Much to the disappointment of a small but disproportionally loud group of fan-babies out there who don’t understand the film production process, Warner Brothers will not be releasing any sort of edit of last year’s Justice League film in a form closer to what original director Zack Snyder had envisioned. Why? Because this rumored “Snyder Cut” does not exist.
Over the past year, rumors and hogwash “reporting” have stoked the fires of belief that somewhere hidden away in the dark catacombs of the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank California there was a version of the Justice League movie that was somehow truer to the vision of director Snyder before he left the project during post-production just ready and waiting to be released to a public anxious to embrace the artistic triumph that Snyder was certainly preparing.
Thanks to the legwork in a new article from the Wall Street Journal, those fantastical tales can be laid to rest.
But first, let’s take a moment to step back to the spring of 2016. Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice had just opened to decidedly mixed reviews. While some fans seemed to find something to like in the gritty and dark tone of the film, critics and others were not so enamored the film’s dourness, muddled plot and overabundance of mothers named Martha. Worried by the reaction to Batman V Superman, the studio ordered Snyder to lighten things up a bit. His first attempt to add some levity to the material didn’t please the executive brass and so in late 2016 fan favorite writer/director Joss Whedon was brought in to help script new scenes for a previous planned period of reshoots. When Snyder had to drop out of the film entirely in early 2017, Whedon took over directing the reshoots. The final product, released last November, was a incongruous hodgepodge of Snyder’s original work and the attempt to make it more palatable to audiences.
So where do these rumors of a pure Zach Snyder edit of the film come from? It stems from the fact that at the end of the main filming for the film, an assemblage of all the footage shot as well as animatics – roughly animated shots to approximate where completed visual effects would finally go – was made to gauge the direction that the editing process would take. Think of it as laying out all the ingredients for a full meal before you start cooking to make sure that you don’t have to run to the store midway through cooking when you suddenly realize you need a bell pepper. But in this assemblage, Snyder already knew that there were shots and scenes he was going to have to get when cast and crew reunited for an already scheduled period of reshoots. Snyder knew he had to go to the market for the pepper, he wasn’t sure what else he might need.
But it is this incomplete assemblage that Snyder devotees believe should be released.
The problem with that is that this “Snyder Cut,” to continue the ingredient metaphor, is just a bag of groceries. A collection of footage that has not had one frame cut into yet to bring story structure and pacing to the chaos. And to bring some order to this would involve a substantial investment from the studio. Snyder would be needed to trim the rough assemblage down to an edit that he is happy with, find a way to work around the unshot material he previously deemed was necessary and commission new visual effects work for wherever sequences were changed or entirely jettisoned during the subsequent reshoot period. New music may need to be composed and recorded for wherever existing music cannot be repurposed. Plus there are all the other post-production steps such as color correction, sound mixing, dialogue re-recording and more. He would be measuring out his ingredients and combining them in a specific and precise way to make the meal he wanted.
In total, all of that work to bring about a watchable version of what Snyder originally envisioned represents a sizeable financial investment for the studio. Justice League only grossed $658 million worldwide at the box office against its reported $300 million budget. And when you factor in such things as theatrical distribution fees and the monstrous advertising budget that the film had, the studio did not make its money back, nor did it come anywhere close to its reported expectations for the picture. Warners is not about to throw good money away after bad.
To be sure, trying to see what Snyder had envisioned for his film can be some fun detection work. I’ve even engaged in a bit of it myself, following various news stories that dissected trailers and set photos for clues. But there is only so far those investigations can take one, and I do see how a fully finished cut of Justice League made from just the material that had been put together for that rough assemblage would seem to be the answer key for all that deduction.
But what about releasing Snyder’s raw assemblage? No studio has ever done such a thing before and considering that there would be a rather limited appeal to such a venture – Snyder fans and some film historians only – it doesn’t even make economic sense for the studio to make the much smaller investment to prepare and release that material.
Besides, as the Wall Street Journal states, Snyder “never said he intended it to be released.” The Journal also goes on to source a senior Warners executive that there will be no announcement at San Diego Comic Con this weekend pertaining to the release of an alternate cut of Justice League.
Nor will there likely be for the foreseeable and even unforeseeable future. A representative for Snyder told the Journal that the director hadn’t even seen the finished Justice League film and with him getting into pre-production on his Ayn Rand adaptation The Fountainhead, it sounds as if he has put his superhero phase into his rearview mirror for the time being. There are new executives overseeing their DC Comics cinematic universe now and with the concentration shifting towards films like the upcoming Shazam and the about to go into production Joker with Joaquin Phoenix, it’s is likely that the studio is content to learn from the hard lessons Justice League taught them and move forward, never looking back.