Social media marketing is one big snowball of momentum and the media can certainly move mountains. For the past few years people have been begging Warner Bros. or anyone that will listen for an official director’s cut of the 2017 movie Justice League. Director Zack Snyder left the film near the end of its troubled production due to personal tragedy, leaving a fellow franchise doctor by the name of Joss Whedon to fill in gaps and reshoots.
The film we got was clearly an executive-meddled mess where reshoots felt more common than original footage. It felt very different from Snyder’s previous outings, and, as confirmed by pretty much everyone in production, was very different from what he intended.
So, is this fabled director’s cut the way to save a critical and box office disappointment? Is this the one good Snyder DC movie? What will happen if the cut actually comes out? Thankfully, there is a precedent.
Richard Donner was the director chosen to make the original Christopher Reeve Superman films. He fully directed Superman: The Motion Picture (1978) but during production he went right into making Superman II (1980). The producers thought Donner was making things too expensive and treating the source material too seriously. So, they got rid of him. They hired Richard Lester to reshoot scenes adding more comedy and filling in some gaps. They also reshot scenes just for the sake of reshooting them, because if there was enough of a portion of Donner’s scenes present they were legally obligated to say it was his movie. It’s a tad difficult to say which scenes or shots specifically were Donner’s at times, but there are big enough elements of the film that totally remain his. For instance, upon learning of Lester’s involvement Gene Hackman refused to shoot any more scenes as Lex. Anything with Hackman in it is a Donner shot.
Donner knew this drama ahead of time and had to rework some of his films. Originally, Superman going back in time was the ultimate answer to Superman II‘s climax. Donner moved the effect and plot point to the original motion picture and instead enabled the ending for Superman II to have like three completely different versions. It’s maddening to see these alternate versions of every film.
Donner’s original film remains beloved and is one of the best super hero films ever made. As the production history started to be revealed to the public, fans were begging for a (real) director’s cut of Superman II. But Donner never finished his film. To go back and make a complete film of it would be silly, right?
In the age of the internet and DVDs, Donner came back in 2006 (nearly thirty years later!) to edit together a cut he could proudly call almost his original vision. In many ways, this mirrors Zak Snyder’s own production history behind one of the biggest superhero films ever.
And how was Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut? It’s… not great. He seriously didn’t have some of the footage needed to fill in his gaps, so he reused test footage. Test footage mind you, that happened before filming of Superman: The Motion Picture. Reeve hadn’t bulked up in the slightest, with a toupee for Clark Kent hair. The quality of film is vastly different than the scenes surrounding it. Special effects were added to the new scenes, but it didn’t have nearly the same budget. Desiring a complete vision of his original work, Donner placed the original time travel ending back within this cut, making it near impossible to watch as a companion to the original Superman: the Motion Picture. Continuity was compromised. It was impossible to make the perfect movie he wanted years after the fact, even if he got close.
This is where the lesson is to be learned for the Snyder Cut, as demand builds. Snyder probably was in a better place for footage than Donner, but this remains an incomplete product. If the Snyder Cut ever releases, it will feature the same kind of compromises and irreconcilable continuity that will prevent it from being what fans truly want.
This kind of production trouble isn’t uncommon in these kind of movies, but these aren’t normal films. These aren’t disposable franchises. Unlike typical blockbuster movies, superheroes and Superman have a cultural importance to the world and particularly America that extends beyond a singular movie. It is why some people desperately want to see the good in some of the lesser DC films. It’s why fans think there’s a white whale that is secretly the best superhero film of all time. That whale existed nearly forty years ago, and I’m sure the whale will exist in another DC movie long after the Snyder Cut is released. This Snyder Cut won’t do anything for anybody hoping for a good Justice League movie.
But should it come out? I would say yes. Historically and artistically, stories like this are fascinating, and even if we are stuck with fifteen minutes of storyboards for the final battle, we can see a movie full of compromises be one without compromise. That sounds pretty special to me.