The Art of Editing in Blade Runner’s Climax

by criticalhit009

“Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!” – The Smiths, “Paint a Vulgar Picture”

An old short piece on the editing of Blade Runner.

The Art of Editing in Blade Runner’s Climax

Future directors, take note: the climax of Blade Runner is a great scene of character development, with a profoundly humanizing take on intersection of life and technology.  Though it doesn’t contain a lot of action (by contemporary standards at least), the scene has tremendous tension in both Deckard perilous situation and his oppositional relationship he has with Batty. Editing enhances this scene through its various effects. Specifically, the editing style in Blade Runner’s climatic scene creates tension, release, and subtle meaning through various editing techniques of shot length and transitions.

Editing is vital to the climax in adding to the tension of Deckard’s situation with rapidly increasing cuts and shortening of shots. At the beginning of the scene, only the shots of Batty are generally longer than 2 seconds, whereas the shots of Deckard hanging slowly losing his grip last 2 seconds at the most. This creates tension in Deckard’s situation, and also illuminates the power Batty has, as he commands more screen presence. But after Batty leaps to Deckard’s building, all of the shots begin to get shorter and are cut more rapidly. As Batty gets closer to Deckard, most shots last no more than 3 seconds, with the shots of Deckard and his hands slipping being particularly short, adding more tension to the scene. When Deckard finally begins to slip, shots last no more than 1 second, further stretching the tension. Throughout this part of the scene, quick cuts and increasingly shorter shots gradually build up tension, making an effective climax.

Besides increasing tension, editing also relieves it with longer shots, allowing audiences to process the events and understand character’s emotional states. Once Batty grabs Deckard’s hand, the following shots of Batty lifting Deckard last around 3 seconds, giving some release of tension and allow the audience to better comprehend the action. These shots also slow down the action to lead into the following series of shots which consist of longer takes. This begins when Batty drops Deckard onto the roof, and Deckard crawls backward, stopping at a pillar. This shot of Deckard lasts for approximately 14 seconds, serving to completely release the previous tension, allowing audiences to relax and prepare next for Batty’s small speech. By permitting longer shots, the editing also shows more of Deckard’s emotional state and reactions. By repeatedly showing Deckard’s face, the editing allows the audience to see Deckard’s comprehension of Batty’s speech. By allowing shots to last longer between cuts, the editing gives more time for the audience to relax, understand the action and the character’s emotional states on-screen.

Editing in this scene also helps illustrate the relationship between humans and replicants through its use of transitions. Throughout this scene, the only shot transitions are quick cuts, save for one exception. The only time a transition isn’t a cut is after Batty dies, and his dove flies away. As Deckard reacts to Batty’s death, the shot dissolves into the shot of Batty still sitting upright. This transition is particularly impactful as the only non-cut transition in the scene, and also as a symbolic representation of the relationship between Batty and Deckard. The dissolve itself suggests a removal of the barriers between human and replicant. Although both Batty and Deckard shared the screen in previous shots when Batty lifted Deckard up, much of the scene before consisted of individual shots of only Batty or only Deckard, all tightly edited together. However, the dissolve breaks this by fading from Deckard to Batty, suggesting a relationship of equality between them. This interpretation of the transition also supports the theory that Deckard himself is a replicant; the transition could even be interpreted as an illustration of Deckard’s kinship to Batty, or perhaps a representation of Deckard’s own self-realization that he is a replicant. Though diverse in meaning, the dissolve between Deckard and Batty may be taken as a literal dissolve between human and replicant, illustrating the complex relationship between both beings.

Blade Runner’s editing effectively shapes the film’s climax to create a powerful resolution. By varying the length of shots and the cuts between them, the editor influences the audience by increasing the tension and giving release. Even through simple transitions, editing creates deeper development of the relationship between man and machine. For future directors looking for how to strengthen the craft of their films, Blade Runner’s editing style is a prime example in how the little changes in timing and transitions make profound meaning in the complex art of cinema.