Thus, when some “Breaking” fans released their two-hour hour long fan edit of the series, condensing the story of a high school chemistry professor who turns to a life of crime to a feature length experience, the overwhelming reaction was “WHY???” (A question seemingly echoed by AMC, which seems to have issued a takedown notice.)
But it was worth my time to watch the full cut, uploaded to Vimeo – even though it wasn’t the best showcase for what the show meant. What it did was highlight how “Breaking Bad” was one of the great TV series of this era, and why its excellence shone specifically because it was a 62-episode TV show, not a two-hour film.
The idea of a “62-hour movie” might sound ridiculous, except it’s a statement we’re hearing a lot lately from TV creators, including “Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. As Alan Sepinwall wrote in a recent defense of “the episode” (just the latest example of a TV critic having to make the point that TV doesn’t need to replicate film), so much of the power of “Breaking Bad” had to do with episodes and moments, which are not easily condensed by any stretch of the imagination.
But still, I’m glad I watched the entirety of the condensed “Breaking Bad” cut. That is in part because I have an appreciation for fanworks, and what they have created isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen. In fact, the opening sequence proves especially well-executed, perhaps the most original element of the cut and one that has some rich textures.
And they make some clever editing choices over the course of the film to bring together the plotline. Not only do they pay tribute to some of the montages for which the show is famous for, but they strike out on their own in the opening minutes, which move up a late-season flashback to set the scene for Walter White’s journey of aspiration and destruction.
But the greatest value of this video is that it makes you appreciate how deeply felt a show that “Breaking Bad” was, thanks to the full cast of amazingly well-realized characters. It highlights that while Bryan Cranston was the star of “Breaking Bad,” Walt’s journey wasn’t the only one that mattered. And when it came to crafting the show, the importance of those character journeys cannot be underestimated.
In watching the edit, the omissions stand out on a dramatic level — for example, we never see Walt collapse prior to his cancer diagnosis. He simply pays a visit to his doctor’s office, after a series of scenes that set up his family life. And while the events leading up to the explosion that kills Gus Fring are depicted clearly, we never actually see Fring’s gruesome demise — instead, we see Hank and the rest of Walt’s family watch the aftermath unfold on TV.
And that’s perhaps the most interesting component of how condensing the story into two hours impacts the way we might perceive “Breaking Bad.” Any fan of the show would likely say that the show was about Walt and his partner Jesse — but in shortening the story, the fan cut turned it into a battle royale between Walt and Hank. Cutting out so much of Jesse’s impact on the narrative is understandable, but what it highlights is that in an extremely simplified narrative, the nemesis matters more than the sidekick.
Jesse’s incredible journey is just one of the beautifully tragic stories shortchanged by being condensed — though Gale (David Costabile) gets a longer showcase than expected, including his karaoke spotlight. And that applies to a lot of the memorable figures who hovered in Walt’s orbit, but commanded their own stories: Laura Fraser never makes an appearance in the fan edit, and she’s one of the latter season’ most notable threats.
In short, “Breaking Bad” was about so much more than one man, and that’s why it’s great television — and not a great film.