My Favorite film of the year Blade Runner 2049 isn’t going to make it past the $100 million mark at the domestic box office, but it’s well on its way to becoming a new cult classic thanks to rave reviews and mostly positive buzz from fans. One of the reasons box office pundits felt the movie suffered financially was because of the film’s lengthy runtime. At 163 minutes, “2049” is one of the longest blockbusters in recent memory and could only be shown a limited number of times each day. But it turns out 163 minutes was nothing compared to the very first cut that editor Joe Walker put together.
According to editor Joe Walker, who took part in a lengthy and enlightening interview with Provideo Coaliton, the first assembly cut of BLADE RUNNER 2049 was pushing four hours, and, for a brief moment, director Denis Villeneuve and Walker toyed with splitting the film into two-parts separated by an intermission.
The first assembly of the film was nearly four hours and for convenience sake and – to be honest – my bladder’s sake, we broke it into two for viewings. That break revealed something about the story – it’s in two halves. There’s K discovering his true past as he sees it and at the halfway mark he kind of loses his virginity. (laughs) The next morning, it’s a different story, about meeting your maker and ultimately sacrifice – “dying is the most human thing we do”. Oddly enough both halves start with eyes opening. There’s the giant eye opening at the beginning of the film and the second when Mariette wakes up and sneaks around K’s apartment, the beginning of the 1st assembly part 2. We toyed with giving titles to each half but quickly dropped that. But what does remain is that there’s something of a waking dream about the film. That’s a very deliberate choice in terms of visuals but also the kind of pace they were striving for on set and the hallucinatory feel in the cut – it’s the kind of dream where you tread inexorably closer to the truth.
Since the movie’s initial cut was obviously too long for theatrical release, much of the editing process on “2049” came down to Walker and Villeneuve deciding on what to trim to keep the narrative pacing just right for the tone they wanted to achieve. The movie’s plot moves “piece by piece,” as Walker describes it, which made editing especially hard because if you “remove any substantial piece” then “the edifice collapses.”
“If you merely cut things faster so that they’re just ‘fast’ then the whole film motors on without the audience,” Walker said. “The right version is the one that allows you time to peer into the souls of the character, interspersed with some very dynamic moments of destructiveness. We were also trying to create a dreamlike quality. There are takes where Ryan walked through the desert faster but the shots that sang this song more clearly were the ones where K slowed his pace.”
What ended up on the cutting room floor was “a lot of connective tissue and bridges.” Walker says there was a “really magnificent aerial sequence when K and Joi fly to Las Vegas,” but to trim the film down he decided to introduce the Las Vegas portion of the film not with a flying-in introduction but with a jarring smash cut to Gosling already walking in the orange-soaked foreign land.
“For the vast bulk of the tightenings, we pared the dialogue down to the minimum amount you could get away with, allowing us to play the beats that remained very intensely,” Walker said.
One of the movie’s most important scenes — the Deckard vs. K fight scene set against the backdrop of a concert featuring the holograms of late singers — also almost got cut during the trimming of the four-hour cut. Matching each hologram’s movements to the cuts while staying in sync with the in-camera lighting effects Villeneuve and Roger Deakins shot proved difficult for Walker. The editor spent six months on and off working on the sequence and it almost fell out of the movie until he figured out how to make the scene work at the last second.
Anyone hoping we’ll get to see the four-hour version of “Blade Runner 2049” will surely be disappointed. While Ridley Scott’s original is famous for having numerous different cuts, Villeneuve has called the film’s 163-minute theatrical version his directorial cut, and that’s the only version of “2049” we’ll ever see. Walker echoed Villeneuve’s sentiments, saying neither of them enjoy deleted scenes on Blu-rays and that the finished film is the definitive film. “Blade Runner 2049” is still playing in theaters nationwide.