“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”Margaret Mead
For more than three years, the Snyder Cut was part-myth and part-fantasy.
Justice League, the big budget film with even bigger issues behind the scenes that brought the biggest heroes from DC Comics – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg, and the Flash – together onto the big screen for the first time in history, hit theaters with a thud on November 17, 2017.
The opening credits of the film included the words “Directed by Zack Snyder,” but anyone that had been paying attention knew that the truth was much more complex than that.
Due to a family tragedy, Snyder stepped away from Justice League just as filming was ending and postproduction was beginning, and it was announced that Joss Whedon, who wrote and directed the first two Avengers films for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, would be finishing the film and adding just a few minor touches – about fifteen percent or so. The release date would not change.
That was the announcement. The reality was much different.
After the vitriolic reaction to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Warner Bros. was adamant that the next film in their shared superhero universe be optimistic, well-reviewed, and profitable. Thus, Whedon was brought in to rewrite, retool, and reshoot far, far more than anyone admitted and the result was a messy, Frankenstein-esque collage of two contrasting film styles and attitudes. While Snyder’s first two DCEU (DC Extended Universe) films, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, divided people – some, like myself, praise them as masterpieces while others argue that they are dour, joyless, and messy – Justice League came and went with a shrug and a yawn.
It was utterly forgettable, but people didn’t forget about Snyder.
Almost immediately, there was chatter about what happened to all the footage that Snyder shot. For more than three years, there was skepticism that the original version of Justice League, the one that Snyder envisioned and filmed, even existed, let alone that anyone would ever see it. There were many doubters and skeptics. Plenty of people believed it was an outright fantasy.
However, there was a cadre – a loud, passionate, and ultimately well-organized cadre – of individuals who believed. They, unlike many critics and numerous viewers, loved the universe that Snyder had been building and were not a fan of WB’s attempt to pivot their films to more closely resemble what Marvel was producing. Snyder’s original vision was to be a five film arc and, if they couldn’t get all five, they wanted to see Justice League – the real Justice League.
This group of individuals began rallying around a single, unifying rallying cry: “Release the Snyder Cut!”
Sean O’Connell, managing director of CinemaBlend, an entertainment and pop culture site that gets more than 29 million pageviews per month, has documented the group’s dogged persistence and creative grassroots marketing that ultimately resulted in the film getting a budget for postproduction and an exclusive release on HBO Max in a new book with a title that matches the rallying cry.
Rather than an examination of the films or Zack Snyder’s directing style, Release the Snyder Cut (Applause, 2021) is the story how a group of individuals from all over the globe that desperately wanted to see an artist they love realize his artistic vision that met and communicated online and through hashtags blossomed into a movement. A movement that not only managed to get a major Hollywood studio to essentially retcon (at least a little bit) its film trajectory and put money into the early version of a three-year-old film, but also has raised money and awareness for a variety of causes, most notably for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
It was Autumn Snyder’s suicide that led to her father leaving Justice League and, as he reveals in an exclusive interview for the book, he didn’t have it in him to continue on: “I had no energy to fight [the studio]; and fight for [the movie]. Literally, zero energy for that.”
The fans had energy – plenty of it – and they used it to keep the fire burning, bombarding Warner Bros., AT&T, DC, and everyone in between with their sacred mantra. As Snyder says in the book, “Their websites, their Twitter, their everything . . . they were paralyzed. They were literally paralyzed. They could make no release. They could talk about nothing. I was talking to an unnamed executive who said that [HBO Max] would tweet something about Sesame Street, and people would be like, ‘Fuck Elmo! Release the Snyder Cut!'”
Snyder kept them excited with sneak peeks, exclusive set photos, and teases of what would have been in his film. Every piece only made the group salivate for more.
Aside from Snyder and one or two others who worked with him behind the scenes (requests to Whedon unsurprisingly went unanswered), virtually all of interviews in the book are with some of the most diehard and vocal members of the Release the Snyder Cut (RTSC) movement. Many of the quotes are testimonials from fans, explaining what the director and his films mean to them.
It’s a beautiful sentiment and their words resonate but reading page after page of them became a bit redundant, and including each person’s hometown and occupation felt gratuitous to me. Then again, maybe that is the point. O’Connell admits in the epilogue that the focus of the book changed from being about the actual film to being about the people fighting tirelessly to have it seen. A film’s merits, particularly one of Snyder’s, can be analyzed and debated for years with no clear consensus, but what the members of the RTSC movement accomplished, with their mix of tenacity and creativity, was not just unlikely, but also unprecedented. In some ways, it was thought to be literally impossible.
I followed the movement, contributed to a fundraising event, and consider myself a supporter but even I forgot all of the great things that were done, like renting a plane with a banner to fly over WB’s headquarters and plastering Times Square with the slogan and accompanying images, all of which O’Connell lays out from idea to execution.
O’Connell’s research is sound and extensive, and his knowledge of both the film industry and the source material comics is evident throughout. His prose is easygoing and conversational, so the pages fly by, but certain elements, like truncated sentences, short paragraphs, and repeated parentheticals teasing later parts of the book, feel more like he’s penning an online article rather than a book. His best writing comes when he juxtaposes the Justice League film that was released in theaters with the one that will be arriving on HBO Max in March, and how Whedon’s film fell so short.
Towards the end of the book, O’Connell writes, “Some people simply don’t want to accept the reality that Snyder Cut exists and finally is going to screen for fans,” and that encompasses how much Snyder and his followers overcame to see their dream come to fruition. Even after it was announced, there were people saying it wasn’t real.
It’s been nearly a decade since Zack Snyder began building his DC film universe and while the experience probably did not go exactly as he planned, there is no denying that he amassed an army of superfans along the way that would do almost anything for him and Release the Snyder Cut shows how far their loyalty goes – and how a dedicated group of individuals changed Hollywood history.
I was provided with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review.
Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.