Recently I heard through my favorite film-news website Dark Horizons that, in an interview with AMCTV (full story there), not a single person who actually worked on the upcoming sci-fi action thriller BABYLON A.D. is pleased with the end result. The director himself is practically disowning the film in its current format. It is currently nearly 15 minutes shorter and a heck of a lot dumber than what the cast and crew had been hoping for. How did this happen and what does it mean? Let’s explore a bit, as I believe this to be a great example of the flaws of our current studio system, and an even better example of a director trying to show some integrity within his constraints.

Based on the novel Babylon Babies. The story is about “a mercenary (Diesel) in the year 2019 who is hired to transport a woman and her guardian from Eastern Europe to New York” and critics are already drawing comparisons to recent critical success Children of Men. Unfortunately they are all negative, such as the review of one Jordan Mintzer of Variety, who calls the film “A noisier, costlier version of Children of Men, [that lakcs] that film’s social-political significance and jaw-dropping direction.”

Babylon AD was set to be a strong come back piece for critically maligned action star Vin Diesel. Featuring imaginative special effects and a reliable sci-fi backstory to flex his muscles to, I was hoping that he’d really have a chance with this film to star in something intelligent and meaningful (while at the same time punching bad guys in the face). So did he.

Diesel emphasizes the movie’s theme of smuggling people across national borders. “This whole thing that’s happening in Georgia right now is so fresh that no one has even asked about it yet,” he says. “We’re coming into an age where borders are closing, and I think that our society will be numb to it because of our freedom in the virtual world, our freedom in the Internet.”

Diesel has been known to take a more intellectual and involved approach to his film making, helping to craft the fantasy universe of Chronicles of Riddick along with director David Twohy, and taking a turn as a dramatic actor in the critically successful (anywhere other than RT anyways) courtroom drama biopic, Find Me Guilty. If the action star isn’t happy with the result of the movie, and furthermore is upset at the brainlessness of it all, then the final product probably has some major flaws. Diesel sympathizes with Kassovitz.

A director is always in the difficult position of being held accountable for a film’s success or failure. “It’s hard,” he says. “Filmmaking is such a collaborative effort you can’t look to one person.

He couldn’t be more right. But it seems that 20th Century Fox might be the bad guy again, in a case similar to their butchering of the already-pretty-dumb-concept Hitman movie earlier this year. It serves as an odd coincidence that Vin Diesel was one of the key producers on that film as well. What does 20th Century Fox have against the baritone-voiced behemoth? Well, Kassovitz and Diesel have some opinions on that.

The film’s production was reportedly riddled with problems, from vast delays to budgetary concerns to weather setbacks. Kassovitz points to the studio, “Fox was sending lawyers who were only looking at all the commas and the dots,” he says. “They made everything difficult from A to Z.” The last stroke, Kassovitz says, was when Fox interfered with the editing of the film, paring it down to a confusing 93 minutes (original reports were that 70 minutes were cut from the film; Kassovitz says the number is closer to 15). Diesel too was astounded at the film’s length. Having just completed production of the fourth installment of The Fast and the Furious, he had not seen a cut of the film in six months. “Am I even in the movie any more, or am I on the cutting room floor?” the actor joked. Fox could not be reached for comment on this story.

The director, Matieu Kassovitz (Gothika), has even gone so far as to warn people about how bad the film is. “Ready to go to war” with Fox, Kassovitz lashes out, saying:

“It’s pure violence and stupidity,” he admits. “The movie is supposed to teach us that the education of our children will mean the future of our planet. All the action scenes had a goal: They were supposed to be driven by either a metaphysical point of view or experience for the characters… instead parts of the movie are like a bad episode of 24.”

The forewarning is strong indeed. The forewarning that big-budget studios would rather use their money on big dumb action flicks, especially if that means lobotomizing legitimate intentions of intellect. Reminds me of the case of 20th Century Fox v. Ridley Scott over the changes made in Blade Runner. While I doubt any version of Bablyon AD would have been as challenging and as intelligent as that film, I always enjoy seeing younger directors trying to step up to the plate. Shame on Fox though, as we will be treated to watching yet another movie where Vin Diesel punches a bad guy in the face and has little context to put it in. At this time, your dedicated reporter is unsure whether to put his 10 dollars into the film. Kassovitz isn’t helping.

To be fair, Kassovitz doesn’t entirely hate the film. “I like the energy of it and I got some scenes I’m happy with,” he says. “But I know what I had — I had something much better in my hands but I just wasn’t allowed to work.”

In the end I’m glad to see someone up there in the big leagues that has the integrity to admit when he’s being bought out by companies like Fox; admitting to making garbage under the hopes of creating intelligent pieces of work. “I should have chosen a studio that has guts,” he says. “Fox was just trying to get a PG-13 movie. I’m ready to go to war against them, but I can’t because they don’t give a s–t.”

Oh well. Maybe next time. Babylon AD opens in theaters everywhere this Friday.

Sources from and