Well so did I until…
Mathieu Kassovitz is pissed off. The French auteur, who first made waves in 1995 with La Haine, is supposed to be celebrating the passion project he's been nursing for the past five years. Instead – the week before Babylon A.D. hits theaters -- he is nursing a grudge. "I'm very unhappy with the film," he says. "I never had a chance to do one scene the way it was written or the way I wanted it to be. The script wasn't respected. Bad producers, bad partners, it was a terrible experience."
The film, starring Vin Diesel, is an adaptation of the French novel Babylon Babies by Maurice Georges Dantec. It tells the story of a mercenary (Diesel) in the year 2019 who is hired to transport a woman and her guardian from Eastern Europe to New York. "The scope of the original book was quite amazing," says Kassovitz. "The author was very much into geopolitics and how the world is going to evolve. He saw that as wars evolve, it won't be just about territories any more, but money-driven politics. As a director it's something that's very attractive to do."
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."
But according to Kassovitz, Babylon A.D. fails to deliver any of these messages. "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."
So how did a premise steeped in real-world relevance fall so far off track?
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.
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." That the movie follows on the heels of such strong summer scifi options, will also prove challenging. "Babylon will probably have a good first weekend, but the second weekend we're going to lose 30%," says Kassovitz. "I don't see how people who went through all these amazing blockbusters like The Dark Knight and Iron Man this summer will take it."
Diesel says that 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." Where does Kassovitz look? "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."
Ill wait for directors cut on DVD or cable