Saturday, 7 March 2009
BABYLON A.D. (2008)
Directed by: Mathieu Kassovitz
Screenplay: Mathieu Kassovitz, Joseph Simas & Eric Besnard
Starring: Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, Melanie Thierry & Lambert Wilson
So by now you’ve probably heard what a wholly un-god mess Babylon A.D. is? The studio all but abandoned the picture; cut a good chunk of ‘plot and character development’ out; interfered with director Kassovitz at every stage; which led to him disowning and publicly damming the film; which in turn led to rumours of a strenuous relationship with star Diesel who also gave the film little push; and every critic (and their brother) pretty much hating the film outright which led to many a 1 star review and an excessive amount hyperbole about how awful the flick is. Big studios have been notorious, since the dawn of cinema, for interfering in big budget flicks all but ruining them and cramping the unique vision of a once talented director. This is sure to go on as along as films are made and Babylon A.D. was the unfortunate victim of such ruining in last years big budget summer releases. But low and behold, it isn’t as bad they say. By no means is it a masterpiece and it’s certainly sad to Kassovitz’s pet project and ‘unique vision’ squandered (he broke through in the movie world with the amazing and emotionally draining La Haine) on a run of the mill adventure but there is still enough wham and bam and even a bit of edgy style to make Babylon A.D. an entertaining misfire.
Diesel does his action movie man thing as Toorop a mercenary hired to transport a young woman (the gorgeous Thierry) from war ravaged Europe to New York as she may just be the saviour of mankind in a post apocalyptic future. Along for the ride is Michelle Yeoh and the three set off on a journey where they bond, kick some ass and, well, save mankind. Babylon A.D. is frustrating in the sense that it could have been so much more than it is. Kassovitz’s gritty style is still evident with the authentic locations and non-glossy camerawork and in general elicits good performances from the cast. Diesel isn’t as bad as many have reported as there is definitely a wounded soul quality to his character he is just unfortunately lumbered with awful by-the-numbers action movie dialogue. This is pretty much the case for the whole film. What could have been an edgy sci-fi film with deeper characterization and some slick action is instead just a been-there-seen-it-all before adventure. A group of people set off on a journey, overcome adversity, come to love one another and then wrap things up rather abruptly. If the studio hadn’t interfered and Kassovitz had been allowed to make the film he wanted to, then Babylon A.D. would have been a much better, and probably more successful, film.
However, if one can put aside all the negativity thrown at the flick and leave the need to deconstruct and over analyze the plot and the leading man at the door, then Babylon A.D. provides a fair amount of Euro styled fun and action. Eschewing the overly slick and glossy look of many Hollywood blockbusters, the film retains a gritty feel and certainly supplies regular amounts of action. This varies from the good (a parkour themed chase/fight in a nightclub, the snowmobile bit) to the incomprehensible (the big shootout in New York and the car chase finale: which is cut so quickly it almost makes the opening chase in Quantum of Solace coherent and comprehensible) Hollywood once again reverting to the idea that action scenes must now be cut at 100 mph. They shouldn’t, it sucks and we should go back to filming and cutting them so we can see, enjoy and experience what is happening.
Despite popular opinion suggesting otherwise, Babylon A.D. is still worth checking out as it never takes itself too seriously and provides a good dose of visual thrills. But note to Hollywood: if you hire an edgy, independent director, let him/her do their thing; quit altering movies so drastically that they become just another clichéd ridden mess with endings that don’t make sense; and ease up on all this hip, trendy, MTV, blitzkrieg editing to try and make action exciting.