesticated animals and the love and affection of their mothers, all of which guides them from one discovery to the next with enviable rapture.
Unfortunately, that's the extent of Balmès' documentary. His vision is pure, noble even, and he demonstrates just how alike we all really are (at least before our environments exact their influence on our lives, behaviors and personalities). But without narration, the nature of the babies' physical, mental and emotional development is left to the imagination, and Balmès is left with little choice but to artificially align the lives of his subjects. Editing shortcuts, tricky cutaways and other well-intentioned sleight-of-hand highlights the similarities between the four children -- through the magic of film, they begin interacting, jabbering, crawling and walking simultaneously -- but inadvertently stifles their individuality. Likewise, without subtitles, we're left to wonder what the babies' families are saying about it all. On one hand, Balmès intentionally puts his audience into the babies' worlds, forcing viewers to step into his young subjects' shoes. Ponijao and Mari can't understand the adults in their lives, why should we? On the other hand, the more information a viewer has at his or her disposal -- particularly in a documentary that spans four countries and three continents -- the more insight he or she is able to glean. The only thing I really learned is that the MPAA has a specific ratings designation for "Cultural and Maternal Nudity." Otherwise, Babies amounts to little more than a smartly constructed, 79-minute screensaver.
An endearing screensaver of course. Balmès' fly-on-the-wall documentary isn't entirely without insight, and tracking the development of four budding personalities is admittedly entertaining. What it lacks in substance, it makes up for in sweet, saccharine sentiment. At its best, Babies is a celebration of life and its wonders; a reminder of how amazing everything seemed when we were just pulling ourselves up off the ground. Ponijao, Mari, Bayar and Hatti are gracious hosts and generous subjects. Their wide-eyed enthusiasm is nothing short of amusing, their frustration palpable and their curiosity oh-so-familiar. I even found myself wondering how their countries' economic, political and social issues would eventually affect their lives as they approached adolescence and adulthood. But things like class, wealth, health and opportunity are merely implied, never explored. Their cultures, traditions and familial relationships are anyone's guess. It's infuriating at times, honestly. Perhaps I was expecting too much -- maybe my resistance to its wares is unreasonable -- but Balmès' simplicity is too simplistic for its own good. I have no doubt Babies will continue to find an audience and continue to elicit awwws from baby-zealots, moms-to-be and grandmothers the world over. I'll just have to find a more academic documentary, I suppose.
Babies Blu-ray, Video Quality
Babies takes its first step on Blu-ray with a somewhat unremarkable yet wholly sufficient 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer; one that rises with Jérôme Alméras, Frazer Bradshaw, Steeven Petitteville and Eric Turpin's photography but stumbles a bit with intermittent softness, noise and other minor (presumably inherent) issues. Colors are generally strong and stable -- the amber hues of Namibia are as warm as an African sunrise, the rustic interiors of rural Mongolia are rich and earthy, the bright skies of Tokyo cast the sprawling city in sharp blues and grays, and the cushy primaries of San Francisco are inviting -- but not entirely consistent. Both clarity and vibrancy take a hit in poorly lit scenes, the harsh lighting of the natural environments takes its toll and the image is occasionally washed out and underwhelming. Contrast is a tad uneven as well, and black levels range from ashy to inky, sometimes in the span of seconds. Granted, the majority of these so-called mishaps trace back to Balmès' cameras and his team's unobtrusive documentary filmmaking, but it still makes for a less-than-breathtaking presentation. Heavy shadows are teeming with bearable noise, several establishing shots and closeups are inexplicably soft, ringing and aliasing are at play throughout, and other admittedly negligible anomalies pop up here and there. None of it is distracting, at least not outright. None of it is debilitating, at least as documentary presentations go. In the end, Babies fans will be pleased. Others will simply shrug their shoulders and wonder, again, what all the fuss is about.
Babies Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Like the feature film itself, Babies' DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is playful, succinct and minimalistic. Not that I'm complaining. Background voices are fairly unintelligible, but they aren't meant to be crystal clear. Every coo and gurgle is crisp, clean and deftly prioritized, every rattle shake and hands-on experiment gone awry is given the full support of the speakers, and Bruno Coulais' impish score bounds from one channel to the next, swelling and retreating with nimble ease. Better still, the whole of the soundfield is full and engaging. Not exactly immersive, mind you, but more than adequate for the task at hand. As low-key, front-heavy documentaries go, Universal's lossless track delivers the goods and draws listeners into every bright, bubbly, wide-eyed misadventure the soon-to-be-toddling tots experience. Ultimately, Balmès' intentions are intact, as is the integrity of his team's simplistic sound design. I couldn't ask for much more.
Babies Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Two brief featurettes are included: a four-minute "Three Years Later" visit between Balmès and his subjects, and a two-minute "Babies Sweepstakes Winners" short.
Babies Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I smiled throughout Babies. Its tiny tots are endearing subjects and Alméras, Bradshaw, Petitteville and Turpin's infectious photography captures a number of invaluable slice-of-life milestones. Unfortunately, Balmès aims a bit low and delivers something tantamount to a Cannes screensaver. What it offers in cute encounters of the toddling kind, it lacks in depth. What it has to say about mankind's commonality is rather obvious and uneventful. Is it a bad film? Not at all. Will it thrill anyone who doesn't have an Anne Geddes mousepad? I doubt it. Universal's Blu-ray release fares somewhat better. It may not have any special features worth mentioning, but its video transfer is solid and its DTS-HD Master Audio surround track is nice and full. As it stands, little about Babies resonates, but as a rental or as a parents-to-be purchase, it's decidedly decent.
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Babies Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Babies Blu-ray Out Exclusively at Target - September 4, 2010
The feature-length documentary Babies, following four babies from around the world for the first year of their lives, which was originally announced for September 28, is already available to buy on Blu-ray, albeit only at Target (both online and in stores). Technical ...
• Babies Blu-ray Announced - August 10, 2010
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced Babies for Blu-ray release on September 28. This documentary simultaneously follows four babies around the world during one year - from first breath to first steps. It grossed over $7 million domestically, a respectable ...
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