The makers of a new feature-length fan film edit of Breaking Bad — yes, all of it — describe their cultural Frankenstein as “a study project that became an all-consuming passion.”
That seems apropos for an attempt to compress a five-season, 62-episode Shakespearean Western about greed, corruption, and obsession into two hours and seven minutes.
The massively condensed edit, dubbed Breaking Bad: The Movie, has sparked heated debate among fans about whether its French creators, graphic designer Gaylor Morestin and film director Lucas Stoll, were successful in their aim. The two claim they spent “two years of sleepless nights and endless editing” to bring the film to life, but many fans have argued that any attempt to condense the series into a fraction of its 48-hour run time is doomed to failure.
While Breaking Bad has always been fertile ground for fan edits, these edits and supercuts have tended to focus on isolated aspects (like the show’s beloved POV shot) or highlights (Walt freaking out) of the show. But attempting to view Breaking Bad: The Movie as a succinct summary of the show will inevitably frustrate the viewer; the film is essentially a giant editing experiment to test how well the storyline works when restructured into a film format. The movie makes prodigious use of film editing techniques like montage and voiceover in order to condense the main storyline of the show — the descending moral trajectory of Walter White — into the feature-length time frame.
This works to a degree. The film is interesting and watchable, but skeletal. It gives you the basic structure of the Breaking Bad plot — a high school chemistry teacher gets cancer and becomes the meth kingpin of Albuquerque — but it leaves out integral plot development, character relationships, and particularly connections and motivations. Most of Walter’s relationship with Jesse Pinkman is left on the cutting room floor, which makes the actions they take regarding each other in the “film” feel random and abrupt. Walter’s wife Skyler and his brother-in-law Hank fare better, but the nuances of their relationships are also necessarily stripped down to the minimum.
If you watch Breaking Bad: The Movie without knowing the plot of the TV show, you’re likely to come away with more questions than answers. Entire plot arcs are left out or presented without background context — Gus and Gale just kind of show up and then disappear, and we know these events are meaningful to Walter, but we’re not really sure why. The entire Tuco arc and much of season four is excluded, so Walter doesn’t gradually morph into Heisenberg so much as suddenly shave his head and start being an antihero. (In fact, the film doesn’t even explain why he’s called Heisenberg.)
Still, certain aspects of the edit work. The pivotal moment when Hank realizes Heisenberg’s identity occurs pretty much exactly halfway through the film, which makes the second “half” of the film partly a cat-and-mouse between Hank and Walter. In the series, Hank doesn’t find out this crucial information until just a few episodes before the ending, five seasons in. But anchoring the film around Walter’s deteriorating relationships with Hank and his family allows the compressed run time to feel more like a typical film narrative.
This isn’t the first time fans have taken Breaking Bad to the chopping block in an attempt to analyze its many parts: In 2012, for example, IndieWire wondered if the series would still be Breaking Bad if it were told only through its opening scenes. (The fan film does nod to the show’s influential cold opens by beginning with a cold open of its own.)