A few weeks back it was announced that the Snyder Cut of the 2017 Justice League movie was going to be finished finally and released exclusively on HBO Max in the United States next year. For some time fans online have been clamoring to see this version of the film, believing Snyder’s original vision for the film was vastly superior to the Joss Whedon version we got in theaters.
I went and saw the Whedon movie back when it came out in the theater. I also own it on Blu-ray. It’s an okay film. Not terrible but certainly not great either.
Even seeing it the first time it was obvious it was a mash-up between whatever Snyder wanted to do and what Whedon cobbled together from that and his own rewrites and reshoots.
Will the Snyder Cut be worth the wait? Maybe. Maybe not. If nothing else, at least we’ll get one man’s vision for the story instead of the mish-mash we ended up with before.
I’ve read that Snyder had ambitious plans to set up a trilogy with an involved story about Superman’s ultimate redemption and Darkseid’s invasion of Earth. Supposedly, the big-wigs at Warner Bros got cold feet over committing to such a potentially complicated and expensive venture and pulled the plug.
What’s true? What’s not? It’s hard to know...
One thing that is certain though is that trying to combine these two men’s very different visions failed. A story solely by Snyder or Whedon could have been very good. As it was, we got a mediocre film out of the deal and Marvel Studios certainly didn’t feel any pressure on their Avengers franchise when put up against DC’s Justice League. Even the weakest Avengers film is still miles ahead.
Justice League’s relative failure and its new incarnation are interesting in another way though. Even in Whedon’s film we can see the differing tones and ideas at play. One can presently only imagine what else was originally envisioned (and soon enough, we’ll be able to see it for ourselves).
Of course, this isn’t the first time a movie has been radically edited and/or reshot. It’s been going on for decades and the process is endlessly fascinating–especially to outsiders like ourselves.
A simple cut here or there–or excising half of the film for new footage–can radically change the story’s intent and outcome. It’s also an interesting way to learn about editing, whether one is a novice or a practiced storyteller.
No matter the format, editing is the lifeblood of storytelling. When the story runs too long, too short, a character does or doesn’t work, the ending needs fixing, the prose needs updating, etc. Many a countless hour has been spent pouring over the story, trying to get it just right.
Editing can be the bane of many an aspiring writer. How many epics have been sidelined because the author decided the story just wasn’t “right”? How many tales will never see the light of day because of the author’s inability to get the story finished to their own satisfaction?
Look at film. Both Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Aliens have extended versions where something like fifteen minutes of footage has been added back to the story. In both cases, the films are considerably better with the extra content. Great films made even better with just a little bit more.
Then, there’s movies like 2003's Daredevil. The theatrical cut of the film was a disappointment to many. The movie felt shallow and maybe even a bit sexist (Matt and Elektra’s relationship seemed nothing but physical yet contradictorly, he acted as if she was the love of his life).
As it turns out, there was more footage and the Director’s Cut, which eventually made it out on DVD, was a considerable improvement. In it, Matt is unsatisfied with all his frivolous physical relationships with women and when Elektra happens along he finds an equal in spirit and fortitude. Also, there is a subplot about The Arranger being responsible for murdering a young woman and framing an innocent black man. The longer cut still doesn’t rank among the greatest superhero films I’ve ever seen yet it is a significant upgrade over what we initially got.
There’s so many examples out there for re-edited movies to chose from. From major changes like Richard Donner’s Superman II and the fourth Exorcist film (Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist) to smaller changes on countless films from every genre and era.
It’s been said copious editing was what saved the original Star Wars film. George Lucas had hours of footage and thanks to the editing team (which included his then-wife Marsha) it was cut down to a brisk and entertaining film that became one of the most popular movies of all time. Without the two editors it might very well have turned out as a horrible failure.
Editing works best when the Editor has a good command of storytelling techniques and understands how to make the story flow properly. Too much story (be it footage or prose) can be extraneous but too little can also rob the story of texture. Also, some times writers just put odd things in the story and it’s the job of the Editor to decide whether or not that stuff is relevant to the overall point of the story–be it the plot or characterization.
Also, everyone is different. One creator might think something is just right for a story while another might scoff at the same notion. What if Luke Skywalker had a girlfriend in the original movie? How would that have affected his tale? Would he still have left Tatooine? Maybe. Perhaps it could’ve played into the overall plot. Perhaps it could have hindered it. One really has no way of knowing one way or the other and neither option is right or wrong. We just got the story we did and it works well as it is.
One person’s edit may seem like genius to them while the next might find it absurd. I personally think Prometheus was over-edited (some crucial information was cut from the final version of the film and I feel it hindered it. Obviously the film’s editors felt otherwise).
Movie studios can be even worse since a lot of their decisions are made by oft-clueless executives who only think in terms of dollars. How many rely on test audiences to try and gauge the success of a film? How often does that ever work out for the best?
At the end of the day, editing is a necessary evil in storytelling. It simply cannot function without a judgmental eye. The trick is in trying to know what’s best for the story and following one’s experience and intuition in the spirit of communicating the best tale one can.