Given the success of Whiplash, La La Land and to a lesser degree, First Man, writer/director Damien Chazelle had earned the right to swing big. Released during the 2022 holiday season, Babylon, a three-hour epic with an all-star cast and Oscar hopes, arrived with a thud. Bombing at the box office and given countless divisive reviews.
Damien Chazelle has described Babylon as a “poison pen letter to Hollywood,” but the film has little depth. Each central character has a variation of the rags-to-riches-to-rags story that’s all too familiar when Hollywood revisits their own history. It’s 1926 and silent movies are the rage and Hollywood is awash with activity. Probably best described as chaos, parties are full of wild sex and copious drugs. The first person we meet, Mexican immigrant Manuel “Manny” Torres (Diego Calva), is a lowly assistant, but his efforts to deliver an elephant to a glitzy Hollywood party, results in an invitation to the soiree. While there, Manny meets Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) a wanna be actress from New Jersey, determined to be a movie star. Her ballsy style gets the attention of executives and quickly becomes a box office draw. The oft-married film star Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) is living his best life, having become the idol every Hollywood actor longs to be. Lastly, there’s trumpet virtuoso Sidney Palmer (Jovan Adepo) who finds himself elevated from gig musician to the big screen. All their lives intertwine, through triumph and tragedy as the years pass.
The first ten minutes of Babylon will determine whether a viewer can sit through the next three hours. In fits and starts, this movie works. undeniably beautiful, Babylon can be enthralling. Unfortunately, there are long stretches that are directionless tedium. Bodily fluids on screen may indeed shock but can wear out its welcome quickly. Sometimes, too much excess is just that, too much. With a runtime in excess of three hours, there better be an engaging story to tell. Babylon has energetic moments, only to run out of steam long before the ending comes. Given the excellent cast that includes supporting players Jean Smart as an influential gossip columnist, Flea’s hard-nosed strongman, Lukas Haas’ troubled producer, Eric Roberts’ as Nellie’s self-centered father and Li Jun Li’s captivating entertainer, Babylon feels like a missed opportunity to create something special.
Shot on 35mm, Paramount’s 4K release includes gorgeous Dolby Vision color grading. Presented in the 2.39.1 aspect ratio, the cinematography of frequent Damien Chazelle collaborator Linus Sandgren shines. Light and detail is incredible. Facial features and fine details are stunning throughout. Beautiful costumes pop off the screen. Production values are off the charts. Dolby Vision HDR enhances the impressive range of colors, lighting and shadows. There are no image issues to be seen.
The Dolby Atmos audio track is just as impressive. Justin Hurwitz’s jazz score shines throughout. Large crowd and party scenes are enveloping. Effectively mixed, dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout.
English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles are available.
Encased in beautiful steelbook packaging, the following extras are on the included Blu-ray disc of the film:
- A Panoramic Canvas Called Babylon (HD, 30:50) Cast and crew discuss the development of the film fifteen years in the making, recreating 1920’s Hollywood, shooting the film and more.
- The Costumes of Babylon (HD, 2:51) A brief look at the costumes in the film.
- The Costumes of Babylon (HD, 2:51) A brief look at the film’s music.
- Deleted and Extended Scenes (HD, 9:15 total runtime): Included are Manny Drives Jack – Deleted, Elinor Chats with Extra – Extended, Cutting Room – Deleted, Dressing Room Fight – Deleted, Powder Room – Extended, and Passport Search – Deleted.