The Red Right Hand
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BABYLON A.D.

Director
Mathieu Kassovitz

Starring
Vin Diesel
Melanie Thierry
Michelle Yeoh
Mark Strong
Gerard Depardieu

On the evening of my screening for Babylon A.D., every step of the journey to the cinema was shadowed by an ill omen. The air was thick and humid, despite the sky being completely grey and overcast; anything I seemed to eat that day tasted abysmal; I nearly got hit by TWO cars; I narrowly avoided a fight with a homeless guy after he called me a dick and having made a note to myself of what needed to be done that evening, I abbreviated Babylon A.D. to B.A.D. Alright, so Twilight Zone it may not have been but it was certainly creepy.

The story follows tired, grumpy marine-turned-mercenary, Toorop [Diesel], as he is hired to do one last job. The job in question is transporting a young woman, Aurora (Melanie Thierry doing her best Milla Jovovich impersonation) and her nun escort, Rebeka [Yeoh], to America. A wealth of history has been set up between the characters Toorop meets up with but disappointingly, they're never fully explored or explained. There's the eccentric Russian crime lord, unrecognisably played under a mountain of makeup by Gerard Depardieu; Toorop's contact in Vladivostok, Finn [Strong]; the High Priestess of a newly born religion [Charlotte Rampling] and dead/alive/cyborg scientist, Darquandier [Lambert Wilson]. All of whom possess the potential to be interesting, fully rounded characters but most come off as little more than devices to further the narrative and explain/clarify the inexplicable plot elements.

Hated by fans of the book, hated by the director and hated by the studio, I was expecting some of the worst cinema ever but for the first hour I was actually enjoying myself; it wasn't spectacular but it wasn't horrendous... and then came the final act (for more on this, see my highlighted scene below). The film bottled out and all of a sudden insults were slung about, fingers thrust into faces and the buck was passed back-and-forth between studio, actors and director. Babylon A.D. was directed by the more than capable Mathieu Kassovitz - who has experienced highs (La Haine) and lows (Gothika) throughout his career - but when the director directly condemns the film stating, "This film is pure violence and stupidity," you know the project is fucked. He's right, of course; Fox took over and started meddling with a promising piece, dumbing it down to a level of stupidity ideal for their profile analysis of today's youth and science fiction fans. I swear Fox are single-handedly destroying all creative thought and opportunity in the film and television industry with their horrid executive decision making.

Before studio interference, the film was far from perfect - everything felt half-rate: the action is a little uninventive, the dialogue is mediocre and the plot is fairly obscure. Everything, that is, except the cyberpunk setting (I'm a bit of a sucker for cyberpunk literature and flicks, it's one of the reasons I became so enamoured with Final Fantasy VII), made original by highlighting a crumbling Eastern Europe and then North America. The atmosphere has been perfectly nailed - a not-too-distant dystopian future where the world has been smothered in corporate logos and left to die. Because of this setting, almost every review is going to end up comparing this release with one of the best films of 2006, Children Of Men. To be honest, to compare these two releases would be somewhat unfair. Both detail similar settings, stories and plots adapted from novels but Children Of Men was a British-made Universal release. You see, Universal aren't Fox and Alfonso Cuaron is not Mathieu Kassovitz. When the Children Of Men DVD was first released in the UK, it was a hideous, single disced affair with few extras. Cuaron was shocked when he saw the DVD on the shelf and demanded and instant recall and complete redesign of the release. Two weeks later, a double disc edition was released along with a statement that if anyone had purchased the single disc, all they need to is send it back and they would be given a new version free of charge. Now, I respect both Universal and Cuaron for that. It was a bold move that probably lost them a fair amount of money but it worked beautifully in their favour, doubling sales. But as stated, Fox isn't Universal and Kassovitz is not Cuaron and as such, this project may simply be beyond redemption.

Release Date:
UK - 29th August 2008
US - 29th August 2008

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Rife with spoilers**
I got the concept of artificial intelligence being injected into babies, advanced learning or whatever, I get that. I even got the idea of passports injected directly into the blood stream and the brain cataloguing recallable thoughts after death. I went along with everything and then the final scene reared its head. I haven't been hit that hard since first watching Spielberg's War Of The Worlds. A film that can be enjoyable or redeemable is underwritten and completely destroyed with no more than 2-3 minutes of footage. "Hey kids, there's a storm coming." To begin to explain what I'm referring to would just be too aggravating, trust me, you don't want me to get started on that.

Notable Characters:
I wasn't really impressed with any of the performances; Diesel was his usual self, Yeoh looked a little bored and the supporting cast did their job as must as the script would permit but overall, I just didn't care enough. Lazy? Not really, just the truth.

Highlighted Quote:
"We were one step away from becoming a bona fide religion and you let her get away"

In A Few Words:
"A jumbled mess; damn you, Fox!"

Total Score:
5/10


Matthew Stogdon