The squeaky wheel does get the oil. The fans demanded it. Now, Director Zack Snyder‘s original cut of Justice League will finally see the light of day. To some this might be a who cares news tidbit, but we aren’t talking about a minor extended cut of the film. No, this is a complete overhaul of the jumbled mess Warner Bros made and told Director Joss Whedon to “Marvel it up” with only 3 to 4 months to completely reshoot most of Snyder’s film.
HBO Max will debut the project in 2021 — possibly in a four-hour director’s cut or in six TV-style “chapters” — as the helmer gets the gang back together with the original postproduction crew to score, cut and finish visual effects.
Per The Hollywood Reporter:
One source has pegged the effort in the $20 million range, although another source says that figure could be closer to $30 million. The parties involved had no comment.
“It will be an entirely new thing, and, especially talking to those who have seen the released movie, a new experience apart from that movie,” Zack Snyder tells The Hollywood Reporter, noting that, to this day, he has not watched the version released in theaters.
“You probably saw one-fourth of what I did,” the director notes, basing his judgment on what has been shared with him of Whedon’s version.
Before Emmerich came calling, adds Snyder, “I always thought it was a thing that in 20 years, maybe somebody would do a documentary and I could lend them the footage, little snippets of a cut no one has ever seen.”
But, adds Deborah Snyder, “With the new platform and streaming services, you can have something like this. You can’t release something like this theatrically, but you could with a streaming service. It’s an opportunity that wasn’t there two years ago, to be honest.”
It is a very unlikely development, and the latest twist for a movie that has, like the Man of Steel himself, seen death and rebirth.
Snyder was in a unique position when he shot Justice League in 2016. Warner Bros. had entrusted its universe of DC characters to one filmmaker — him — and he had been building toward a great onscreen team-up, though not without some bumps in the road. He began with Man of Steel, which grossed $668 million worldwide, then followed up with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the 2016 blockbuster that polarized fans with its dark take on the iconic titular heroes and took in $873 million globally.
In January 2017, he had what he considered his optimal version of Justice League, almost four hours long, although he knew it was something the studio would not release. Warners wanted a cut in the two-hour range, and he delivered a rough version with an approximate two-hour, 20-minute running time. That was the first cut the studio saw. Both sides agreed that there was much work still to be done before the November release, but tragedy struck the Snyders when their daughter, Autumn, died by suicide. A month and a half later, Zack officially stepped away and Whedon was brought in.
League opened Nov. 17 to weak reviews and sluggish box office, eventually taking in $658 million worldwide. However, almost immediately a movement was born. Fans unhappy with the film created the now-infamous hashtag. A Change.org petition for Warners to release Snyder’s version had already garnered over 100,000 signatures less than five days after the movie’s release.
Forget that the version that fans wanted technically didn’t exist. What did exist was a semi-unfinished work, with no visual effects, no postproduction. One person who had seen that version described it like a car with no panels, just a drivetrain and some seats. And it sat on a hard drive in the Snyders’ house. “When we left the movie, I just took the drive of the cut on it,” says Zack Snyder. “I honestly never thought it would be anything.”
In the year following their daughter’s death, the Snyders closed circles around their family as they tried to heal from the tragedy. “The first year was about the milestones and the holidays,” recalls Deborah Snyder. “Now, it’s not those but other moments, like songs that trigger memories, that hit me unexpectedly.”
Adds Zack: “As a family, as a couple, I think we have grown in a way that has made us stronger. We’re doing our best. You really can’t hope for more.”
The duo also became involved in suicide-prevention charity work and plotted a return to movies with Army of the Dead. Meanwhile, #ReleasetheSnyderCut became more organized and visible, gaining mainstream media attention. Zack Snyder fed into the movement by occasionally teasing images from his movie or storyboards on social media, in some ways only stoking the hot embers. And he saw some of the seeds he planted in his movies, especially in his castings of Gadot as Wonder Woman and Momoa as Aquaman, grow into gardens as the spinoffs became pop culture phenomenons and billion-dollar hits.
It was on the two-year anniversary, however, that the zenith hit and the hashtag became a top worldwide trend. “#ReleasetheSnyderCut is the most-tweeted hashtag about a movie that WB has ever made, but it’s a movie they’ve never released,” says Snyder. “It’s a weird stat but it’s cool.”
After the Saturday morning phone call, the Snyders began to move puzzle pieces into place. “We had to figure out what it meant to finish it, and how do you pull it off?” recalls Deborah.
The Snyders put together a presentation and, in early February, invited a select group of executives from Warner Bros., HBO Max and DC to their house in Pasadena to screen Zack’s little-seen version that was shown in black and white. The number of executives in the room — there were more than a dozen in attendance, ranging from Warners’ Emmerich, Carolyn Blackwood, and Walter Hamada to HBO Max’s Kevin Reilly, Sarah Aubrey and Sandra Dewey to DC’s Jim Lee — showed the importance of the potentially extensive undertaking. Heads of physical production and business affairs were there to assess what needed to be done and how much it would cost. At his presentation after the screening, Snyder outlined ideas for not just releasing the cut but the concept of episodes and cliffhangers.
The executives left the meeting pumped. The Snyder Cut was real. Except then it almost wasn’t.
The novel coronavirus struck, and Hollywood all but shut down in mid-March. Says Deborah, “People thought, ‘It won’t be possible to ramp up, and that maybe this should go on the back burner.’ But we said, ‘No, this is the right time’ because our visual effects houses that rely on so much are running out of work, so now is the time to be doing this.” It also helped that many of those post facilities had held on to the original assets.
Snyder also spent April and May reaching out to the sizable cast, giving a heads-up on the new development and letting them know their services may be needed. (The first person called: Ray Fisher, who played Cyborg. “He was like, ‘You’re kidding me, right?'” recalls Zack.)
There is no schedule going forward at this stage for the project as talks are now beginning with postproduction houses, which also gives HBO Max plenty of time to find the best way to present this version ofJustice League. Snyder is at the same time in post on Army of the Dead, his zombie thriller for Netflix that also will debut in 2021.
For the Snyders, the chance to revisit the movie also brings the prospect for closure on a project they were forced to let go. “This movie was the culmination of a hero’s journey that all these characters went on,” says Deborah Snyder. “And the idea was always to build them up to be the heroes people expected them to be.”
And while the cut will contain the many elements Zack has teased over time (yes, expect Darkseid), the duo also relish adding a fair amount of character development. “What’s so lovely about this is that we get to explore these characters in ways that you’re not able to in a shorter theatrical version.”
The Snyders know that fan power is what led to the Snyder Cut becoming a reality. “Clearly this wouldn’t be happening without them,” says Zack. He also credits Warners for living up to its old reputation as the filmmaker’s studio.
Adds Zack, “This return to that pedigree and to let my singular vision of my movie be realized, in this format, in this length, is unprecedented and a brave move.”
So let it be known, geeks really do run the world…