DVD Review HTF Review: Babel

Discussion in 'DVD' started by JustinCleveland, Feb 9, 2007.

  1. JustinCleveland

    JustinCleveland Cinematographer

    Dec 23, 2002
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    Madison, WI
    Real Name:
    Justin Cleveland
    Studio: Paramount Pictures
    Year: 2006
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 143 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
    Audio: Dolby Digital English and French 5.1, Dolby Digital Surround 2.0
    Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

    Taking its cues from films like “Crash” and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s prior work like “Amores Perros” and “21 Grams,” “Babel” follows several stories, observing how different lives intersect. While each story is exceptionally powerful and moving in their own right, the connections between the story are tenuous which minimizes the impact of the film as a whole.

    Four stories illuminate a theme of the troubles in communicating in a diverse, global community. The first follows an attempt to salvage a troubled marriage as an American couple travels through the wastelands of Morocco. Little is done through the trip to lessen the strife between the two when a stray bullet pierces their motorcoach, striking Cate Blanchett’s Susan, wounding her without a medical station within a hundred miles. Her husband, Richard (Brad Pitt) is left to struggle with the rich tourists who share the bus and want to leave Richard and Susan behind, along with the cultural barriers inherent in traveling outside Western comfort zones.

    The second story is that of a local family of shepherds who obtain a gun in order to ward off threats to the flock. It is a stray bullet from this high-powered rifle that triggers the film’s events. This section examines the family structure of a rural Moroccan clan, representing the familial theme present through the entire film. The third section follows a Mexican nanny who takes her American charges across the border to her son’s wedding, and the inevitable problems that causes. The final section of the film is the least obviously related, exploring the relationship between a deaf and dumb girl and her single father. Each section is given time to develop, the intercutting creating an artificial tension. The editing unfortunately draws attention to the tenuous connections between the stories, minimizing their impacts.

    Each section, in itself, is marvelous. Exquisitely filmed, the images are powerful and the acting is top-notch. If these were a group of independent short films, I would be singing their praises from the highest mountaintops. As structured, there is a lot of fluff and padding, highlighted by a bunch of tenuous connections. I wanted to love this film, but the weak links between the stories and the obvious achronal structure tested my patience. At the end of the day I did enjoy “Babel,” and can recommend it, but the “coincidences” were too much to stomach.

    The film is thought-provoking and visceral, however it needed a guide to streamline the narrative. My assessment of “Babel” is much the same as my reading of “21 Grams;” there is a lot to admire but the film lacks a compact sensibility. Refining focus on one or two of these stories and going into greater depth would have served the film well. Good, but not great.

    The 16:9 video transfer is stellar, perfectly reflecting the original theatrical presentation. Each section of the film has a distinctly different look, so it is difficult to generalize the image quality. The scenes in Morocco are very grainy, but it doesn’t seem artificial or a remnant. The scenes in Japan are crystal clear. On the whole this DVD presentation is of excellent quality.

    The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is similarly excellent. The music cues are beautifully meshed into the film, and this track spreads out the sound across the various channels. Ambient noise peaks occasionally from the rears, and the bass response is excellent. Nothing in the track seems off. There are also subtitles in English and Spanish, plus a French 5.1 track.

    Ten minutes of trailers for films like “Black Snake Moan” and “Things we Lost in the Fire.” Plus the theatrical trailer for this film.

    I hesitate to call “Babel” a failure, however as a study of the foibles and difficulties of communication in different familial contexts across the world the movie lacks a sense of purpose. The DVD quality is excellent, though the lack of extra features screams out for a future special-edition double-dip. “Babel” may not be perfect, and stretches the limits of believability, but its emotional punch makes up for its shortcomings. The film is certainly worth your entertainment dollar.
  2. Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson Cinematographer

    Aug 2, 2001
    Likes Received:
    I'm looking forward to seeing this next week, but everytime I see a comparison to "Crash" I shudder.
  3. Jeffrey Nelson

    Jeffrey Nelson Screenwriter

    Sep 4, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Seattle, WA
    Real Name:
    Jeffrey Nelson
    How about "taking its cues from films like SHORTCUTS and MAGNOLIA..." instead? Both of those films are leagues better than CRASH.
  4. Christian Preischl

    Christian Preischl Screenwriter

    Oct 11, 2001
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    Real Name:
    Christian Preischl
    Particularly since a double-disc edition had already been listed by numerous retailers, only to miraculously disappear again and be replaced by this featureless affair. [​IMG]
  5. Nathan V

    Nathan V Supporting Actor

    Jul 16, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Babel doesn't take cues from Crash, which is leagues below it on every level. Crash takes cues from Short Cuts and Magnolia, in a Reader's Digest sort of way. Babel is its own entity, taking cues from its own author's past work, intercutting on emotion and not much else. It's risky, but it worked tremendously for me. These statements are directed more at people who thought this was a Crash follow-up than any particular person here. Good review, Justin. Glad to hear the video and audio are in good hands.

  6. Emmett Maguire

    May 13, 1999
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    My wife and I both enjoyed the movie and I look forward to a repeat viewing(at home)

    This was the first time in a few years that we ventured out to a theater. I was pleased to see that mono sound still existed and I wasn't distracted by subtitles for the first part of the movie as they had the aspect ratio wrong.

    I am sure that the movie will be a lot better with the directors intent restored, not to mention the reduced cost.

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