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In the darkly futuristic world of Babylon A.D., the rules are simple: kill or be killed. Toorop, a ruthless mercenary hired to smuggle a mysterious young woman from the post-apocalyptic confines of Eastern Europe to the glittering megalopolis of New York City. Hunted at every turn, Toorop spirits his charge across a nightmarish wasteland only to uncover a shocking secret that will bring the entire world to its knees. Eye-popping action and mind-blowing science fiction clash head-on in this hard-edged thriller, where the only rule is survival.
For more about Babylon A.D. and the Babylon A.D. Blu-ray release, see Babylon A.D. Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on January 9, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, Mélanie Thierry, Lambert Wilson, Mark Strong, Jérôme Le Banner
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
» See full cast & crew
Babylon A.D. Blu-ray Review
'Bablyon A.D.' misses the mark, but the Blu-ray is first-class.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, January 9, 2009
Sometimes you get a second chance.
Babylon A.D., the latest offering from muscle-bound star Vin Diesel, desperately wants to be a Science Fiction classic for the new generation. To the film's credit, it tries awfully hard and gives an admirable effort to be so, but it ultimately becomes bogged down in a plot that remains too mysterious and somewhat incoherent to fully succeed. Smatterings of other, better Science Fiction is to be found by the adept moviegoer throughout, and fans of the genre in particular will note such similarities. Many will also likely leave the experience perhaps satisfied for the short term but ultimately disappointed in what is definitely a case study in missed opportunity. As pure entertainment, Babylon A.D. almost succeeds, offering good special effects that blend seamlessly into the film, several acceptable action sequences, and a solid performance from Vin Diesel. As meaningful cinema, Babylon A.D. just never achieves any sort of thematic importance or historical relevance, but not for lack of honest effort.
Babylon A.D. tells the tale of Toorop (Vin Diesel, xXx), an American expatriate living in a near-future world of shady arms dealers, poverty, and destruction in war-torn "New Serbia." Taken at gunpoint, Toorop meets with Gorsky (Gérard Depardieu (Last Holiday) and is offered a job as an escort to a young woman to ensure her safe arrival in New York City. The girl is known simply as Aurora (Mélanie Thierry), a sheltered individual who has lived her entire life within the confines of a monastery. The couple will be joined by Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh, Sunshine), Aurora's lifelong caretaker. Their journey will be a perilous one; the trio will be met by numerous unsavory characters and harsh environments. Through it all, Toorop must learn exactly who he is escorting, why she is so valuable to so many, and if her life is worth his.
If the basic premise sounds somewhat familiar to Science Fiction fans, it is. Babylon A.D. is based on the 1999 novel Babylon Babies by French author Maurice G. Dantec, a story widely praised for its depth and breadth. Unfortunately, the movie prefers to parallel both the story line and critical appeal of one of the true stinkers in the history of Science Fiction cinema, Jean-Claude Van Damme's 1989 critical flop Cyborg, a film chronicling the adventures of a "slinger" (Van Damme) escorting across post-apocalyptic America a female VIP who carries with her the future of mankind. Certainly, Cyborg compares to Babylon A.D. in premise and promise only, this 2008 feature boasting superior acting, effects, and story. Still, it's not always about glitz and glamour; few films thrive, let alone survive, on superficiality, and Babylon A.D. is certainly no exception. While a film like Cyborg cannot be faulted for trying to be nothing more than an overplayed, nonsensical Sci-fi/Action time waster, Babylon A.D. continually seems to promise more than what it can deliver, and by the end, it may just be a worse movie, simply because of its failure to live up to potential to deliver on a premise that should have lent itself to being one of the most-talked about, entertaining, and perhaps even important Science Fiction films in years.
Sadly, the film doesn't even surpass the best actor Vin Diesel has to offer. Parts of Babylon A.D. recall Pitch Black, both through a few character traits Toorop shares with Riddick, not to mention parts of Atli Örvarsson's (Vantage Point) score that, to these ears, mimics sections of the Pitch Black score, notably during a scene where Toorop first meets Rebeka and Aurora. Like Riddick, Toorop begins as a hard, no-nonsense, dangerous individual with a "me first" attitude, though as the picture develops, the character begins to reveal a softer, more compassionate side underneath the hardened, deadly exterior. Several future cityscape shots of New York City also desperately attempt to best those seen in Ridley Scott's classic Blade Runner, but even with technology more than a quarter-century advanced, the magic of that look isn't recaptured here. Still, Babylon A.D. is not a total loss. Director Mathieu Kassovitz (La Haine) offers steady, unobtrusive direction and retains a solid pacing. The performances of the primaries range from acceptable to above-average, with Diesel and Yeoh delivering the best of the leads, supported by good outings from veterans Gérard Depardieu and Charlotte Rampling (The Duchess).
Babylon A.D. Blu-ray, Video Quality
Fox escorts Babylon A.D. onto Blu-ray with a high quality 2.35:1, 1080p transfer. The depth and detail on display throughout the film is quite good, and like many Fox releases, the picture quality is far above average. The worn, torn down, unkempt locales seen throughout the first part of the film reveal incredible detail that brings the lifeless sets to life in high definition, each one offering plenty of information to absorb. It's not eye candy, to be sure, as it often appears a bit dim, dull, and devoid of bright colors, but the image is strong and lifelike for what it has to offer. Detail in close-up shots of Vin Diesel's face reveal a tremendous amount of information. The texture of his face, the rough facial hair, and the various scars and tattoos bring the character to life. Blacks are dark, deep, and true, with no apparent loss of detail in the darker corners. Later in the film, various locales contrast well to the cold, desolate, lifeless, dreary settings in Eastern Europe and Russia. The purity of the Alaska frontier and the advanced technology of New York City, including its clean lines and well-appointed interiors, look sharp and rich, all the locales holding up superbly in this 1080p transfer. Grain is present over the image, but not intrusively, and it lends to the transfer a high-quality cinematic feel. Flesh tones are also spot-on accurate. While the quality of the movie may be in question, this transfer is not. Babylon A.D., as expected, is another winner from 20th Century Fox.
Babylon A.D. Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Babylon A.D. delivers a powerful sonic experience, courtesy of another stellar DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack from 20th Century Fox. This mix makes excellent use of the entire soundstage; for example, distant gunshots during the opening moments ring out nicely with a good sense of depth and distance to them, emanating here and there around the room. Likewise, as helicopters fly by, the rotors thump and the sound moves effortlessly across the soundstage. The hip-hop music that accompanies the opening credits thumps and pounds to great effect, positively and forcefully filling the room with the loud yet precise beats. Explosions heard throughout the film positively rock the sound system. The disc also excels during the film's quieter scenes. Oftentimes, there is subtle ambience to be heard; the rustling of leaves in chapter four or a bustling street scene in chapter five, for example, add a nice touch to draw the audiences into the film, sonically. There is a good amount of ambience and support in the back channels, and from the smaller nuances to the hardest-hitting action pieces, the rear speakers receive quite the workout. Most every scene is filled with some sort of excellent sound presence, another of the best being a club scene in Russia in chapter seven that features incredibly deep and thumping lows that effortlessly place listeners inside the club. Dialogue reproduction is always clear and precise, never drowned out by ambience, music, or effects. Much like the video, the quality of the soundtrack overshadows that of the film, and Babylon A.D. is another in an ever-growing list of high quality lossless soundtracks now available to be enjoyed on Blu-ray.
Babylon A.D. Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
This Blu-ray release of Babylon A.D. offers viewers a standard selection of bonus materials. First up is a Bonusview feature divided into two sections -- Scene Evolution and Babylon A.D. Commercials. The former is a series of rather standard behind-the-scenes features that run for just over 50 minutes combined. Viewers will become privy to some of the inner-workings of the making of various scenes. The later feature is a series of made-up commercials that only run under three minutes in length. These features may be played back during the movie with Bonusview (Blu-ray profile 1.1)-enabled players, or available separate from the film. Also included is a deleted scene from the film entitled Hummer Sequence (1080p, 2:32).
Next up are five featurettes. Babylon Babies (1080i, 11:05) features the author of the original novel discussing the themes, characters, and process of writing his story. Arctic Escape (1080i, 11:41) closely examines the making of one of the film's more crucial action sequences. Fit for the Screen (1080i, 7:04) takes a brief look at the fight and stunt choreography utilized in the film. Flight of the Hummers (1080i, 8:00) looks at what goes into the making of a movie car chase. Finally, Prequel to 'Babylon A.D.:' Genesis of Aurora (1080p, 5:08) is an animated mini-prequel to the story. Concluding the movie-based supplements are a series of stills and trailers for Stargate: Continuum, X-Files: I want to Believe, and The Happening. The disc also includes D-Box support and an "Inside Look" at Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia (1080i, 3:00) which, according to the piece, is "now available on Blu-ray" (when in fact it is not). Disc two of this set contains a digital copy of the film. Played back on a second generation iPod Touch, the picture quality is good, with minimal problems such as blocking and banding as observed during select scenes. The audio is a bit more disappointing, coming across as detached and lifeless, but suitable for what it is.
Babylon A.D. Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Babylon A.D. could have, and should have, been better than it is. While it passes as suitable entertainment for a rainy Saturday evening, the film lacks in meaning and purpose, though it is not for a shortage of effort. Casual moviegoers should enjoy the film well enough, though hardcore Science Fiction fans will leave the experience shrugging at first, and perhaps disappointed later. 20th Century Fox's Blu-ray release of Babylon A.D. is much better than the film itself, featuring standout video and audio presentations, along with a smattering of bonus materials that should please those in search of behind-the-scenes materials. Despite the superior Blu-ray presentation, the film is likely best enjoyed as a rental.
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