Every Oscar season there are fans that come out on two polar opposites. There are those that fall down and pay tribute to the films, seeing the nomination as a sign that these are the best of the best and refusing to see anything wrong with the movies because of their prestigious honor. Then there are those who automatically spit upon the nominated movies as flawed and a sign of the decline of the Academy over time (typically this is done because their film wasn’t nominated). Typically I fall somewhere in between although this year I’m finding an exception to that: Babel. Really, what was the Academy thinking?
Two Moroccan youths play around with the poor family’s new high-powered rifle. An American couple vacations in Morocco until a bullet hits their bus, injuring the wife. A Mexican nanny tries to attend her son’s wedding, requiring she take her charges with her. A Deaf-Mute Japanese schoolgirl parades around the city without panties, desperate for attention. All of these make up the story of Babel and all of them are connected, although some of the connections are trite and needless. Then again, so are some of the stories that are connected together.
Babel was advertised as a play on the story from which it derives its name. The idea pushed in advertisements was a barrier of language, causing communication problems for the couple who need medical attention after that run in with the bullet, among others. The idea seemed to be that no matter who we are, there is somewhere in the world we don’t fit in because of language. It’s an interesting theme and ties in nicely with the film’s title. Sadly, it’s not what the movie is about at all.
Instead the film’s theme is somewhat lost, at least to me and the people I’ve discussed the movie with. It seems to be, “bad things happening to people.” However, with a running time of over two hours, this really is a bad theme, and one that takes far too long to get moving. The film revels in extended sequences of people traveling around in cars, helicopters, and the like while music dominates the scene. The whole approach left me yawning throughout.
Another possible theme might be, “it’s always the kids who lose.” Through all four tales, the kids get the short end of the proverbial stick. But really, who wants to watch two hours of tales that don’t turn out so happily-ever-after, especially for the younger characters in the story? I’m not saying every movie should end happily. In fact, some of the best movies out there end on a somber or even morose note, leaving the audience with something to think about. Babel does none of this. The only stray thoughts left with the audience at the end of the film is a shot at the American government who was so quick to jump to a terrorist explanation in the shooting of the American bus. It’s subtle and, frankly, not worth too much mental effort after the credits roll.
Typically I’m blown away by the movies that are honored by the Academy of Motion Pictures for the honor of Oscar nominations. Babel really is a rarity in that area. When the movie was over I couldn’t help but think, “What was the point, and why was this nominated?” The picture is almost the kind of picture that might be considered artistic… if there was any kind of creativity or artistry in the film’s composition. Instead it’s a two-hour-plus twisted journey through four stories that take the audience nowhere and leaves them little to think about once they are over. The film should have been titled Babble instead.
You would expect a quasi-artistic film like Babel to be loaded down with extra information clarifying the director’s intent in making the picture and lots of highlights with how he achieved that vision. Not so with this single disc, bare bones DVD release, which features only some trailers for other Paramount pictures and the theatrical trailer for Babel… you know, the one that that really misdirects the movie’s theme?
No doubt that this was rushed out in an effort to allow the public to experience the Academy Nominated film before the nomination-label was no longer valid. The DVD’s release, less than a week before the awards ceremony, should be considered in this.
Most likely Paramount intends to do Babel right with a more thorough DVD release in a few months. I’m guessing we can expect behind the scenes featurettes and a director’s commentary at the minimum. Of course, the packaging will be careful to reflect the movie’s success on Oscar night, bragging about the number of wins or nominations the picture had. Let’s hope the members of the Academy come to their senses and it’s more of the latter.