PictureBabel's 1.85:1 image is brought to Blu-ray with an AVC MPEG-2 transfer that is keen and sharp and offers a fair degree of detail. The print is grainy and somewhat muted, but this is purely intentional. There is no damage whatsoever and the transfer exhibits nothing in the way of compression errors.
Colours are toned down, even the vibrancy of the Mexican wedding party feels dialled down, but this adds to the gritty, realistic approach to the visuals that Inarritu is after. For instance, considering that much of the film is spent in the dusty arid deserts - well, the rocky hill regions, anyway - of Morocco, the film does well to keep roughly the same visual palette throughout the other plot strands, too. Contrast has been tinkered with, supplying an image that is slightly washed-out and bleached and the transfer picks this up accurately. Blacks are good and are particularly atmospheric during the Tokyo-set portions of the film - the city streets, the nightclub, the apartment and the noirish view from the balcony. Shadows within the shanty-house that Susan and Richard find themselves in are quite effective, too.
Detail is pretty finite, with many of the Moroccan scenes revealing nice clarity on rocks and buildings and distant objects such as the approach of the tour-bus and the standoff between the trigger-happy policemen and the fleeing farmer and his sons. Close-ups, though, are the most rewarding element of the transfer, with faces exhibiting lots of detail. Pitt's, especially, lives up to his name, looking increasingly decrepit, worn down and craggy. Eyes may refuse to sparkle and teeth don't exactly shine but then this isn't a film that is trying to glamorise anybody. Skin tones, therefore, are naturalistic and convincing.
What I didn't really notice was any three-dimensionality to boast about, which is quite surprising considering that many scenes show people set against a vast backdrop. Depth of field is there, all right - just look at the shot of Amelia on the phone in the kitchen, framed in the gap between a worktop and a cupboard - but it doesn't seem to enhance the screen pop that high definition images can often provide so well. Still, this is certainly a fine enough transfer of a film that was never intended to look rich and colourful or to leap from the screen. Inarritu's style is realism and Babel's image here on BD is a very pleasantly filmic reproduction of it.
SoundThis BD release is graced with only a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that cannot fail to come as a bit of a downer considering the lofty acoustic potential of the format. But, when all said and done, Babel does not feature the most aurally aggressive or immersive of soundtracks. And, truth be told, it still a mighty fine job of bringing the film to life. A lot of the track is commanded by dialogue and whether it be whispered in soothing tones by Pitt trying to calm an anxious Blanchett, or yelled in panic and anger by a distraught father, or intricately integrated into a rowdy Mexican celebration, it is always clear, discernable and natural-sounding.
The occasions when gunfire is brought into play, the track provides some weight and meaty placement. Bullets have a nice echo that reaches across the desert and around the set-up, emphasising the size and desolation of the place with single-shot clarity. The distant voices of panic and concern on the tour bus as the two boys look down in horror at what they've done have a delicately subdued quality that makes them far away and positioned beneath a metal roof. Steerage, therefore, is actually very impressive, although this is not a film that amazes with wraparound effects or ear-deceiving directionality. It is much more of a functional track than a showboater.
Another highlight is when Chieko goes to the nightclub and the film alternates between the real thumping music that emanates from all around and is bolstered by a great bass, to the sweet silence that she hears. It is a nice trick that is well handled by the audio transfer. Car engines raging through the desert-night are pretty decent too, and there is nothing about the track that reveals any errors with its reproduction.
Overall, the DD 5.1 mix complements the film and does a fine job with the understandably limited elements of the soundtrack. Apparently the HD version has a better bitrate but I haven't heard the track so I cannot comment on which may sound the best. But, to be honest, I can't imagine there being much in it.
ExtrasAbsolutely nothing other than the theatrical trailer in 1080p, folks. For a film that tries so hard and so earnestly to make a statement, this is pretty much criminal. I may not have much to enjoy with Babel, but I would still like the chance to hear from the makers and get to understand just what their intentions were with the story and the message behind it all.
VerdictAs a film that wants to be worthy and make some sort of statement about human relationships and how people react under pressure, Babel is an accomplished and emotive piece of work. The performances are spot-on and the scenarios tense and provocative. But as pure entertainment, I found it irritating and, worst of all, tedious to sit through. To be honest, I am struggling to find the point to it all. I don't doubt that Inarritu's movie has its fans - audience and critics alike - but I find it hard to understand the motivation behind stringing together such a terrible set of situations for people to go through. The concept may be a good one - one rifle causing so much strife before, after and all around one pivotal event - but the end result doesn't seem to justify the cleverness and incisiveness that can often be found in the screenplay. Instead of discovering something relevant or important with Babel, I was left with the notion that I had just wasted two and half hours of my life in a state of misery-by-proxy.
The BD edition has no worthwhile extras whatsoever, leaving me with nothing from the makers to reveal their intentions and desires - just the film to speak for itself, which is simply not enough. The transfer is good, if unspectacular, with a picture that produces depth and detail but without drawing anything close to a full high-resolution wow-factor. The DD 5.1 seems like a letdown, initially, but it certainly delivers a nice, clean track that has a feeling of depth and scale to it. The nightclub sequence is terrific and the desert spaces and echoing gunshots are realistic and spacious. As a package I can't really recommend this bare-bones Babel and, overall, the film depends entirely on individual tastes. Sadly, it wasn't for me, I'm afraid. Unless you are a fan of the movie, my advice would be to rent before you buy.
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