On Wednesday, more than two years after the release and box office failure of Justice League, it was announced that director Zack Snyder’s original version of the superhero epic would be released on HBO Max in 2021. Snyder departed the project due to a personal tragedy, before he could finish it. He was replaced by Avengers director Joss Whedon, who reshot a substantial portion of the film and shaped it into a different entity.
Production on Justice League — a long-awaited team-up of popular DC superheroes such as Batman, Superman Wonder Woman, The Flash and Aquaman — began shortly after the release and subsequent critical drubbing of Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Warner Bros reacted by re-evaluating the film, and the future of its DC Extended Universe, of which Snyder was the de-facto head. Geoff Johns was brought in to oversee Justice League rewrites, while star Ben Affleck was promoted to executive producer. Principle photography ended in December 2016, with the picture locked and a score composed by Junkie XL completed. Visual effects work was remaining. During an event, Snyder said that he had multiple cuts that were essentially “done”, only needing “a few CG tweaks” to complete, but that it was ultimately up to Warner to release it.
But several reports suggested that Warner Bros wasn’t happy with the cut Snyder turned in, and growing increasingly wary of his dark take on the characters. “I also heard that Snyder’s rough-cut of the movie was ‘unwatchable’ (a word that jumped out at me because it’s rare you hear two separate sources use the exact same adjective). Of course, even if that’s true, there’s obviously more to the story since rough cuts can be fixed up with reshoots, rewrites, etc,” Collider’s Matt Goldberg wrote.
In May 2017, it was reported that Snyder would step down as director of the film, after the suicide of his daughter. Avengers director Joss Whedon was brought in to oversee reshoots and take control of the edit. Whedon filmed several new scenes with the cast, altered key visual effects, and hired Danny Elfman to compose a new score.
At the time, Warner Bros CEO Toby Emmerich had told The Hollywood Reporter, “The directing is minimal and it has to adhere to the style and tone and the template that Zack set. We’re not introducing any new characters. It’s the same characters in some new scenes. He’s handing the baton to Joss, but the course has really been set by Zack. I still believe that despite this tragedy, we’ll still end up with a great movie.”
But even then, Snyder was aware of the alternate narratives that would emerge. “When it became obvious that I need to take a break, I knew there would be narratives created on the internet. They’ll do what they do. The truth is … I’m past caring about that kind of thing now,” he’d told THR.
Entertainment reporter Josh Dickey categorically stated in a tweet that Snyder was fired. “Since I’m shifting into DGAF mode, here’s a hot one for ya: Zack Snyder was fired from the DCEU just over 1 year ago. Couldn’t write it ~quite~ that way at the time, but was able to tapdance around it,” he wrote.
“It’s no secret the studio wanted better critical reception on the DC properties,” sources told The Wrap. “Zack Snyder is not currently scheduled to direct a DC film, but he is serving as a producer or executive producer on upcoming DC pictures such as Wonder Woman 2 and Aquaman,” Warner Bros said in an official statement.
And that’s when the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement began. Encouraged by hints from the cast and crew that suggested Snyder had shot and screened his version of the film before stepping down, fans began the movement that would force Warner Bros to reconsider and bring Snyder back to complete his vision for the film. At one point, fans even bought out a billboard in Times Square to call for the Snyder cut to be released. On the film’s second anniversary, stars Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa all tweeted the hashtag, further fuelling reports that the film exists in some form, and that it could be released if enough fan pressure is put on the studio.
— Ben Affleck (@BenAffleck) November 17, 2019
— Gal Gadot (@GalGadot) November 17, 2019
Which is exactly what happened late last year. In November, Snyder was asked if he’d be interested to complete the film. “This is real. People out there want it. Would you guys ever consider doing something?” Snyder recalled Emmerich asking him, as per THR. He agreed.
“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,” he said, unsure of whether the film would be released in its four-hour version or a six-part series. “You probably saw one-fourth of what I did,” he added.
The Snyder cut will reportedly cost Warner Bros $20-30 million, but will have visual effects approved by the filmmaker, a different story, and the old score. Thanking the fans and the studio, Snyder said, “Clearly this wouldn’t be happening without them. 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.”
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