Phantom Edits: Blade Runner

Back in the late Nineties, before there was a The Phantom Edit (the Mike J. Nichols @TheEditDoctor ), I experimented with an off-line VHS editing suite at a workplace after hours and made my own versions of a few movies.  The first was Blade Runner which I admired for its look and for dramatic scenes that work autonomously but which were buffered by languid pacing and traveling where the atmosphere is no longer supporting story but it feels like filler.  I also did a re-edit of Hook, which had too many epiphanies for Peter Banning and also wallowed a bit in some of the weird body paint manifestation.  I trimmed down Malcolm X and I did a combination cut of Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns by shuffling the order of a few scenes and ultimately using all Batman and Bruce Wayne scenes and trimming villain stuff where possible.  Those only exist as VHS tapes somewhere and have had mixed reactions when I’ve foisted them onto people.  One friend’s kid noticed the baseball park scene from Hook was missing.

But the Blade Runner re-cut I tried again when testing a Pinnacle Studio editing software. This time I rented a copy of the theatrical cut of Blade Runner from a store I won’t name in Toronto and because it was a bootleg (Only the Director’s Cut was officially available on DVD at the time) I could rip and import it into my editing program.  The picture quality was still pretty clean.  By applying only the cuts I felt were needed, it still came down to a reasonable length.  Transitioning the sound became a challenge but that was all part of learning the software without any pressure.

What follows is a video that only points to the order of cuts.  I honestly believe the movie would be improved even now if these changes were applied.  Which of course will be considered a sacrilegious idea, let alone exercise.  We fans of course don’t own the things we like, but we can tinker around with them and I have seen some very arbitrary fan changes made to other people’s movies.  I will say that if you can get a bootleg of The Phantom Edit or Attack of the Edit the commentaries tracks of Mike J. Nichols are like a Master class in how the removal or shifting of a scene can change perception of something that previously had seemed to be a problem.  But for now, I can just show this indication of what I messed with on Blade Runner with a description of each cut if you want to keep stopping or re-checking.  As if you have that much time.  But this sample video is pretty short.

0:06 Cityscape reverse shot cut earlier to seem like same vehicle from another angle

0:13 From Leon gunshot to billboard and spinner. Then to Deckard already finished with paper and coming to the food vendor
0:30 From “No choice, pal” to OPENING TITLES
1:00 From “If the Machine doesn’t work?” and billboard with Spinner going frame right to left, cutting to OWL flying screen left to right for criss-cross transition that gets us to Tyrell’s earlier and skips languid pacing.
1:23 From “You’re talking about memories” CIRCLE WIPE to tunnel.
1:35 From recording of GUNSHOT heard while Deckard is in tunnel, AUDIO transition to THUNDER CLAP outside of Leon’s building
2:11 From Batty asking “Where would we find this JF Sabastian?” CUT to JF’s vehicle pulling up in front of the Bradbury building
2:18 Indicate cross-cutting between Rachel and Deckard (originally 8 minutes) to JF’s place with Replicants (also an originally 8-minutes) to weave 4-minute scenes.
2:33 From Rachael and Deckard intimate at blinds, here there is a wipe to Tyrell’s and the elevator but ideally it should be a “blinds” transition which works with the horizontal information of the Tyrell exterior and those in the previous scene.
2:43 From the window JF implicitly jumped out of and Batty’s reaction CUT TO Deckard’s car as his radio describes JF’s body so it is clear that he fell/jumped.

That about sums up the major cuts that I had a strong opinion about.  The middle section where the Rachel and Deckard stretches could inter-cut with JF, Batty and Pris had specific edit points I found but the important thing was that those sections could be woven without losing anything.  I don’t think the current Disney Star Wars movies can be helped much by fan edits, even The Last Jedi, because the controlling ideas are so contradictory and the way legacy cast were used, especially Luke, may have been appropriate for characters from some other intellectual property but seemed, er, forced shall we say?  Blade Runner was this imperfect movie that I had to dive into and challenge myself with in terms of editing without harming the core of it.  The sequel Blade Runner 2049  has a longer running time but does not feel as long.  However, the running time hurt its number of screenings and its box office so I would have trimmed quite a lot from the beginning to get us to Harrison Ford earlier.  But off hand I do not know where the fat was.  There would be many time-cuts within scenes.  I have all of the versions that have been put out, so it’s not like I have lost Warners money. I’ve gotten that out of my system long ago.