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The Snyder cut: directorial vision and fandom

| Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Claire Reid | The Observer

Since the release of Joss Whedon’s 2017 cut of “Justice League,” fans of DC have been demanding the release of the Snyder cut, a seemingly mythic version of the film that would fulfill Zack Snyder’s original vision for “Justice League” and the DC Extended Universe at large. On Mar. 18, HBO Max released the Snyder cut. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is not the first film to receive a director’s cut, but it is perhaps the most hyped-up director’s cut to date. 

The idea of the director’s cut is quite possibly a product of Auteur Theory, which credits the director with most of the creative decisions made in a film. Modern examples of directors that many consider to be Auteurs include Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan and Paul Thomas Anderson. Throughout the history of cinema, studio interference has been present and has been blamed for the downfall of many films. Erich von Stroheim’s 1924 film “Greed” is an early example of a film that was butchered by studios before its release, making it a shell of the director’s original vision. This is what many fans believed happened with 2017’s “Justice League.” 

The director’s cut is by no means a new concept, but it has certainly become more popular in recent years. Classic films such as “Blade Runner,” “Apocalypse Now” and “Little Shop of Horrors” have all received directors’ cuts that are said to be each filmmakers’ intended vision for the films. There was even a period in the mid to late 2000s where many horror movies saw home video releases of their unrated director’s cuts. I remember seeing copies of the unrated director’s cuts of films, such as the 2009 remake of “Friday the 13th” and the 2003 remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” lining the shelves of Best Buy and Blockbuster, promising more kills, more gore and more scares than their theatrical counterparts. In an age of extremity, even “The Exorcist” was not safe from a modified cut being released to cash in on the trend. 

Snyder is no stranger to directors’ cuts, many of his films have been given Blu-Ray releases featuring both the theatrical and director’s cuts. His film “Watchmen” even had a three-and-a-half-hour ultimate edition released after the director’s cut. But what makes “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” different from his previous director’s cuts is its release on HBO Max (and in select theaters, such as Notre Dame’s Browning Cinema) as well the impact of fan culture on its release. Zack Snyder has always made films for fans of comic books, with much of his work consisting of comic adaptations. One thing that has always been a part of the culture surrounding comics and has become especially present in the age of social media is fandom.

The fandom response to Whedon’s “Justice League” was less than favorable, and many fans took to Twitter and called for the release of the Snyder cut, which they believed would be a superior version of “Justice League” and would represent Snyder’s original vision for the film. This fan response is reminiscent of the fan response to the portrayal of Wade Wilson in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” which culminated in the 2016 release of “Deadpool.” The Snyder cut, much like “Deadpool,” reinforces the power that fandoms can have over film studios.

The Snyder cut runs just over four hours — a runtime reserved almost exclusively for the melodramatic epics of the golden age of Hollywood and art house films. The decision to release “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” on such a major platform and with a major promotional campaign is unheard of. It is a miracle that the Snyder cut ever saw the light of day. Is Warner Brother’s atoning for 2017’s “Justice League” to save face, or does the release of “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” signal the beginning of a new era of creative control for filmmakers? Only time will tell. 

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