Babylon A.D.

Pretensions Of Seriousness

Tonight was time to hit the el cheapo DVD stash. The film that made it on to the screen for a bit of a laugh was this number made a few years ago.

I like Science Fiction movies that have a bit of bone to them. I don’t mean just structure, but a philosophical backbone. I know some people like their action movies with a science fiction tinge but I’m more inclined to have it the other way around. Talk about issues and things and phenomena worth talking about, and have the action set pieces carry you through the narrative. Of course unless it’s a film based on a Philip K. Dick book, chances are you wont get that – and even when it is based on a Philip K. Dick book, you might get ‘Adjustment Bureau’.

Sometimes I think Vin Diesel has the bad fortune of being wired like me when it comes to choosing his projects, but no matter which way you look at the guy, he’s an action movie dude and the science fiction thinking part is going to be about fourth fiddle to the punchups and the explosions and the car chase. ‘Babylon A.D.’ is one of those movies. It yields odd results like ‘Chronicles of Riddick’ and this movie, ‘Babylon A.D.’.

‘Babylon A.D.’ proceeds like a strange road movie through the near future central Asia and Siberia through Canada into a dystopian New York. Half the time you’re wondering where the next action cue is going to hurl the story and the other half, you’re wondering what the hell is really going on, hanging out for the exposition to explain some of the odd things you’re being asked to suspend disbelief. You could do worse for a Sunday night movie.

What’s Good About It

It’s a film with some memorable set pieces. The helicopter ride, the cage fight, the submarine that picks up refugees, the snow-mobile chase, and the climactic gun battle. One could do a lot worse than these kinds of set pieces. There are films out there with action so gratuitous you don’t ever remember where it was meant to be set and how it hung together with the rest of the plot.

It’s also a film that doesn’t end with the formation of a family or an orgasmic, big explosion. This is a different kind of Vin Diesel movie.  Thoughtful even. I know, it’s hard to believe. But there’s an intelligent movie trying to break out of the trappings of a stupid movie that even a studio exec can understand.

What’s Bad About it

Same old stoic tough guy impervious to pain mows down bad guys with machine gun fire as he protects a young woman who might be some kind of technological Virgin Mary. I guess if God wrote the bible this way, there might be more people to read it. All the same, it’s a film that struggles to shed the trappings of less intelligent movies – but then, it’s hard to imagine them casting Vin Diesel as the scientist who is trying to transfuse artificial intelligence in to human babies.

The shaky camera work in the action sequences don’t really add as much excitement as it’s supposed to. The lighting’s a bit boring, and there’s really not much mood going on in some of the more talky scenes.

What’s Interesting About It

Somewhere in the background of this film is a book which I have not read, which wants to talk about creation myths and the moment in history to come when an Artificial Intelligence is brought into this world, and then gets given a human body to walk around in. last I saw this idea, it was in ‘Tron Legacy’, an they made  a hash job of that idea too. It seems Hollywood wants to talk about A.I. in terms of pretty girls in distress which might be the sign of the times. Not so long ago it was Haley Joel Osment in a Pinocchio re-run story, and before that it’s always been monotone machine voices or HAL. Pretty soon they’ll be coming up with Artificial Intelligences that are cranky and middle aged from birth.

There are a few patterns to Artificial Intelligence stories and one of the main ones is the Frankenstein story where mankind creates a monster in the form of an A.I. The other seems to be this kind of eroticised machina where the artificial being is a kind of living sex doll. That being said, we don’t get shown a sex scene with the Artificial Intelligence girl, so there is some restraint going on in this movie.

Religion As Framework

It’s one of the ironies of science fiction literature that it ends up tousling with issues of faith. I suspect this comes from the long reach of religious doctrine into the realm of metaphysical thinking, but also abstract thinking as well. The fact that the English language is flooded with echoes of religious thought means at some point the stories headed towards the metaphysical and abstract have to wrestle with the religious ideas invested in our language. Usually, this ends up with apocalyptic visions and prophecies of dooms and saviours.

Maybe it is simply the memory of Gallileo and Darwin and how they were attacked by the zealots that makes any intelligent investigation into nature or being in science fiction, a potential flashpoint for these discussions. Bogus theology hangs over the plot of this film like a bad smell, and you wonder if the world is full of people who would much rather choose faith over reason. It probably is.

I just don’t fin these theosophically tinged stories compelling. If people want to get really freaked out by the potential of technology, they need to look at Ray Kurzweil’s notion of a technological singularity. That one is a lot more compelling if you understand the reasoning – and we’re only accelerating towards it faster.


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Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies

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