Eric German | Sunday, 07 September 2008

Not the director's cut

The film was to have been a dream project for French co-writer/director Matthieu Kassovitz but it turned into a nightmare because of strong interference from the studio (20th Century Fox). A few days before it opened in the US, Kassovitz revealed that he wasn’t allowed to make certain scenes the way he originally wanted.
His director’s final cut ran for 101 minutes but Fox cut it by 11 minutes and Kassovitz disowned the film. Babylon A.D. is a co-production between Fox and Canal +. The latter released the film in France before Fox and its version was Kassovitz’s original 101-minute cut.
In an unspecified future, mercenary Toorop (Vin Diesel) is hired by Russian Mafioso Gorsky (an unrecognisable Gerard Depardieu) to collect a young woman, Aurora (Melanie Thierry), from the Mongolian convent where she’s lived since she was a baby.
For $1.5 million, he’s to ensure her safety during the 7,000-mile journey and smuggle her into America. There he’s to hand her over to the high priestess (Charlotte Rampling) of the Neolite religion which during the past 20 years has become popular and powerful.
Toorop is dismayed to find that Sister Rebecca (Michelle Yeoh), who raised Aurora, insists on accompanying her. He regards the girl as another “package” that he’s to deliver but gradually he realises that Aurora is a unique being and tries to redeem himself from his sordid and violent past by protecting her at all costs.
As the plot outline suggests this is a routine sci-fi action thriller with unmistakable hints that there’s more to it than meets the eye. It’s adapted from French author Maurice G. Dantec’s cult book, Babylon Babies.
Over 700 pages long, Dantec didn’t simply tell a sci-fi tale. Besides giving an analysis of post Soviet conflict strategy, his book also featured a philosophical consideration of cybernetic bio-engineering.
All that has been stripped away, leaving only the 7000-mile journey made by Toorop, Aurora and Sister Rebecca, their entry into New York and the climactic aftermath once they reach their destination.
As a result, the revelations at the end come across as too much science fiction at too late a stage. They’re introduced abruptly as one isn’t given any previous indication of the theme of cybernetic bio-engineering and one has to cope with a lot of wild-sounding information just when the film is about to reach its resolution. The 11-minute cut makes things worse.
In its very limited form, Babylon A.D. works best as an action film. The action has been carefully choreographed and although it’s far-fetched, the frequently hand held camera used so energetically by cinematographer Thierry Arbogast, Luc Besson’s regular cinematographer, captures the make-haste-to-live frenzy of these sequences.
The editing is rapid but the cuts are made with uncanny precision and the music score is a propulsive one that draws you further into the action and the human lives at stake. It’s disappointing that the real meat of the book has been ignored for this could have been a sort of action-packed take on Children of Men.
But even if for nothing else, the film is watchable for the involvement and adrenaline rush of its imaginative action.

The hole in the human heart

Hellboy was enjoyable but the sequel is a chore to sit through. The film is yet another comic book adaptation and it clearly proves that this genre has become a case of diminishing returns because we’ve had too much of the same thing.
And in its rush to satisfy the demand for this product while it’s still hot, Hollywood is, all too often, catering for its youngest and most undemanding audience. Even a great filmmaker like Guillermo del Toro has succumbed to what the film describes as the hole in human hearts, greed.
There’s a screenplay co-written by him and the author of the comic book, Mike Mignola, but there’s no story. Instead we have a slight plot introduction that launches a series of increasingly tiresome CG set pieces without ever developing into a narrative.
That introduction has the elf prince Nauda (Luke Gross) trying to put together the three pieces of the crown that will reawaken the golden army, an invincible force with which he intends to destroy humans and take over the world.
His twin sister, Nuala (Anna Walton) doesn’t have a similar hole in her heart.
She and the one third of the crown she possess fall under the protection of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence.
This consists of Red (Ron Perlman), his beloved, the incendiary and pregnant Liz (Selma Blair), the smart and caring amphibian Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and Johann Kraus (James Donn), the “ectoplasmic” gas bag who’s sent to supervise them.
Hellboy 2 begins as a bedtime story for the child that will grow into Red. The story is disappointingly illustrated by wooden and metal puppets and the film never develops into anything better than a bedtime fantasy for children, provided they’re not too small to find it scary.
I never thought I’d have to say this about del Toro but the main factor that accounts for the film being so dull is that it’s visualised with minimal and lazy imagination.
Most of the creatures are excessively outlandish and almost always consists of parts of different animals stuck on an ugly being.
A typical example is the creature that looks like a huge walrus with the tusks of an elephant in front and hedgehog spindles on his back, plus an iron fist that turns into a mace.
The script sets up expectations for the Trolls’ market but it doesn’t feature anything other than a lot of carnivalesque freaks.
The battle with the silly-looking golden army is a big anti-climax.
Del Toro uses choppy cutting to fake speed during some of the action scenes but the film remains slow and sometimes static because there’s no driving force. If you like CG effects on their own and for their own sake, Hellboy 2 is for you.
But if, like me, they eventually bore you when they’re not allied to a fantasy plot worth following, you’ll be terribly frustrated.

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