When NBC Nightly News does a piece on a film opening day, one would expect it to be seriously special. At the risk of sounding cold, the new documentary "Babies" from director Thomas Balmes didn't exactly tug at my heartstrings. Perhaps my not having any comes into play. But I did admire the concept, cinematography, score and darling stars.
Four babies from four different countries (Namibia, Mongolia, Japan and America) are chronicled from birth to first steps. Over the course of two years, Balmes spent approximately 100 hours shooting each baby (sorry if that sounds ambiguous, they're all alive and well). In a smart move, he combines the footage with spectacular landscapes and enchanting music.
The vast differences and commonalities of child rearing are explored through superb editing. As the American child peels her way through a banana, the Mongolian baby watches her parents gut a goat (shot back and forth). The Asian baby goes to the zoo, Namibian baby basically lives in one. My favorite scene is one in which the American parents take their baby to a Mother Earth group. When they begin chanting, the kid beelines toward the nearest exit, desperately trying to escape.
Basically dialogue free, "Babies" relies heavily upon visuals, which speak volumes. If Balmes is putting out a universal message, it's that human beings are really not so different from one another. The love parents have for their children forges a bond so strong that it cannot be broken or compromised.
Anchorman Brian Williams refers to "Babies" as "a wildlife film about babies, cast in the womb." Focus Features couldn't have paid for any better advertising. Another smart move, "Babies" opened Mother's Day weekend. The prediction is that it will be a smash hit, which once again proves that my opinion is just that.
- Pam Nadon