Babylon A.D. carried the distinction of a rare science fiction theatrical film marketed to the masses. The previews, depicting a bustling futuristic New York City with sprawling skyscrapers and an advertising epidemic reminiscent of The Fifth Element, brought a sliver of hope the film would deliver an even rarer must-see science fiction spectacle.
Somewhere on a journey to New York City in the film, not unlike the trek in Children of Men, something went horrifically wrong for the screen adaptation of Babylon A.D. from the novel “Babylon babies” by Maurice G. Dantec. Ironically director Mathieu Kassovitz warned us this would happen due to extensive editing by Fox before the film ever arrived in theaters.
Babylon A.D. is set roughly 40 years in the future where gruff merc-for-hire Toorop (stereotypical role for Vin Diesel) is recruited by Gorsky (Gerard Depardieu) to escort a mysterious young girl Aurora (French actress Melanie Thierry) and her caretaker Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh) from a secluded Eastern European church to New York City, no questions asked. Toorop is willing to do this as Gorsky is not only offering money but an “injection” that creates an internal passport which will allow him to remain in the United States where he’s on a terrorist watch list for reasons unknown.
It is painfully obvious that Aurora is a special “package” that Toorop is delivering as hinted by numerous strange abilities she displays during the group’s 90-minute trek to New York City. She can speak 19 different languages, knows infinite knowledge despite having never left the church in her life, possesses some sort of psychic ability that senses others and predicts near-future events. By the time Aurora’s secret is finally “outed” the exposition is so poorly written and executed that it fails to answer many of the questions previously posed. Without delving too deep into spoiler territory, I still don’t know exactly why Aurora can sense others or predict the future.
More fuel for Babylon A.D.’s downfall stems from the other interested parties in Aurora who combined are on-screen maybe 4 minutes tops. It’s hard to invest in their motives when unsure exactly what they are. Other unwritten or grazed-over plot elements like seemingly docile Rebeka being able to fight like a kickboxing professional when cornered without explanation and Toorop and Aurora sharing an awkward physical intimate moment, even though Diesel looks like Theirry’s father, help seal Babylon A.D.’s fate and validate Kassovitz’s warning.
Fox presents Babylon A.D. on Blu-ray Disc with an AVC MPEG-4 encoded 1080p transfer. Much like the diverse locations Toorop must travel to during his 6,000 mile voyage, the video quality ranges in consistency from film-like with strong but manageable grain and fantastic detail to excessive grain looking as if it came from another film altogether. Like the narrative, the stronger high definition scenes are found in the Eastern Europe and Alaskan segments while excessive grain intrudes during the New York City apartment segments. Aside from these grain spikes, the transfer seems to fit the director’s intent of transitioning from a pale and washed out dystopia to a bright and vibrant utopia; each featuring strong black levels, depth and detail.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is either aggressively active with full and immersive surround use and penetrating bass, or relatively quiet during long sequences while Toorop and his guests converse. Techno-infused music plays a strong role as Toorop moves through Eastern Europe and as such is pushed heavily when played. Other than one notable scene with characters whispering that was hard to discern every word, the audio presentation’s impact is a fit with the action – or lack thereof – on screen.
D-BOX Motion Code
The Motion Code programmed for Babylon A.D., which is included on the disc, tends to follow the coming and going of the audio’s impact with the exception of flyover establishing shots. When there is gunfire or explosions or fisticuffs, D-BOX kicks into gear.
The opening 10-15 minutes is probably the most balanced D-BOX stretched with a variety of applications the engineers were able to take advantage of. There is a bomb used to detonate a door for a quick jolt, a more subtle movement replicating the feeling of being inside a car of a gently bumpy road and sharp vibrating sensations during a helicopter flight sequence.
From the helicopter flight to the next D-BOX is lengthy enough to send the controller and chair into a hibernating mode. Luckily when the next use for D-BOX comes during an all-out brawl and subsequent steel-cage fight, the chair is given the most violent and pinpoint action seen throughout the entire movie.
A shootout scene shot framed in downtown New York City is D-BOX’s swan song and it’s a real treat. While not providing as sharp as movements as the fight scenes, this gun battle that escalates to include explosions keeps the chair active for several consecutive minutes of non-stop action.
Fox has included all the bonus features save for one in high definition video. The only caveat is you’ll need a profile 1.1 or higher Blu-ray Disc player to see them all, and you must return to the main menu from the feature to browse or select from the available features.
BonusView – (HD, Blu-ray exclusive) – Two BonusView features are included that require a Profile 1.1 or higher player to use. The first, “Scene Evolution,” is comprised of standard behind-the-scenes footage and interview snippets with the cast and crew presented via a picture-in-picture window during the feature film. The window is relatively oversized to about 40% of the main window so you don’t have to squint on a smaller screen to discern what’s going on. Alternately, each BonusView segment is available to watch separate from the film either individually or via a play all option. The inclusion of two means to view the same bonus footage will appease old school and BonusView audiences alike.
The second BonusView feature, “Babylon A.D. Commercials,” is offered with the same dual-viewing selections as “Scene Evolutions.” Fox precedes these raw and strange commercials designed to work within Babylon A.D.’s world with a disclaimer stating the video is not up to Fox’s standards and that would be right on the money. You can view them all in less than two minutes which is more than you’ll need.
Featurettes (37:51, HD) – There are a total of five featurettes that can be played individually or via play all to simulate a documentary. The first four featurettes, “Arctic Escape,” “Babylon Babies,” “Fit for the Screen” and “Flight of the Hummers” take a brief looking into the film’s source material novel, stunts, effects and other commonplace behind-the-scenes material. Fox has edited the featurettes to keep feature film footage at a minimum and relevant unseen behind-the-scenes footage at a maximum.
The last featurettes, “Prequel to Babylon A.D.: Genesis of Aurora,” is considered a spoiler if you haven’t seen the film yet. As the name implies, it explores the origins of the mysterious Aurora character via an animated graphic novel medium that runs approximately 5 minutes long. This is the most relevant bonus feature to kill in Aurora’s back story that wasn’t fully fleshed out in the feature.
Deleted Scene: Hummer Sequence (2:32, HD) – Though not listed on the case, this brief scene is filled with stunts and a couple explosions that must have cost a pretty penny. Though I did not see Babylon A.D. theatrically it is my understanding this scene was in that cut. The film works better without it though it’s a shame so much money was wasted in an extravagant action set-piece not needed to begin with.
Also included is a standard definition Digital Copy on a second disc, a Still Gallery (HD) and trailers for three 2008 Fox Blu-ray titles. Not included are any trailers or promotional materials for Babylon A.D.
Babylon A.D. is a Blu-ray Disc destined for mediocrity, a shame considering its genre that usually thrives in high definition. The story crumbles once Toorop completes his escort mission and the mystery behind Aurora’s importance to multiple factions is revealed. The bonus features are decent but the video loses its consistency during a couple scenes and the audio comes and goes in bursts. As director Mathieu Kassovitz warned us, Babylon A.D. is not the killer modern science fiction film we’ve been waiting for and should be considered a rental at best.
– Dan Bradley