Blade Runner 2049 is a massive, complex movie with a very deliberate and very specific sense of pacing. That means the film had to be very carefully cut. In a new interview, editor Joe Walker breaks down how that happened.
Walker, who's worked extensively with director Denis Villeneuve on films like Sicario and Arrival, spoke to Provideo Coalition about the process of assembling the film, and revealed that the original cut was so long it had to be split into two for screening.
SPOILERS FOR BLADE RUNNER 2049 AHEAD
"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," Walker said. "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."
As for what ultimately hit the cutting room floor, Walker described much of it as "connective tissue" and unnecessary dialogue, plus an aerial sequence of K and Joi arriving in Las Vegas. As for what didn't get left out but almost did, Walker revealed that the "Hologram Funhouse" sequence -- in which K and Deckard fight in an old Las Vegas lounge while holograms of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley play in the background -- was very nearly cut from the film. Why? Well, apart from some effects challenges that made it difficult to edit, the atmosphere just wasn't right. That is, until Walker went back and found some new pieces.
"I wanted to emphasize the spookiness of this broken machine and I dug around and found some golden moments before “action” where the dancers were waiting for the playback music to start –just breathing, standing by, lit heavily from above. These ended up in the cut. We tried to put in as many dead and broken holograms as living ones.
"The big transformation was dumping the music almost entirely. We just had this idea it would be creepier if just one little speaker somewhere in this vast room would suddenly spit out some audio. Theo Green our sound designer worked with me the entire length of the project. He came up with this amazing track of all the lighting units shifting and the crackling of bulbs firing up. That absolutely nailed it. Denis loved the new sequence and it was back in, but at one stage it was so far from the ‘Bladiverse,’ its head was on the guillotine and we were reading it last rites."
Now, it's hard to imagine the film without that sequence. It's intense and atmospheric, reflecting both the past we knew and the broken future of Blade Runner, and it creates a sense of respect between K and Deckard that wasn't there before. It's one of the year's best examples of how a good editor can salvage and otherwise uncooperative scene.