Warners Contemplated Releasing Snyder’s Original Unfinished JUSTICE LEAGUE Cut, And They Should Have

Justice League

With less than four weeks to go to streaming release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League on HBO Max and a blessed end to the whole #ReleaseTheSnyderCut drama, we are starting to see a number of articles appearing that dig back into the whole story of how director Snyder had to leave the film midway through post-production and the studio mandated changes to what became the final product left a small but vocal fan base demanding his return to complete his version.

One of the best and most comprehensive of these pieces comes today from Vanity Fair writer Anthony Breznican, who talked with Snyder, cast members and a number of Warner brothers executives to put together a solidly reported timeline of how the film went from a creative boondoggle to something that will help pull eyes, and subscriber dollars, to the companies new streaming service HBO Max.

The story confirms many things that had been previous reported about the shifting studio politics and desires concerning the movie, Snyder’s departure and the version that was overseen by Joss Whedon that hit theaters in March 2018 and dispelled other rumors.

But the biggest takeaway from the piece is the tidbit that when Warners initially approached Snyder in November 2019, they were just interested in releasing his cut as it stood at the time.

Initially, says Snyder, Warner Bros. just wanted to release the raw footage on his laptop. “I was like, ‘That’s a no, that’s a hard no,’” he says. “And they’re like, ‘But why? You can just put up the rough cut.’” Snyder didn’t trust their motivations. “I go, ‘Here’s why. Three reasons: One, you get the internet off your back, which is probably your main reason for wanting to do this. Two, you get to feel vindicated for making things right, I guess, on some level. And then three, you get a shitty version of the movie that you can point at and go, ‘See? It’s not that good anyway. So maybe I was right.’ I was like, No chance. I would rather just have the Snyder cut be a mythical unicorn for all time.”

So what was this version of Justice League and what was this mythical laptop it resided on? Breznican explained as much a few paragraphs earlier –

When Snyder left Warner Bros., he took his laptop, which was emblazoned with a Justice League sticker. On the hard drive was his original, nearly four-hour version. It was devoid of visual effects, music, and all the fine-tuning that make a movie a movie. It was also in black and white.

Justice League Steppenwolf
JUSTICE LEAGUE villain Steppenwolf in both pre-viz (Top) and final form for the film (Bottom).

In other words, an assemblage of raw footage, low resolution, computer-animated storyboards known as pre-viz in place of finished visual effects and nothing anywhere near a final sound mix. In short, it was pretty much exactly the shape the film should be in at about seven months out from its release date, as the film was when Snyder departed the project. Lots of work left to do, lots of time left in which to do it.

And it was nice to have that point confirmed by Snyder himself.

You see, this was a basic, essential point that seemed lost on many Snyder fans over a large course of the SnyderCut Saga. What they did not understand that was that although there was a cut of the film, one that had been reported on, that cut was only a rough first draft with months of polishing and work left to be done. Instead, when they heard that Snyder had screened his cut of the movie for studio execs, they assumed that it was a completed product, ready for theaters.

At least that’s the impression I got from Snyder fans when trying to discuss the Snyder Cut on various social media platforms around that time. And when I tried to explain to them that given how production and post-production schedules work, there would not and could not be a four-hour, Zack Snyder approved version of the film ready to be dropped into theaters at a moment’s notice. But the more myself and other film writers and filmmakers tried to explain the realities of filmmaking the harder these fans dug in. For them, the term “cut” meant the final product only, much like a DVD of director Ridley Scott’s Director’s Cut of Kingdom Of Heaven that could be hypothetically sitting on their shelf. They had no idea, nor did they wish to learn that, that a film goes through several cuts before it is ready for release and that it was going to take an additional invest from the studio to bring whatever rough edit that Snyder had up to a releasable film.

To be honest, Snyder was not much help here. Once he became aware of the Snyder Cut movement, he would periodically egg them on by releasing a new picture of a scene that didn’t make the theatrical version of the film. This, of course, was taken as obvious proof that a completed cut existed. The straw clutching became even more frantic when Snyder posted on Instagram a picture of some 35mm film canisters labeled “Snyder Cut.” Of course there could be anything in them, and me taking a picture of the film cannisters I have sitting on a box shelf as decoration would no more prove that I owned a complete film print of the finished version of Snyder’s Justice League anymore than that picture did.

Justice LeagueAnd heaven help anyone who flew in the face of their dogmatic belief that the Snyder version of Justice League was just sitting around, ready to be shipped out the door to theaters. Lots of abuse was hurled towards those of us who tried to set them straight. For myself, it was the typical accusation that I didn’t know what I was talking about. Of course, the Vanity Fair article and Snyder’s own words show that I did, from the fact that the film was only half finished to the fact that it was going to take a big chunk of money to get it over the finish line. Now I am not going to be obsessively checking twitter for apologies from any of those folks. Nor do I foresee any mea culpas from the Snyder bros who would trot out the old, recycled and laughable Disney payola accusation. And I know that the truly toxic “fans” who sent other writers, including friends of mine, rape and death threats will not be owning up on their despicable actions any time soon.

So when it was reported in the Vanity Fair piece that Warner Brothers executives were at first contemplating just throwing that four-hour, not finished, rough cut out into the world in response to the “Release the Snyder Cut!” calls, I really wish they had. Yes, part of me definitely would have liked to teach some of the more toxic members of the movement a really sharp lesson in being careful what you wish for. Though I dare say that if it were released in its largely unfinished form, it would have launched baseless complaints about the studio purposefully sabotaging their hero director yet again.

But what I really would have enjoyed about the release of a four-hour, unfinished rough cut of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, would have been what a teaching moment it would have been. It could have shown people exactly how these films are made, what kind of extensive work goes into bringing a superhero epic to the screen.

Now if Snyder fans don’t want to learn about the film making process and just enjoy the end product, that’s fine. But it is only fine up to a point. When your fandom starts to fuel demands things that just aren’t feasible or realistic, demands that are a product of your lack of knowledge of how things work, then there is a problem. Imagine if you profess to be a baseball fan but refuse to learn the rules. You are just sitting in the stands complaining about the guy in the mask standing behind the catcher calling balls and strikes. No one who actually understands how the game is played is going to take you very seriously. Nor should they.

Avatar für Rich Drees
About Rich Drees 6949 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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