New Video // 2010 // 84 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // October 15th, 2011
"Here we are -- several dots on the map dominating the world."
When director Stevan Riley says Americans don't really understand cricket, he's probably right. I was surprised when I saw the battering that cricketers often take when stepping up to bat.
Riley's Fire in Babylon profiles the West Indies Cricket Team, which controlled the sport from 1980 to 1995. The story starts with the "Calypso Cricketers," actually seen singing in some vintage footage from 1975; that team was dismissed by the world of cricket, as it rarely ended a match with anything to sing about. The turning point came with a drubbing -- both on the field and with hostile fans -- at an Australian test match that year. The team learned its lesson from their often-violent Australian rivals and got tough. A year later, their "head-on onslaught" put the team from India -- and everyone else -- on notice.
Fire in Babylon features lots of video from the team's rise to cricket power, often with the original sports announcing. It also provides quotes from the players and team captains who fueled the West Indies victories. However, this isn't a sports documentary -- not exactly, at least. What Riley sets out to do isn't to show a team working hard to become champions. Instead, he wants to show what happens when they do.
The nations of the West Indies had only recently achieved independence, often with violent clashes. They were also islands, with little common ground. "Could we beat our former masters at the game they created?" one player asks; the answer was yes, demonstrated in a 1985 test match against England. The rise of the cricket team brought unity to the region and encouraged the islands' emerging culture, a message hit home by Bunny Wailer of Bob Marley and the Wailers, who offers frequent commentary. Eventually, the team was a symbol of black power in Africa as well.
The picture quality is highly variable; some of those old cricket videos are full of scratches and spots. Riley helps things along with stylish graphics, but it's still noticeable. The soundtrack features lots of reggae, including a band performing a cricket song.
A brief interview with Riley and producer John Battsek is added as an extra. It's not bad, but I'd have liked a text timeline, both for the team and for the West Indies, and some background on the team's stars and where they are now.
Sports documentaries often promise to show viewers that "it's more than a game." Fire in Babylon actually does just that.
Review content copyright © 2011 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated