So, does Babylon A.D. get an “A” or a “D” on its scorecard? Maybe it will depend on which version of the movie you get to see in the years to come. This film got my attention as another one of those movies that shatters auteur theory into jagged little pieces.
With movie reviews readily unavailable at the time I watched this film over the weekend, I headed down this aisle knowing I was going to watch something pretty lame. The French director, Mathieu Kassovitz even hates his own movie now that it has been taken away from him by the studio and bailed out by the production’s insurance company after it went over budget and well beyond the film schedule. After I read the director’s account, I thought I would see the result of this messy divorce in hopes of someday being able to make a comparison between this version and its inevitable director’s cut.
Maybe Babylon A.D. will get revisited on DVD in its former “glory.”
Its current “glory” is like an annoying, predictable firework. The movie is a cross between “The Fifth Element” and “Children of Men” without any of the playful fun of the former, and none of the intensity of the latter. Barely any of the movie takes place in New York, as the advertisements would have me believe, which may have something to do with the production going over budget (You can tell this is the New York of the future, though, because there are lots of neon advertisements splattered across the sides of buildings). The action sequences are chaotic, which may have something to do with the production going over budget, or something to do with the close-up, shaky hand-held footage. The embarrassingly tacked-on sequence of a snowmobile chase looks terrible, like it is being streamed on low-bandwidth internet connection, which may have something to do with how cold it was when they were filming. The story is nothing original, but it is possible to engage an audience even with a predictable story depending on how you tell it, and how this story was told may have something to do with the production going over budget, something to do with the studio cutting its costs, and something to do with how long it can take to make some stories work.
I wonder what kind of movie-product this would have been if the studio had left their meat hooks to themselves. Or if Kassovitz and crew had been able to make their deadlines. Or if time wasn’t money in the movie business. Was this an R-rated film that was churned into something R-like for the over-13, under-17 crowd in order to squeeze out a little more profit? Was RZA more prominent in the soundtrack before the marketing team got ahold of the thing? (his work in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai gave that film a dreamy, transporting atmosphere) Did Vin Diesel have long, “boring,” but brilliant monologues that were left on the cutting room floor?
I can’t imagine any additions to this film that would fix its problems, but could it be that Babylon A.D. might have scored a little higher with critics (closer to A than D) before the studio cut it down to the size it is now? I kind of don’t think so. But I’ll be interested in seeing what happens 6 or 12 months from now.
Sometimes, especially in science fiction films, less just isn’t more.