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The new special edition is worth buying for Disc Two alone.

DVD Review: Babel (Two-Disc Special Collector’s Edition)

Written by El Conquistadorko 

One of the best movies to hit screens in the past several years, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's 2006 film weaves together three stories—a pair of Moroccan brothers who fatefully make contact with an American tourist and later become hunted as terrorists, a deaf Japanese girl whose distant father is surprisingly tied to the incident, and the tourists' two kids who are brought to Tijuana by their maid and run into problems at the border. The movie is the third installment of Mexican director Inarritu's so-called “death trilogy,” following on the heels of the well-crafted Amores Perros and slightly less-than-satisfying 21 Grams.

Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that the gun you see in Act One does get fired, but that the tragic results are not as predictable as you'd think. The movie is a beautiful work of cinematography and masterful storytelling, and although it relies on the same technique of interwoven plot lines that marked Inarritu's first two films, it doesn't use the same anti-chronological device that Inarritu used so well in his debut feature Amores Perros (that whole movie is wrapped around a car crash) but which proved so irksome in 21 Grams. Instead, the movie follows a single trajectory as the camera shifts from one character's perspective to another, following the arc of a single bullet and the investigation that follows from its tragic destruction.

Babel features superb acting performances from Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, Boubker Ait El Caid and Said Tarchini (two non-actors who play the Moroccan brothers), and especially Rinko Kikuchi, who gives a convincing and heartbreaking turn as Chieko Wataya, the deaf, sexually frustrated Japanese teenager. It also contains one of the most intensely surreal sequences put on screen in recent memory: a scene where Cheiko and her deaf friends drop acid and stumble grinning, arms interlocked, through Tokyo until they wind up in a public fountain, soaking wet.

The new DVD of the film contains two discs, the second of which includes a feature-length bonus feature—a making-of documentary called “Under Construction.” The documentary kicks off with two American school kids asking Inarritu why he called his movie Babel, at which point he tells them the Biblical story of how God punished mankind for its architectural hubris by forcing them to speak different languages, a more powerful way to divide people than religion, politics or race.

The film traces the movie's production from Morocco to Japan, Mexico and the United States, and is mercifully devoid of the typical mind-numbing celebrity interviews that mar most DVD bonus featurettes, which are about as entertaining as your average daytime TV commercial, although it does include some funny footage of Gael Garcia Bernal clowning around with an American accent, pretending to be a border guard. Instead, the documentary shows Inarritu at work with his actors, most of whom aren't: like the eight teams of deaf-mute Japanese girl volleyball teams he assembled for one scene or the several hundred Mexican actors he used in Tecate to enact a wedding reception scene.

“Under Construction” stands well as its own movie, much in the same fashion as making-of documentaries like Hearts of Darkness about the filming of Apocalypse Now and Les Blank's 1982 film Burden of Dreams, about the making of Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo.

Even if you already have the original DVD release of Babel, you might want to consider selling it. The new special edition is worth buying for Disc Two alone.

About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS

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