One of the more common criticisms about Damien Chazelle’s 1920s Hollywood epic “Babylon” is the film’s runtime. Clocking in at three hours and nine minutes long, it’s essentially as long as James Cameron’s “Avatar” sequel.
Whether the film has an interesting enough story to sustain that length is up to the viewer, but reviews have taken the film to task over its excessive runtime – fitting considering the film is all about excess. The most common criticism seems to be pointed at the film’s last act.
During a recent Los Angeles Q&A for the film, Chazelle revealed that he prepared the movie by filming a two-hour cut of it in his backyard on his iPhone.
That version only starred two actors – the film’s secondary leading man Diego Calva, and actress Olivia Hamilton who plays director Ruth Adler in the film and is also Chazelle’s wife. Chazelle says (via EW):
“It’s a very tight, two-hour version of the entire movie, [filmed] on an iPhone in our backyard. We rehearsed the whole movie in his backyard, only Olivia, Damien and I. It was a very uncommon kind of situation.”
That would suggest Chazelle certainly could have cut a shorter version of the film if he had wanted to. One reason it also runs long is due to its graphic showcasing of the excesses of the period, complete with some debaucherous scenes that play more like a live-action cartoon.
This week, fellow filmmaker Paul Schrader criticised the film for its problematic historical accuracy. Schrader posted a quick review on Facebook saying:
“‘Babylon’ is many things but well-researched isn’t one of them. After reading a number of planted articles about the filmmakers’ voluminous ‘research,’ I was scratching my head. Does any film historian agree the film’s putative historicity?”
The film has been one of the biggest box office bombs of the year, opening to just $5.3 million over the four-day Christmas weekend and not helped by a production budget of over $80 million. The hope is awards season momentum and overseas box-office in late January can help claw back some success.