- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 25, 2023

Academy Award-winning director Damien (“Whiplash” and “La La Land”) Chazelle exhaustive celebration of a raucous and hedonistic Hollywood in the 1920s divided critics and fizzled at the box office.

Babylon (Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment, rated R, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 189 minutes, $35.99) now looks for redemption with home theater viewers in love with the history of movie making and the 4K disc format.

Mr. Chazelle also wrote the mostly fictionalized, dark drama that focuses on declining screen legend Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt as a Douglas Fairbanks and John Gilbert amalgam); rising and then falling star Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie, channeling Clara Bow); and an everyman assistant climbing the filmmaking ladder, Mexican immigrant Manny Torres (Diego Calva).

Viewers will appreciate the movie’s covering of the grand scales of early filmmaking and the transition from the silent film era to talkies, but Mr. Chazelle overstuffs his long-winded epic with sexual as well as overtly grotesque excess that will definitely turn off some film lovers.

One moment where he gets it hilariously on target is watching the crew from Kinoscope Studios trying to capture Nellie’s dialogue in one short scene that will cause eyes to water.

However, with those highs comes plenty of meandering lows as the second act slows to a crawl, and the third act then spirals into a student art film with a head-scratching, unsatisfying conclusion.

Clocking in at more than three hours, “Babylon” desperately needed an editor willing to challenge the director as the lengthy pacing afforded too much time for gratuitous chaos.

4K in action: The presentation culled from a 4K digital intermediate, sourced from the original 35mm film format, offers a colorful and crisp journey highlighting an extravagant period production design.

For eye-popping grand scale moments check out panoramas from a stone mansion on a mountaintop during a purplish sunrise, varied movie sets embedded in a beige desert, a statue-lined garden, a sunset with rays of light piercing behind a mountain range, the stark white massive columns of a sanitarium, and Conrad looking at the ocean from a rocky beach.

Those looking for more granular detail can inspect a tattoo of Conrad on a girl’s back, the subtle cracks on a terra cotta roof, counting the tears as Nellie cries on command, and the excess of vintage vehicles and more than 7,000 period costumes throughout.

“Babylon” realized on the ultra-high definition disc format stuns and often makes up for the sluggish and depressing narrative.

Best extras: Owners get the 4K disc without extras and an included Blu-ray disc with the digital goodies, but not a high definition version of the film.

The disc offers a 30-minute overview of a movie 15 years in the making, according to Mr. Chazelle, and covers shooting at real locations around Hollywood, costuming, casting, character motivations, production design and, essentially, all of the standard topics supplemented by cast and crew interviews.

Most interesting in the segment is rehearsal footage captured by the director on his phone between Ms. Robbie and Mr. Calva.

That’s about it, with a few very short featurettes on costumes and the musical score rounding the goodies out.

For such a grandiose effort, I would have expected an optional commentary track with the director or even a vintage documentary covering this pivotal historical period in cinema.

• Joseph Szadkowski can be reached at jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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