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August 21, 2007
Babel - Blu-Ray Movie Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
26/12/20067/6/2007ParamountAlejandro González Iñárritu
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
MPEG-2DD5.1 640kbpsMA15+Brad Pitt

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Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.
Babel has been heaped with critical praise with glowing reviews, an average score of 7.7/10 from 45,175 votes on IMDB and freshness of 68% on Rotten Tomatoes from 187 reviews. The movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and ended up winning only one for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams) this movie has done quite well at the box office as well with a worldwide take of $US135 million. I start with these stats not just to impress you, but also because that's what the world demands. So much comes down to facts and figures these days that we forget about emotion, passion, and the human spirit - which is exactly what Babel is about.

In the remote sands of the Moroccan desert, a rifle shot rings out, detonating a chain of events that will link an American tourist couple’s frantic struggle to survive, two Moroccan boys involved in an accidental crime, a nanny illegally crossing into Mexico with two American children and a Japanese teen rebel whose father is sought by the police in Tokyo. Separated by clashing cultures and sprawling distances, each of these four disparate groups of people are nevertheless hurtling towards a shared destiny of isolation and grief. In the course of just a few days they will each face the dizzying sensation of becoming profoundly lost – lost in the desert, lost to the world, lost to themselves - as they are pushed to the farthest edges of confusion and fear as well as to the very depths of connection and love.

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Excuse me sir...
One scene in particular (between 1:10:17-1:13:50) deserves mention with some thumping music but when you shift to a viewpoint from the deaf mute Chieko the audio goes silent - it really makes you think about what it would be like to live in a silent world like that. In fact there are several instances through the movie which make you think about our world - be it the meagre possessions of those living in Morocco, the way the deaf mutes are treated in Japan, or the way in which illegal immigrants are treated in America - and indeed the majority of the world. This really is a thinking mans movie, but does it really mean it's a good movie?

Overall I found Babel an interesting experience. It was certainly interesting, at times emotionally engaging, but overall missed the mark for me. There's no denying the beauty in many of the scenes in the movie and the acting is superb throughout with even the non-actors from Morocco putting in fine performances, however this movie didn't quite gel together as one would expect. The way in which the three stories are linked is tenuous at best, and I still walked away thinking that I may as well have watched three short films rather then one long movie. Certainly the most enjoyable aspect is seeing the various cultures - those of Morocco, Japan and Mexico - as well as the conditions in which humans live around the globe.

With much of this film shot using handheld cameras there are certainly a lot of scenes of variable quality - and a lot of shakiness. Having said that this transfer is pretty impressive. With a runtime of 143:30 minutes this is a fairly lengthy movie but being presented in 1.85:1 the MPEG-2 transfer is pretty solid with a bitrate constantly hovering between 30 and 35Mbps. Where this movie really shines is with the scenery and locations the three main story arcs were shot around. From the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, to the liveliness in Mexico and the struggles in Morocco this movie shows great contrast between the locations. Having said that the scenes in Morocco and Mexico seem to have had many of the bold colours stripped out of the movie giving it, like its story, a rather bleak look. This transfers superbly to Blu-Ray with a clarity and sharpness not found on the DVD release (we actually borrowed that from a friend to compare).

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Rinko Kikuchi - an actress to watch in future!
Having said that the movie does show considerable grain throughout - with some scenes having so much it's almost to the point of distraction. Have a look at some scenes - particularly those in Morocco - and it's very evident. In particular there is one scene with Brad Pitt's character talking on the phone in the hospital. The picture shows some distracting artifacts, almost like the image has been zoomed in creating some digital artifacts - have a look around Brad Pitt's mouth as a prime example. I'm not sure if this was in the theatrical version, but it is distracting.

Audio in Babel is provided via Dolby Digital 5.1 at 640kbps - certainly a lot less then we expected but in all honesty the movie would never be one to test your sound system to the limits. With so much dialogue driving this movie we are pleased to report that it's always clear and easy to understand. At times there is some use of surround sound, but it's rare. The music changes constantly depending on the locations and situations in the movie. I would have loved to hear this in a higher bitrate, DTS-HD or Linear PCM would have been great, but to be honest I'm not sure how much more that would have added to the movie.

Paramount have also included a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track at 640kbps as well as subtitles in English, French, Spanish and English SDH (Subtitling for Deaf and Hard of Hearing).

Sadly, unlike Paramount's brilliant Blu-Ray releases of World Trade Center and Dreamgirls this release is pretty much devoid of extras. I really wanted to see the feature Common Ground: Under Construction, but that 80-odd minute documentary is only available on the 2-disc DVD set. At the very least Paramount could have included this extra in Standard Definition on Blu-Ray. It would have been better then not seeing it at all!

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This scene looks quite poor technically.
Theatrical Trailer (2:32/HD):

    An interesting trailer which demonstrates the diversity of the movie. The trailer is presented in HD using the MPEG-2 compression and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio at 640kbps. Quite grainy - more so then the movie - but a welcome addition.

Previews (1:20/HD):

    Basically an ad for more Paramount HD releases. Funnily enough most of these won't be seen on Blu-Ray given the cash Microsoft has given to Paramount to go HD-DVD exclusive (for a while at least)!

If you have a Blu-Ray player then this disc is well worth looking at if you love the movie. The only disappointment is the lack of superb documentary which is included on the DVD release. The video presentation - despite a couple of minor issues - is impressive and the audio engaging. One thing this Blu-Ray release can't do is improve the movie which will divide opinion.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyright© Paramount Pictures. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.