Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece. Director Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi magnum opus is one of those rarest of sequels that doesn’t just completely justify its existence, but actually improves on and surpasses its progenitor – in this case, Ridley Scott’s original 1982 sci-fi classic. So yes, Blade Runner 2049 is incredible… but unfortunately it’s also a box office dud.
As of this weekend past, after being on the circuit for four weeks already, the film was sitting on a global total of just $223 million. With a production budget that some have reported was as high as $185 million – and that’s excluding any marketing costs which is usually at least another 50% – Blade Runner 2049 has bombed.
So how did a movie that’s part of such a beloved universe, sporting a fan favourite cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Dave Bautista and more, and riding one of the biggest waves of critical praise the year has seen end up doing so poorly? There are many possible reasons, but one that has been touted over and over again is its running time. At 163 minutes, Blade Runner 2049 was not your average quick popcorn-munching cinematic diversion, and it would seem that audiences baulked at having to sit and watch it for so long.
Well, those audiences need to consider themselves lucky as originally the film was even longer, but at least they would have had an intermission. That’s according to an interview by ProVideo Coalition with editor Joe Walker who revealed that “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.
Movies intermissions have fallen out of vogue over the years, and a four-hour film would definitely not be viable for mass market consumption. As such Walker and Villeneuve had to start trimming down. But how did they decide what needed to go?
So what could we cut? Firstly, a lot of connective tissue and bridges. For example, there was a really magnificent aerial sequence when K and Joi fly to Las Vegas. It was one of those rare occasions when it was raining on the hills outside Las Vegas, God’s contribution to Blade Runner 2049. But it just felt more impactful to go straight to the pilot fish’s view of this strange landscape and hear K’s distorted commands, to skip ahead of the audience for a while. 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 continued, explaining how certain scenes just couldn’t be cut as to do so would ruin the amazing jaw-dropping work Villenueve and sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins did, all of which added to the “hallucinatory feel” of the film’s pacing.
You wouldn’t believe the vast amount of effort and tricks we perform to speed up the flow whilst trying to preserve what’s so special about the pace of the dailies. Roger’s lighting effects often require a certain amount of time to play such an enjoyable role in the experience. The Wallace building, for example, had this slowly moving artificial sunlight. It just felt such a groovy idea, artificial sunlight following the characters around the most sophisticated office on earth, owned by a blind man. That means that a shot like Luv walking down a corridor, which in a normal drama you’d probably hold for three or four seconds, but here with slowly shifting caustics you’d be decimating a world-class cinematic moment if you didn’t give that the necessary slot. I guess the choices are about picking which moments to sell and which to buy. And that made it a really interesting edit.
As for the footage that did get snipped, there were never really any whole sequences left on the editing room floor. It was all just beats that got trimmed. As such, you should not expect some kind of new cut of the film to be release later that adds it all back in. Heck, you shouldn’t even expect them to pop up as extras on the home release.
Denis doesn’t like deleted scenes on BluRays and I tend to agree. There’s a reason why you chop scenes out and although I respect the fact that there’s some fan interest out there, we wanted to make one definitive cut of Blade Runner 2049. In reality, there weren’t so many whole scenes to cut because it’s a story that develops piece by piece – remove any substantial piece and the edifice collapses. So we had the challenge of bringing down the length but if you merely cut things faster so that they’re just “fast” then the whole film motors on without the audience. 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.
Personally, I loved Blade Runner 2049’s pacing. Yes, it’s deliberate, but it’s never a boring. There’s always something on screen to engage – and promptly blow away – your senses. Speed everything up and you would have had a very different, possibly generic sci-fi action movie. Might it have made more money at the box office? Possibly. But it would probably not still be talked about years from, which I’m certain is what will happen here.
If you love Blade Runner 2049 as much as I do, and are also interested in the actual mechanics of filmmaking, then I highly recommend you check out Walker’s full interview at ProVideo Coalition. It’s a very lengthy read, but definitely worth it.
Last Updated: November 1, 2017