Story and graphic by Chris Crymes
If you’ve had an eye on the movie side of Twitter in the past three years, you’ve more than likely seen at least one call to arms to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. At first, it seemed we had another situation of simple studio interference, but as years went by and more information came to light, Zack Snyder’s departure and return to the “Justice League” project is more complicated than anyone initially thought. So, let’s take it from the beginning.
After the poor reception of 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” it seemed worrisome for the already ongoing production of Snyder’s next DC endeavor, “Justice League.”
Fast forward to May 2017, Snyder leaves the production of “Justice League” in the wake of a family tragedy. Snyder told The Hollywood Reporter, “The demands of this job are pretty intense. It is all consuming. And in the last two months, I’ve come to the realization… I’ve decided to take a step back from the movie to be with my family, be with my kids, who really need me. They’re all having a hard time. I’m having a hard time.”
Following Snyder’s departure, Warner Bros. Pictures brought in Joss Whedon as director to bring the project together for theatres. At the time, that is all we knew. In fact, Toby Emmerich told the same outlet, “He’s handing the baton to Joss, but the course has really been set by Zack.” Leading those watching the situation to believe that Whedon was only there to wrap up production. Oh, how wrong we were.
Less than a month later, Danny Elfman replaced Snyder’s usual composer, Junkie XL. Shortly after, reports of Whedon’s multiple rewrites and reshoots began to surface, seeding more doubt as the movie’s release approached.
“Justice League” hit theatres Nov. 15, 2017 middling critical reviews; eventually leveling out at 40% on Rotten Tomatoes and 45 out of 100 on the site Metacritic (it should be noted that these sites are aggregate sites, meaning that they gather a general consensus of critic’s reviews across the internet). The film’s theatrical run also only produced $229 million domestically against the film’s $300 million budget. Even after making over $650 million worldwide, “Justice League” still performed lower than any previous film in the DC Extended Universe, let alone compared to “The Avengers”’ $1.5 billion 2012 run.
Fan reception was less than favorable as well, with disappointed DC fans rallying online for a release of the original director’s vision. A week after “Justice League’s” release, an online petition in favor of the “Snyder Cut” garnered over 130,000 signatures.
According initial reports and interviews, Snyder’s cut of “Justice League” was practically impossible to finish and nowhere near a working cut. But, by January 2018, more production information surfaced.
In January 2018, fans found a post from Snyder’s Vero account revealing he was working with Stefan Sonnenfeld as intermediate digital colorist for “Justice League” in February 2017. This struck fans as odd, because that colorist’s job, color grading, is typically done after “picture lock.” “Picture lock” means the initial cut of raw footage has been cut down and assembly has begun for final setup of scenes. While this does not mean the film is done, it does mean shooting should be finished at this point and edits to shooting have been completed.
It is possible Snyder just wanted to do some color testing, but when looking at the fact that he shot “Justice League” on 35mm film, that process becomes much more difficult to do during shooting. Again, leading many to assume Snyder’s cut of “Justice League” was at least near completion, making Whedon’s countless reshoots and additional rewrites seem increasingly unnecessary.
Fans continued to comb Snyder’s Vero page, finding more screenshots of moments and characters completely absent from the theatrical cut of “Justice League,” leading to more calls to #releasethesnydercut.
By February 2018, longstanding entertainment reporter Josh Dickey announced via Twitter, “Zack Snyder was fired from the DCEU just over 1 year ago,” directly contradicting the conception of Snyder only walking away from “Justice League” of his own volition. Despite this and other corroborating reports, Ben Frits, a senior executive for Warner Bros., told The Wall Street Journal in July 2018 the studio had no plans to release “any alternate cut” of “Justice League.”
After months of fan explosion online, Snyder began to speak publicly about his cut of “Justice League,” specifically that it clocked in at a staggering 214 minutes long compared to Whedon’s 120 minutes. Considering the rewrites, reshoots, and double the runtime, fans were now fully convinced the “Snyder Cut” was a completely different movie.
As testament to the “Snyder Cut” fans drive, two of them organized a fan funded “ultimate statement” at 2019’s San Diego Comic-Con, including a banner, billboard and Hollywood Reporter ad calling for the release of the “Snyder Cut.”
After the Comic-Con coverage, celebrities began jumping on the Snyder wagon. On Aug. 18, 2019, “Aquaman” himself, Jason Momoa, posted on Instagram, “The Snyder cut is ssssiiicccckkkkkk #luckymesucksforu,” furthering “Snyder Cut” confirmation online. The same month, walking hockey jersey and nerd culture extraordinaire, Kevin Smith told CinemaBlend’s “ReelBlend” podcast, “I’ve spoken now to enough people at various levels in that production. There is a Snyder cut. For sure. That’s not a mythical beast. It exists.” By November 2019, actors Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot and Ray Fisher tweeted out “#ReleaseTheSnyderCut.”
On Dec. 4, 2019, Snyder hushed speculation with a Vero post of canned film reels saying, “Is it real? Does it exist? Of course, it does.”
Deep into the COVID-19 pandemic, Snyder announced after a May 20, 2020 virtual screening of “Man of Steel” that his director’s cut of “Justice League” will officially be released on HBO Max. And the rest, as they say, is history. Following that announcement, fans were given the August 2020 first “Snyder Cut” trailer, scored to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” confirming the 2021 release.
After almost four years and countless fan posts, we can see the tragedy of what happened here. In the wake of a family tragedy, Warner Bros. took what was practically a finished product, hired a new director, new composer, new color artists and changed what was their original director’s vision.
This is something that sadly happens time and time again in Hollywood. Go back to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi landmark, “Blade Runner” and you’ll see a similar situation in which the studio did not trust Scott’s vision of a dystopian future neo-noir. So, behind his back, they made cuts and edits, even going so far as to record a voiceover from Harrison Ford. The studio cut bombed in theatres critically and financially, many specifically calling against Ford’s halfhearted narration. Only after years and repeated proven failures was Scott allowed his director’s cut, which is now known as the one definitive cut.
This pattern of studio interference has seen a rise in recent years, especially when it comes to superhero movies. With Josh Trank’s troubled “Fant4stic” production, “Suicide Squad” being given to a trailer company to cut together, and numerous others, the “Snyder Cut” gaining enough traction to make it to HBO Max does offer a chance to stop this.
Before the advent of streaming services, studios pushed films to be as close to the 90-minute normal runtime as possible, so they can screen it in theatres as many times as possible to maximize profits. This has made it practically impossible to get a new idea for a film out there that pushes past the feared two-hour mark. But, if the “Snyder Cut” performs well with its streaming release, we could see a new filmmaking future.
Slowly but surely, services like Netflix have been giving filmmakers more of a shot when it comes to longer films. Netflix’s “The Irishman” clocks in at a long three hours and 30 minutes, and even Amazon Prime Video’s “Sound of Metal” is over two hours long, which studios don’t like to give to intimate productions as of late. With the clambering requests for Snyder’s vision to be released and its strong opening weekend numbers, this could show studios that viewers are willing to sit through longer, original films if they’re given the chance. This could be the making of a new age of original films if the studios listen.