I saw Babylon A.D. today, and while I won’t write a full review of it at this time, I do have a few things I want to say. Babylon A.D. has been a pet project for acclaimed French director Mathieu Kassovitz (Gothika) for many years, with him being a huge fan of Maurice Georges Dantec’s source novel Babylon Babies. The film had a very troubled shoot and was delayed from its original release date in early 2008. Ultimately, most people had already dismissed the film before it was released, and the final nail in its coffin was when both Kassovitz and lead actor Vin Diesel (Find Me Guilty) trashed the film before its American release. Here’s the catch though: they were talking about the Fox version of the film.
Yes, there are two versions of Babylon A.D., one which runs 90 minutes and is distributed by 20th Century-Fox in the US, Canada, UK and some other countries, and another by Studio Canal, which doesn’t mention Fox at all and lasts 11 minutes more. Now this doesn’t mean that Fox simply cut out 11 minutes from the film and released it…they actually cut out much more, and replaced it with footage that isn’t in the longer version. I haven’t seen the Fox version, but I’ve read about it and can thus tell you that Fox basically removed significant parts of plot development and replaced them with action scenes that are completely absent from the Studio Canal version… Fox changed the beginning, Fox changed the ending, Fox changed the dialogues, Fox changed everything.
Rest of the article after the jump
In a very interesting interview for French movie website Allociné, Kassovitz explains why it was necessary to work with Fox and how/why the two versions are so different:
The problem when you want to do a movie that costs a bit of money, whether it’s because the subject demands it or the book you’re adapting demands it, is that there isn’t much choice in Europe, you have a limited budget on some subjects, there are only movies like Astérix that can transcend those limits because it’s a very big property but when you want to do an “action” film comparable to the American ones, you can’t be in direct competition with them and you can’t finance them yourself. We can’t put 250 million dollars in a movie like they do so we can’t be competitive with them. The only way to be released there is to interest them in producing, but control the product. So it’s just a question of letting the Americans in as partners on films which they don’t necessarily control. Well, they’ll control the release in the US, but not necessarily in other countries. And that enables them to cut down on their expenses, which are huge, and it enables us to find financing elsewhere than Europe, where there is a limit to what budget we can have on some movies.
The difference is that the European version is much better than the American one. The difference is that Americans have a different culture than ours and they chose to amputate the film…well cut out things which didn’t seem necessary to them to try and keep the most frenetic pace possible, which has its advantages and its disadvantages [ironic smile].
What Kassovitz says is a sad, but true observation of the way American movie studios think. The only way they will permit a movie to have a wide release on their territory is if it’s in English, if they’ve participated in the production, and if they can reshape it to look like something they think the public wants to see and thus make a quick buck. When the truth is all they need to do is spend a little on good advertising and reap the rewards. People, American or not, WILL go see a movie if it’s properly marketed, even if it is subtitled and doesn’t contain a car chase and a happy ending. I wonder how Michael Bay (Transformers) would react if some French editors cut out his spectacular action scenes and replaced them with shots of the characters just standing around deep in unspoken thought.
Kassovitz hates the Fox version of his film, but he’s apparently satisfied with the Studio Canal one. Most professional reviewers trashed the film (or at least the Fox cut), calling it a “poor man’s Children Of Men“. While the two films share some similarities, being set in a dystopian near future and dealing with a man charged with taking a girl from point A to point B, the similarities end there. Each movie stands on its own, and both have their own appeal. As it is, Babylon A.D. has some very good acting, an interesting multi-layered storyline, some great cinematography by Thierry Arbogast (whose work on Catwoman was one of that movie’s sole redeeming features), incredible visuals and pretty good action that isn’t generated by special effects.
To be honest, French critics didn’t exactly fawn over the film, but they weren’t as harsh as their American counterparts. I very much enjoyed the Studio Canal cut of the film, and I have a feeling that Americans would have preferred it. It doesn’t equal Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece in greatness, far from it, but it’s very solid sci-fi entertainment. Providing another, even better director’s cut doesn’t come out, seek out this version when it gets released on DVD in about six months (who knows, it might even get released in the States!) and give Babylon A.D. a second chance. Personally, I give it a B+.