For the past few years, fans have been demanding “The Snyder Cut” of Justice League. The 2017 version of the DC superhero team-up film had been reshot and recut by Joss Whedon before the studio took it away from Whedon and kind of just made a version that was made by no one and didn’t really appeal to anyone. It was a film that existed, and fans believed that Zack Snyder‘s version, which would follow the vision he began with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ultimate Edition, would be better. Today, during a live commentary on Man of Steel, Snyder revealed that Justice League: The Snyder Cut is coming to HBO Max in 2021, although it’s undetermined if it will be a four-hour film or multi-episode series.
Setting aside the irony that the news of Snyder working on a new cut right now means that there was never a “Snyder Cut” to “release”, we need a common understanding of how film production works on a blockbuster project. Some #ReleaseTheSnyderCut adherents have labored under the belief that there was some perfect version locked away in a vault somewhere and that Warner Bros. wasn’t releasing for…reasons. Even a more charitable reading—that there was an assembly cut that required VFX—doesn’t really tell the full story of what happened here and what has to happen to release a new version.
The way production on a typical big budget movie works, and what was supposed to happen on Justice League, is that the director makes his or her movie. The executives keep tabs on the project through dailies (a rough assembly of that day’s footage) and either give notes or let the filmmaker continue working unabated. Once principal photography wraps, the filmmaker comes up with an assembly cut—a very rough version cobbled together by the editor. It’s like a rough draft of what the movie will be. It has no finished effects, nor have the director and editor started sculpting the flow of the movie, making necessary edits or more importantly, deciding where they might need reshoots. From there, you cut things down and start making tweaks while the VFX crew prioritizes scenes (usually from pre-viz of the set pieces) that will almost certainly be in the final cut.
According to THR, Snyder originally had a cut that ran about 4 hours even though he knew WB would never release a film of that length into theaters. He left the production after delivering a 140-minute rough cut to the studio:
Warners wanted a cut in the two-hour range, and he delivered a rough version with an approximate 2 hour and 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.
Now we’ve learned that Snyder is assembling his postproduction crew and will have reportedly $20-30 million to handle the postproduction work. But being able to finish VFX and working with the original actors to do ADR is not the same as what happens on a traditional blockbuster. Under normal circumstances, Snyder would have had room to do “pickups” (i.e. planned reshoots) to get the material he needed to finish his vision for the film. He won’t have that for The Snyder Cut. Ben Affleck is not putting on a Batsuit again and going down to a soundstage to do new scenes. So reshoots are out, or if they happen, will be extremely limited as opposed to how they were budgeted and scheduled during the original production.
What’s left is trying to get as close to Snyder’s original vision with one hand tied behind his back. It’s certainly possible with VFX and ADR, but this notion that this is what Snyder intended back during filming is probably not possible. Snyder has the footage that he shot, a postproduction crew, VFX artists, and maybe cast members recording some new dialogue or doing some close-ups on a green screen (and even close-ups may be a stretch given scheduling, costuming, makeup, etc.) There could be the possibility of digital face replacement, but that can be expensive. While $30 million sounds like a lot, VFX is incredibly costly, and keep in mind other people such as sound engineers and the composer will be working on the new cut in post-production and everyone has to get paid. In addition, there’s the possibility Snyder wants to bring in the actors to film new scenes or use body doubles and use face replacement.
That’s not to denigrate what Snyder is attempting here, but rather a point of clarification of how the process will work when the original director returns several years later to his project. Once you understand the elements of production, we can have an honest understanding of the limitations of such an undertaking and go from there. I still think it’s great that, for better or worse, we’ll get something closer to Snyder’s original vision for Justice League rather than the director-less version of the movie that we got in 2017.