Plot: What’s it about?
Richard (Brad Pitt) is in Morocco with his wife Susan (Cate Blanchett), on what should be a relaxing vacation, but hasn’t turned to be as much. The two have a lavish lifestyle back in the United States, but they also have marital issues, even arguing over why they have chosen this destination. The two board a bus to continue their journey, while two brothers argue over the power of a rifle from a great distance. The brothers take turns firing the weapon, as one is sure that the bullets can’t do damage over long distance, but when his shot strikes the bus, things take a horrific turn. Susan is struck by the bullet and in a foreign land with no hospital nearby and no means of transportation, her condition is dire. Meanwhile back home, Richard and Susan’s nanny Amelia doesn’t want to miss her son’s wedding, but the couple’s delayed return means she might have to. She decides to take the children to Mexico, while across the world in Japan, a troubled young woman tries to connect with anyone, while her father turns out to be connected to the shooting in Morocco.
Thanks to the success of Crash, a new trend has been unleashed, as filmmakers rush to make movies where several storylines weave in and out of each other. Babel is a big gun, with immense star power and a grand scope, but does it provide interesting stories and characters? I was not a fan of Crash, I thought it was a solid movie, but I was shocked to see it win Best Picture. I also think Babel is superior to Crash, as it doesn’t force the cross-overs as much as Crash. So some suspension of disbelief is needed, but not as many huge leaps of coincidence as in Crash. Brad Pitt, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Cate Blanchett all turn in good work, but to me, the film is stolen by Koji Yakusho. Her performance is bold and remarkable, helped by her storyline having the best moments, but still, she is dynamic here. This new two disc edition offers a feature length documentary, but all the other elements remain the same. So the upgrade hinges on how much you want a look behind the scenes. While the piece is extensive, I expected more from a re-release, especially one titled a Collector’s Edition.
Video: How does it look?
Babel is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a well funded production, but it doesn’t show it, thanks to a dank, unpolished visual approach. There is grain and an overall softness present, which reflects the intentional look of the movie, just as it looked diffused and worn in theaters. So you won’t be dazzled by the visuals from a technical stance, but the landscapes and locales all look good. Some scenes fare better than others, but across the board the sequences look as they should. The colors vary from place to place, sometimes bright, others dull and faded. In the end, this transfer replicates the intended visual design, so while it doesn’t look great, it looks as it should.
Audio: How does it sound?
The audio here is fine, but doesn’t stand out as memorable. The Dolby Digital 5.1 option has a few scenes to show off, but for the most part, the audio is rather basic in design. The music sounds good, especially in the Japanese club sequence, with great presence, while gunshots have a nice kick too, when present. Otherwise, the surrounds don’t have a lot to do, aside from some light background atmosphere. The main element is dialogue, which sounds clear and free from errors. This release also includes a 2.0 surround option, a French language track, and subtitles in English and Spanish.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This Collector’s Edition has one new supplement, a piece called Common Ground that collects just under an hour and a half of the director’s video diaries. This is not as slick as most behind the scenes featurettes, but it offers a raw, candid look into how Babel was produced. The filmmaking process is detailed from a personal perspective, which is a unique, welcome approach. As good as the piece is, I’m not sure its enough to warrant a second purchase of Babel. Other Collector’s Editions boast similar feature length behind the scenes documentaries, plus ample additional supplements. The film’s theatrical trailer is back however, which is good news.