Friday, August 5, 2011

Almost More A Screensaver Than A Documentary, Babies Disappoints.

The Good: Some decent footage, Very faithful to the concept of a documentary
The Bad: Not terribly educational or insightful, Light on bonus features, Low on entertainment/educational value.
The Basics: As cynical as I am to all things baby-related, Babies is pretty much just a random collection of footage from four babies around the world in a surprisingly dull "documentary."

As my Best Picture Project (available here!) nears its inevitable conclusion as I work toward the middle, I am looking toward my next project. That will involve documentaries and because I was looking ahead, I was more susceptible to my wife's request for the film Babies. When she asked me to watch it with her, I suspected it was just part of her maternal instincts which have been pretty much sublimated due to being married to me. So, I agreed to watch it with her. When my mother called to ask me to go kill wasps in the yard about an hour into the film, I leapt at the opportunity. That is how boring Babies is.

For sure, I might have been somewhat biased against Babies going into the viewing, but because I was making the effort for my wife, I put on a good face. The thing is, the movie quickly proved to be far less ambitious or interesting than I had thought it would be. Director Thomas Balmes creates a very literal documentary with Babies, not pushing any form of agenda and instead simply capturing reality and presenting it for the viewer. The problem here is that the project becomes far less ambitious, educational or even interesting than it ought to be.

Babies follows four newborns: Bayar, Hattie, Mari, and Ponijao. They live in Mongolia, San Francisco, Tokyo and Namibia and Balmes simply captures the first year of each of their lives. Illustrating the differing methods of parenting with each example culture, viewers see how mothers feed babies, how they comfort (or let alone) their offspring, how babies play, how they react to obstacles and other children and how they learn to stand. Babies follows each child through their first steps and then it ends.

On DVD, Babies features the results of a contest from the promoters and a featurette on the four babies four years later. The featurette features the most talking in the documentary and it does not significantly enhance the viewing experience. It's like a class reunion for a bunch of students one has no emotional attachment to.

What I object to most with Babies is its simplicity and utter lack of purpose. The film is not terribly educational and there is no narration for the movie. As such, the viewer simply is expected to sit and watch as babies sit around, wobble, eat, poop or do other baby-related things. While those who are obsessed with babies might find something to enjoy here, those who are not interested in babies are not going to be bowled over. The film, more than living up to the stated goal of exploring the differences between how babies are raised in different parts of the world, simply illustrates how four babies are raised.

Most American viewers will scoff at how Hattie is raised in San Francisco as she is not raised in a typical fashion. This makes the way the other babies are raised suspect as far as whether they are emblematic of those regions or not. Babies are not raised the same across different subcultures in the United States, so it is utterly unsurprising that they would be raised differently in different areas in the world. Unfortunately, the film is largely unrevealing outside the apparent implication that animals around the world like babies.

Either way, this "documentary," which is simply a bunch of randomly collected - though impressive - footage of babies seems designed to tap into the maternal instinct and I've not heard anyone who was not already obsessed with babies express interest in, much less a sense of being engaged by, the movie.

I wish I had more to write, but I sat through watching an hour and a half of footage that I could have gleaned by sitting in a park in the United States. It wouldn't be quite as extensive, but it would probably be about as interesting or informative as Babies was.


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© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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