Salvage From The Wreckage: Can Zack Snyder Deliver A Genuine Ultimate Cut?

BVS-Ultimate-Cut-OpEd-Piece

Throughout the history of motion pictures, films have lived or died by their performance at the box-office. Only in relatively recent times, with the advent of the home movie market, has Hollywood tapped into a goldmine of marketing opportunities and fandom-based niche elements. Perhaps none moreso than the ubiquitous “Director’s Cut”: a version of a popular film featuring another pass by the director and, usually, adding more footage to expand on narrative elements otherwise missing from the version screened in cinemas – the theatrical version.

BVS01In the early days, a film had to be an iconic classic of sorts to warrant such specialised treatment, for the costs involved in striking new elements, completing visual effects, re-scoring new musical cues or even just getting new ADR done would signify a nice outlay by the studio, generally for not a lot of profit by comparison. Early “director’s cuts” of films such as Aliens (perhaps the most famous example) or the multiple iterations of Blade Runner gave viewers a glimpse – albeit tangentially – into the film-making process, allowing people to see what was removed, maybe unjustly, to bring the film to the widest audience in its initial theatrical run. While the term “director’s cut” tended to provide a viewer with an increased sense of “special edition” lustre, the terms has since become almost negatively connotative to denote a “preferred” version by a filmmaker, thanks largely to digital outlets such as DVD, BluRay and now UHD giving audiences greater storage capacity on which to house their films in all variations. “Director’s Cut” no longer always means better, it typically just means longer.

It’s my opinion that only truly great films have warranted special re-visits by a director (of course, that didn’t stop Oliver Stone giving Alexander about a half-dozen goes to get it right) either through achieving pop-culture iconic status, or offering some kind of added bonus to viewers, fans, or serious aficionados of the medium. Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy got the balance between theatrical and director’s cut perfect, by way of example. The theatrical films were strong enough to stand alone, be enjoyed, and left alone. But Jackson’s attention to detail allowed him to produce the goldmine that was the “Extended Editions” of the three films, effectively fan-service by way of adding new footage, expanding character arcs, and broadening an already epic scope with so much more story. To the point where for many, the Extended Editions are the definitive versions of that story.

BVS03Conversely, Ridley Scott’s theatrical failure of Kingdom of Heaven became the modern poster child for commercial decisions overtaking creative ability. Kingdom Of Heaven was a pretty turgid, nigh-unwatchable piece of crap in the cinemas, and yet when 20th Century Fox allowed Ridley to release his intended version onto home movie format (the Director’s Cut), it was almost one of the best films of his career. Such a transformative effect had that film’s director’s cut version that it’s almost chalk-and-cheese to watch them both. Sometimes a director needs the extra width to tell his story well.

So we come to Zack Snyder’s faux-Superman sequel film, Batman V Superman, a film which I enjoyed but ultimately felt lacked cohesion and seemed rushed, almost as if somebody had hacked out key moments that left a trail of narrative detritus in its wake. My original review held several caveats, and I stand by those thoughts, but the release of the trailer for the film’s impending “Ultimate Edition”, which will see us get to enjoy a harder, more violent cut of the film, has actually reinvigorated my desire to watch this film again. Yet, the question still lingers: for all its problems, for all its flaws in character logic, plot holes and an overall nihilistic tone, can adding a half-hour of new footage into the film improve it enough to pull a Kingdom Of Heaven?

The trailer (embedded beneath this article) would suggest that there was an almighty whack of stuff cut from what we saw in cinemas, and from the brief glimpses shown I’d say most of it has to do with Superman’s conflicted approach to his role as a defacto saviour of humanity. It’s this element to the character which most fans felt wasn’t given enough (or any) weight in the theatrical version, and although I doubt we’ll be getting a happy-smiley-laughing Superman in the new cut, it might be enough to offset the omnipresent dourness in the film’s enlarged focus on Batman. Batman V Superman didn’t seem to understand Superman as a character, so if Snyder can somehow rectify this in any small way, he may make people at least curious to see where we go in the Justice League films to come. If he doesn’t, then….well.

BVS02My gut tells me that Batman V Superman has too many problems inbuilt into its DNA to be overcome by throwing more (admittedly very pretty) footage at it, and nothing save a bottom-to-top rebuild could possibly make it even close to a “great” film. Snyder’s problem is tone, and the pulsating sense of monochromatic darkness he infuses in almost every scene – even the daytime scenes. This tone is derived from the script, which in turn informs the characters, which in turn informs us of the kind of people we’re watching, and in the case of Superman it’s not a character we ever really like. How can we empathise with a character who really doesn’t like himself, let alone anyone else? Although it’ll be fun to see that mysterious role Jena Malone signed up for (and never made the theatrical cut) and what looks to be a far more explosive opening desert sequence for Lois and Clark, I think the overall undercurrent of wrong-headedness about this franchise and where it’s heading (and which DC and WB are now trying to “course correct”) is something no amount of rejigging can possibly extricate.

In my opinion:

Batman V Superman: The Ultimate Cut won’t be a Kingdom Of Heaven example of a shitty theatrical magically turned into cinematic gold. Neither will it be made worse by giving hitherto minor character (or ones utterly absent until now) some added exploration of their characters, but at the three-hour mark it’ll at least be a balls-to-the-wall effort by Snyder to try and salvage something from the wreckage of the film’s turgid reception by audiences. In a little over a month we’ll all get to reappraise the film and digest its impact on DC’s cinematic world-building, and we’ll either be shrugging our shoulders at an Alexander-type grasping rebuild, or exclaiming it as a superlative action classic that we somehow missed the first time. I hope (my goodness, do I hope) it’s the latter, but I suspect it’ll be the former.

Normally detesting these kinds of bios, Rodney’s keen love of film more often outclasses his ability to write convincingly about them.

Never blessed with a body worthy of a porn star, nor being the heir to a wealthy industrialists fortune, nor suffering the tragedy of having his parents murdered outside a Gotham theater, Rodney is, contrary to popular opinion, neither Ron Jeremy, JD Rockefeller, or Batman.

As a serious appreciator of film since 1996, Rodney’s love affair with the medium has continued with his online blog, Fernby Films, a facility allowing him to communicate with fellow cineasts in their mutual love of all things movie.

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Posted in Opinion.

8 Comments

  1. Really have no idea how much of a difference it'll make to the whole movie but I'm very intrigued by it and the fact that there is more than one character who was cut out of the theatrical version is getting me quite excited.

  2. "chalk-and-cheese" huh? That's a new one.

    Yeah, Kingdom of Heaven's director's cut is an amazing film. All of Blade Runners version have something to like. I don't even mind Ford's bored narration in the theatrical cut, but I do believe the Final Cut version is the best of them all.

    Not having seen BvS, I don't know what to think. I don't have much faith in Snyder, and I seriously doubt just making it longer will suddenly fix the problems I've read about.

    • Chalk and cheese is new? LOL Given the name of your site I expected you to almost be first in line to see BvS dude, surprised you haven't! Check it out when you can and get set for three hours of continual angriness at the viewer, a complete disregard for Superman's square-jawed-farmboy hopefulness and a blanket of Batman-themed darkness shrouding this entire thing. YOU'LL LOVE IT I SWEAR says Zack Snyder's ego.

  3. I do agree that Dawn of Justice felt like it was missing key points. When I left the theatre I was filled with a million questions which I think the film didn't even try to answer. I don't think the Director's Cut will change this movie too much because I think Snyder and the screenwriters didn't quite understand the nature of the characters. I'm all for artistic interpretation but you still have to keep the core elements of the character.

    • You're dead-on, Kgothatjo: nobody writing this film has an inkling of who these characters are or what their core values are – Superman in particular. I saw an Vlog about that very thing only a few weeks ago (if I find it again I'll link to it) and I could do nought but nod my head in agreement that Superman, not Batman, has been terribly mishandled in both this film and Man of Steel. Batman works in dark and shadow – Superman, by his very nature, does not.

  4. My problems with the theatrical cut are basically there's too important stuff left out for the sake of including tangential things for the larger DC universe that add nothing to this particular story. In addition to those things, the tone is just ridiculously, and relentlessly, dark in imitation of what Nolan did with The Dark Knight Trilogy, but without the depth or the levity that Nolan was able to include. BvS is almost completely humorless and feels oppressive rather than justified. I say all that to say that just making it longer isn't necessarily the answer. I actually think the changes made need to arrive at roughly the same run-time, if not one a little shorter. Add in all the character development you can, especially with regards to Superman, and clean up a number of those moments where people just intuit things they have no way of knowing. By the same token, most of that world-building nonsense that the movie did such a poor job of shoe-horning in can be removed. It's all over the place and just comes off as random. Doing this might even make the tone more bearable because we'll at least have a focused film and not one with numerous commercial breaks for future projects.
    My recent post On My Mind: Lady Ghostbusting Controversy

    • That's a good school of thought Dell, where most people actually want a shorter, more streamlined version of this film. No doubt a fan-edit will surface in years to come that makes improvements on Snyder's work here narratively, but I think the inbuilt DNA problems of what DC have tried to do are un-re-workable.,,, WB obviously stipulated that the DCEU had to follow a similar tone to Nolanbat, only without understanding either the character, or why audiences found those films terrific.

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