Babbling about Babel
My review copy of the HD DVD release of Babel arrived today, via DVD Pacific. This is the first HD DVD I’ve picked up all month, due to the complete dearth of titles available for the format, and I’m happy to report that it’s a rip-roaring success. Shot in a combination of 16mm, 35mm spherical and 35mm anamorphic, the greatly divergent visual styles could have spelled disaster, but thankfully whoever encoded this disc knew their stuff. This is Paramount’s first AVC title, having previously used VC-1 for all their releases (their Blu-ray versions, meanwhile, continue to be MPEG2, since Sony handles that side of the deal), and, in contrast to the over-compressed Wolf Creek from The Weinstein Company, there is very little in the way of artefacting on display here. There are a lot of scenes that must have been hard to compress, from the shaky-cam grainy look of Morocco to the pulsating lights in the various Japanese nightclubs, and occasionally you can spot the odd slip-up if you’re paying close attention, but otherwise this is more or less (and I usually hate to use this term) a reference quality transfer. Detail is exemplary, colour and contrast are variable but appropriate, and there is only the slightest hint of minor edge enhancement in a handful of shots. All in all, a very high 9/10.
The film itself is very good too. Alejandro González Iñárritu builds on the fractured narrative style of his previous films, Amores Perros and 21 Grams, using the same concept of disparate events involving unconnected characters coming together in different ways, although this time on a global rather than local scale. In broadening the scope, he loses some of the intimacy and focus of 21 Grams, but it’s a great film nonetheless and one that I would certainly like to see pick up a few Oscars in a week’s time.