Attendees of CinemaCon, the annual gathering of movie theater owners that’s currently unfolding at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, were treated to never-before-seen footage of “Babylon,” which puts the spotlight on Brad Pitt as a silent film star and Margot Robbie as a Roaring Twenties icon.
Prior to Paramount’s presentation at CinemaCon, little had been revealed about “Babylon,” a period piece set in the late 1920s during the movie industry’s transition from silent films to talkies.
Based on the first-look footage of glamorous parties against a backdrop of an entertainment business in flux, “Babylon” looks like a mix between Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Think: loud music, dazzling costumes and next-level makeup.
“You know what we have to do… we have to redefine the form,” Pitt’s character. “When I first moved to Hollywood, the stars on all the doors said ‘No actors and no dogs allowed.’ We changed that.” Later on, he waxes poetic about the power of movies. “What happens on the screen means something.”
Robbie’s character is less worried about her place in showbiz. “You don’t become a star,” she says. “You either are one… or you ain’t.”
In one humorous scene, as Pitt’s character is on the set for a massive Gladiator-esque movie, he dodges a spear that almost impales him. “Sir, I think you’re tent is in the line of fire,” someone from the prop department warns him, to which he replies, “We’ll edit it out in post.”
The starry cast of “Babylon” also includes Tobey Maguire, who also serves as an executive producer, Max Minghella, Spike Jonze, Jean Smart, Flea, Samara Weaving and Olivia Wilde.
“Babylon” has been hotly anticipated as Chazelle’s first project since “First Man,” his 2018 biopic about Neil Armstrong. Despite positive reviews, the story behind the moon landing did not resonate with audiences to the same degree as Chazelle’s 2016 Oscar-winning musical “La La Land,” which became a critical and commercial smash. “La La Land” famously did not win best picture at the Academy Awards, however, then 32-year-old Chazelle became the youngest filmmaker to win the Oscar for best director.
Though Pitt and Robbie are two of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars, “Babylon” is something of a big-screen gamble. In the six years since “La La Land,” starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, grossed nearly $450 million at the worldwide box office, times and tastes have changed dramatically. In today’s era where comic book characters reign supreme, A-list actors no longer guarantee blockbuster results at the box office. That means “Babylon” — which is scheduled to open in theaters on Dec. 25, 2022, a prime awards season release — will have to lean into showmanship in order to fill seats in cinemas. It’s still possible to reap rewards without hailing from existing franchises; Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci” and Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum’s “The Lost City” are recent examples of original properties that managed to find success in theaters.
Pitt, who had a scene-stealing role in “The Lost City,” has a busy year. He will also lead the buzzy cast of director David Leitch’s action-adventure “Bullet Train,” from Sony Pictures. Robbie, who is playing the fantastic, plastic doll in Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” is appearing next in David O. Russell’s 2022 film “Amsterdam,” which co-stars Christian Bale, John David Washington, Rami Malek, Chris Rock, Zoe Saldaña and Taylor Swift.
Paramount’s upcoming slate includes Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” and “Dungeons & Dragons.”