Babylon’s Director Shot A 2 Hour Version Of The Film On His iPhone, And Now We Wonder If A Shorter Cut Would Have Helped

Margot Robbie In Babylon
(Image credit: Paramount)

Damien Chazelle’s blistering commentary of Hollywood in the 1920s, Babylon, got off to a terrible start at the box office, tallying only $3.5 million in its debut weekend in theaters, despite getting a wide release. As expected, Avatar: The Way of Water dominated the charts as it continued its push to $1 billion in worldwide tickets sold. But a mixed reaction from the critical community and a lackluster promotional campaign possibly contributed to the movie’s slow start. Additionally, audiences might have been turned off by the film’s length. Clocking in at 3 hours and 9 minutes, Babylon seems like a daunting sit (though I’d argue the story earns every minute of its run time, and never fails to captivate). And now that there’s word of a two-hour early version, we can’t help but wonder if that’s the one that Paramount should have released. 

This two-hour cut of Babylon is the farthest thing from being official, mind you. Damien Chazelle talked about it during a pre-release Q-and-A in November (via Entertainment Weekly), and he said it was a full rehearsal for the movie that starred only two actors: Diego Calva, who plays Manny Torres in the finished film; and Olivia Hamilton, Chazelle’s wife (and an actor in the movie). Calva acknowledged during the Q-and-A that the process was “very uncommon,” to run through a two-hour version of a longer story. And Chazelle added a few more details, saying:

It's a very tight, two-hour version of the entire movie, [filmed] on an iPhone in our backyard.

As much as I love Babylon, especially the fascinating ending that captures the director’s unfiltered love of cinema, I seriously want to see this two-hour cut of the action. Mainly, I’m curious which scenes and sequences that eventually made it into the final film did not pop up in this backyard rehearsal. Was Tobey Maguire’s bizarre trip into the L.A. underworld part of the two-hour version? And how might the ending of Babylon changed when Chazelle only gave himself two hours to tell this eponymous story?

Of course, Chazelle had no intention of anyone seeing this cut of Babylon. It was a rehearsal filmed on an iPhone in his backyard. And feature films change and evolve during production and editing. But I’m curious how Babylon came to add another hour of story, from that filmed rehearsal to the theatrical cut. 

And also, given the hindsight of the Babylon box office, I have to wonder how the two-hour version might have played. Our own Eric Eisenberg, in his Babylon review, mentioned that he thought the film started off strong but didn’t have the momentum to sustain its length. But this is Monday Morning Quarterbacking a movie that, to me, works incredibly well in its final form, and hopefully will find its audience over time. Something tells me that Paramount looked at the movie stars they had in the cast, and assumed star power would attract a larger audience. Or maybe Tobey Maguire needed to hand out free booze at more screenings of the movie?

Either way, if Damien Chazelle is reading this, please include the two-hour backyard rehearsal cut on the eventual Babylon 4K, because I’m definitely buying that, and would love to see the shorter version. Out of curiosity.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Having been with the site since 2011, Sean interviewed myriad directors, actors and producers, and created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.