Zack Snyder’s Justice League is on the way and it’s’ getting a lot more additional work done than anybody anticipated. While the mainstream opinion insisted that it didn’t even exist for years, the goalposts slowly shifted as evidence of its existence kept coming, until eventually, it was confirmed to be released on HBO Max. Only, to the surprise of fans and detractors alike, it got an additional budget of as much as $70 million, including a few weeks of additional photography (and the addition of Jared Leto’s Joker).
When Snyder originally announced his desire to shoot more scenes, the movie’s release hadn’t even been confirmed yet, so many scoffed at the notion. Then, when it was finally confirmed, detractors claimed it wasn’t going to get any additional photography, but that happened, too. Instead of claiming it won’t happen or saying WarnerMedia won’t invest in it, many people are shocked it’s getting the treatment it is, with HBO Max seemingly rolling out the red carpet.
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But why? The theatrical cut already lost money, and many people assume the failure of the first movie doesn’t justify this much effort for the sake of a “re-do,” but that perspective is a fairly ignorant assessment of the last 3 years and some of the things we know about this project. Zack Snyder’s Justice League isn’t your typical director’s cut, and it makes a lot of sense that it would be getting the treatment it is.
The Snyder Cut is (Sort of) a Brand New Justice League Movie
The most important thing to understand about Zack Snyder’s Justice League is that it is not simply an alternate cut of the movie released in theaters in November 2017. It’s much, much different. Joss Whedon added nearly 80 pages of new material to the script, and the final cut was exactly 120 minutes. Following the page-per-minute rule of thumb, that means only around 40 minutes of the theatrical cut was from Snyder and Terrio’s original script, and even that was partially reshot, cropped, dialogue was altered with ADR, and a host of other changes. Considering Zack Snyder’s Justice League will be around 4 hours long, that means there will be over 3 hours and 20 minutes of completely new material, which is more than 1 1/2 times the total runtime of the theatrical cut.
Joss Whedon also had story credit on the theatrical cut, which the WGA only grants if it’s shown that his contributions significantly altered the story. For comparison, Whedon is a notorious script doctor and famously rewrote every line of dialogue in Speed, yet doesn’t have a credit on that because he didn’t alter the story. So we know Zack Snyder’s Justice League isn’t only way longer, but also a different story. Whedon’s name is, of course, absent from the writing credits, and Geoff Johns’ name is also gone from the producer credits. In fact, there’s a number of differences in the credits, and the movie is even listed as a separate project entirely on IMDB (while alternate cuts normally don’t merit a separate page).
Since a version of the movie was already released, the budget and box office of the theatrical cut of Justice League isn’t a major factor. As far as the accountants are concerned, those balance sheets are a done deal. For HBO Max, it’s basically an entirely new project. Since most of the footage was shot back in 2016, all they have to pay for is some additional photography and the post-production work get Snyder’s original cut completed. Considering it’s almost a brand new movie featuring DC’s most iconic characters, played by some of the hottest stars working today, like Jason Moma, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, and has the production value of a $300 million+ blockbuster, the projected $70 million cost is a steal for HBO Max.
The Snyder Cut Always Needed Post Production Work to Complete
While Snyder’s director’s cut of Justice League still had a bit of work to be completed (with estimates from VFX professionals ranging from $30-40 million), the version of the film coming to HBO Max is quite a bit bigger, incorporating even more footage to bring the total runtime to around 4 hours, which obviously increases that completion cost even more.
Also of note, Snyder shot Justice League in full-frame on film, and is planning on releasing the movie with that full aspect ratio, which is the nearly square 1.33. Since the post-production work that had been completed prior to his departure wasn’t on that same aspect ratio, every shot has a little more footage that needs to be restored from the newly revealed margins at the top and bottom, in what Snyder has described as compared to a restoration process.
Outside of VFX, Snyder is doing a fair amount of ADR to have actors record lines closer to writer Chris Terrio’s original dialogue, and the rest of the sound mixing work also has to be completed. While Junkie XL had written all the music needed for the film originally, it wasn’t yet scored to the footage, and the expansion of the runtime and conversion to a series format may have also created a need for more music.
Justice League Is Being Changed Closer to Snyder’s Original Vision
Justice League‘s production was a complicated affair and a number of compromises were made throughout the process resulting in Snyder shooting a version of the film that, while it mostly aligned with his intentions, wasn’t 100% what he intended, and a number of changes in post-production shifted it even further away from that original vision before Snyder left entirely.
Now that he’s back in the driver’s seat, and getting funding from HBO Max, he has the ability to correct those compromises and revert back to his original intent, such as putting Darkseid back in the History Lesson, replacing Steppenwolf with his original scary design, shooting scenes with Harry Lennix as Martian Manhunter, and more.
While this part may not take up the bulk of post-production effort, it is one of the key aspects of reverting the film back to what Snyder originally envisioned (although it should be noted Snyder is not going back to the pre-BvS script, as he’s specified he’s sticking to the story of the shooting script, which was also written by him and Chris Terrio. The biggest known difference with this script is it changes the impetus for the Knightmare world, as the original plan, having Darkseid kill Lois, was deemed to be too much after the reaction to BvS.
HBO Max is an Opportunity to Make Justice League Bigger and Better
Of course, if Snyder is getting the resources to open up the proverbial hood and make some modifications to his film, why stick to just what was in the original plan? Some additional elements are being added or changed based on other plans Snyder had that never came to fruition, including some ideas he’s had in the last 3 years since the movie released. The biggest known difference here is the addition of a scene with Jared Leto’s Joker, which sounds like it takes place in the Knightmare timeline. Joker was never a part of the original shoot, but Snyder says he’s had the idea for a while, and just decided to seize the opportunity to add it in.
The other big change in this area is to turn it into a 4-part mini-series. Snyder says he always envisioned a special super long version of the movie designed to be released as a series on HBO, and he shot an assembly cut that was 5-hours long, so he certainly had the footage to do so, but thanks to all the drama in post-production, Snyder didn’t even get a theatrical cut out the door. So now, he’s going back and adding all the bells and whistles he always wanted for HBO Max.
WarnerMedia Wants to Make Zack Snyder Happy
While there’s a lot of practical reasons the Snyder Cut is getting so much more work, a major aspect that has been noted by some industry experts is the Zack Snyder factor. While Snyder is divisive and his name is treated like a punchline in some circles, his impact on modern cinema can’t be understated, with a number of iconic films under his belt, particularly 300, which revolutionized the way stunts and CGI can come together on a green screen set to create visually spectacular films on a modest budget.
Snyder was a feather in Warner Bros. cap for a long time, until the Justice League situation led to the end of his first-look deal with the studio and he made his way to Netflix, where he now has a franchise all of his own in the works with Army of the Dead, including a prequel film and an animated spin-off.
In the streaming era, Snyder’s passionate fanbase, eye for dramatic action, and smart utilization of budgets, and the fact that people can’t stop talking about his movies (even if they hate them) makes him a high-value target for the streaming market, especially now that his production house, Stone Quarry, is producing movies, TV, and animation. With Warner Bros. having spoiled that relationship and HBO Max thirsting for quality genre entertainment, paying to finish Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a big step in restoring that relationship.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League Hase (Future) Franchise Potential
Of course, with so much money being spent, it’s hard to assume HBO Max doesn’t hope to get more out of this than just one movie. With theaters shut down (and the theatrical industry changed forever), HBO Max will be in need of more DC content, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League will be the first big splash on the platform in that department. While nobody involved will confirm there are plans for the future, Snyder has made it clear that, should there be demand, there’s still more story to tell in his Superman saga.
While many industry commentators initially assumed Zack Snyder’s Justice League would be a one-and-done affair, with any minor reshoots merely being used to give it a cleaner ending, it’s clear that’s not the case. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is already known to conclude with some kind of cliffhanger or looming threat with Darkseid, so either the movie comes out and this universe will forever exist with an unfinished conclusion, or HBO Max is going to open its wallet again to bring Snyder back for Justice League 2, or potentially season 2, since the episodic model is especially attractive for a fledgling streaming platform like HBO Max.
It’s quite ironic, after years of detractors claiming it didn’t exist, claiming it would never be released, and that nobody would cough up the funds to get it done, Zack Snyder’s Justice League will now be the biggest comic book movie event since before the pandemic. It only makes sense that WarnerMedia and HBO Max would put so many resources into it, possibly breathing life back into the Snyderverse while they’re at it.
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