Between Dimensions: Babylon A.D. (2008)

Between Dimensions is a continuing feature that examines science-fiction on the screen in all of its forms: big or small, good or bad.

Babylon A.D. should have been called Babylon A.D.D. for Attention Deficit Disorder. This overstuffed film from Vin Diesel and Director Mathieu Kassovitz defines helter skelter for the new millennium. The story tries to focus on an unusually gifted child (she spoke 19 languages at the age of 2) who is competitively coveted by a religious group and a brilliant scientist. That’ s Theme One. Vin plays Toorop, a man-about-dystopia, who is hired to get the child (Aurora) from A to B – in this case from a Chechnya-like Russia to a glossy upgrade of the USA. (A similar story was presented infinitely better in Children of Men. Focus Vin. Focus.)

Along the journey, the filmmakers share their views on where the world is headed. Themes Two to Five include omnipresent hi-tech surveillance; bio-tech births and resurrections; nuclear missile proliferation; man’ s inhumanity to man; mercenaries for religion. There are more. And Vin Diesel is asked to keep it all afloat. You just know this ship is going to spring a leak somewhere.

The first leak is the plot. It collects so many barnacles from all these competing social observations that the SF-inspired plot is almost impossible to follow. (To be fair, IMDB quotes Kassovitz as disowning responsibility for the theatrical release version. It does seem like many hands were employed to produce the final cut. Most egregious was the hand that edited a jump cut to snowmobiles into the middle of a sea voyage. Hunh?). Ultimately Babylon A.D. coagulates into a very snappy but mostly familiar action movie with only a few moments of cinematic enjoyment.

The second leak is Vin. It’ s unfortunate because the guy seems pretty decent and he tries. Unfortunately the most he can crank up ( for happy, sad, mean, thoughtful, etc) is Emotion-lite. With so many other set pieces and plot elements competing for your attention, this is not good. His first effort as Riddick in Pitch Black offered promise. But in the end he’ s a one-hit wonder. Like Arnold, menacing monosyllabism is as charismatic as Vin gets and ultimately the Terminator does it better. In Vin’ s favor, he does know how important diction is to an actor. I guess that’ s why he persuaded the fine English actress Charlotte Rampling to participate in this film as he did Judy Dench in The Chronicles of Riddick.

The film’ s view of the future shines on occasion. We learn of injectable passports and see digital dynamic maps on plastic sheets. (Although a sense of humor does occasionally show up – Toorop’ s get-away car is a novel use of an iconic Russian Hind helicopter, an old Lincoln Town Car, and an industrial strength magnet.) Medical progress is evoked with credible diagnostic tools and sets. And what energizes Aurora’ s specialness is a familiar but highly exploitable hard SF idea. The film even salutes Blade Runner and The Terminator with a New York riff on skyscraper ads and a quoted closing line respectively. But these visual and verbal nods to great SF are always tucked between myriad fights, chases, and street battles. Ideas are not what this movie is about.

Babylon A.D. might have been shot as a thoughtful SF film but it was edited as an action movie. Ultimately it all collapses into a mishmash of obvious futures and stock visuals of black Range Rovers chasing camo Humvees. It proves that editing at cross-purposes to the director is fatal. Vin. Next movie: mandatory Ritalin doses for the studio suits. If they don’ t sign on, don’ t re-up for the sequel.

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  • Jay thinks I have ADD, so it figures that I liked this movie more than you did, Curt.

  • Derek

    I enjoyed both films, for different reasons. There will always be movies with similar story lines
    (star wars/willow…
    the fast and the furious/point break)

  • Gil

    What I didn’t get is, why a man who didn’t fuck in order to conceive a child would go ahead and raise the child…
    Vin Diesel has gotta be the biggest pussy for that.