It’s good to be back, Snyder-faithful! We’ve been absent a while, and you can read about that here , but we’re back and have some big changes on the way. By now you’ve obviously seen the exciting and utterly breathtaking new Batman v Superman trailer, but before that hits, let’s look at the way Snyder has shaped the landscape of cinema before he has to do it allover again this March.
Getting right back to it though, my colleague and co-owner of the website pitched an idea to me based off of a recent, and very interesting, article by Scott Mendelson of Forbes. which you can read in full here. The article comes down to talking about Snyder’s 2011 masterpiece Sucker Punch as being an ahead of it’s time attack on “GamerGate” culture, a controversial movement which started late last year in regards to sexism and the integrity of video-game based journalism. I’ll post this excerpt to get the dialogue started:
Whether or not you like the film, it is clear four years later that Sucker Punch, both the 110-minute PG-13 theatrical cut and the preferred 127-minute director’s R-rated cut, remains an honest attempt at everything we said we wanted in mainstream big-scale filmmaking, what we still say we want. You say you want big-budget original movies that show us things and images you’ve never seen before? You say you want more female-centric genre fare amid the male-centric fantasies? You want would-be blockbusters that have more on their mind than just empty thrills? SuckerPunch, distributed by Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. in glorious 2D and even more glorious IMAX 2D, offered all of this and more, yet we treated it not just as a flawed and possibly unsuccessful piece of art but as part of the problem and an example of the very mindset it attempted to critique.
Well, Scott, we’re glad someone said it! This doesn’t just apply to Sucker Punch though, and I’ll let Mr. Mendelson’s article speak for itself as we move forward. For years, Snyder has been giving his audience and fans challenging works which deconstruct genre fare (mainly in superhero fiction), as well as challenge gender roles and traditional direction.
It’s no secret that Warner Brothers have been one of, if not the, most influential movie-houses on the planet with the pioneering of talking pictures, the fathers of the YA novel-movie boom, and the reinvention of the stagnating superhero genre; but that’s not all they, and Snyder have achieved. Let’s take a look back to Snyder’s 300…
The sword-and-sandal epics of yore had been down on their luck since the one-two failures of Oliver Stone’s ALEXANDER and Wolfgang Peterson’s TROY, two high budget historical dramas with more A-list stars than one could shake a stick at, neither of which measured up, in the audience’s eyes, to their pedigree. I personally am a fan of both, but I digress.
When Warner Brother’s released 300 off a very bold, very original pitch from Snyder based off of Frank Miller’s gorgeously illustrated historical-fantasy graphic novel, no one knew what to really expect. It was being marked already as a would-be box office disaster until it turned a very large profit for Warner with an income of almost $500 million dollars. It can be seen that 300 was the last of the “sword and sandle” epics, until Warner Brothers injected new life into the Clash of the Titans franchise as well as IMMORTALS which featured Snyder’s own Art-school classmate Tarsem Singh at the helm and acted as Henry Cavill’s first major release before Man of Steel.
300 also accidentally resonated in the real world as well when Iran had stated that the film showed Hollywood’s “declaration of war” on Iranian culture. 2007 was a turbulent time indeed; but has anything really changed? Especially now as the internet and political parties of the United States battle of Muslim culture, ISIS, and refugees, 300 can be seen through an almost similar lens. If it came out in theaters today, it would be protested as a xenophobic abomination to culture, and I’d like to think Zack would say the same thing today that he said almost 10 years ago:
[the controversy] has surprised me a bit because I would hope that people would understand that the last thing I’d want is to offend anyone with the film. If anyone is offended by it, I’m deeply sorry because that’s not the intention of the movie at all. To me, it’s a work of fantasy; it’s not intended to depict any culture in a realistic way. That’s just not what the movie is. I do have an appreciation for those cultures because of the historical research that I’ve done in preparing the film. I think it’s the responsibility of someone who sees the movie to actually crack open the history book and see what really happened.
It is important to note that he is, obviously, correct. 300 is a highly fictionalized depiction of the Battle of Thermopylae told through the perspective of a Spartan as a campfire story, hyping up their fallen hero King Leonidas before the Spartans and Greek soldiers take on the rest of Xerxes’ massive army in The Battle of Platea.
Zack Snyder’s film was not only the first of it’s kind to really dig heavy into an almost completely CGI world with the help of blue/screen screen effects, but could also be seen as the last “macho” American action movie. In a world where superheroes and Young Adult Adaptations rule the megaplexes, 300 actually made more than recent man-driven genre fair such as all three of the Expendables movies, a 5th Die Hard, Olympus Has Fallen, and even just a few million (a few) less than WB’s own Clash of the Titans.
Moving onto WATCHMEN there isn’t really much else to say that we haven’t already with our extensive collection of editorials and revisits of what is arguably Snyder’s masterpiece, but the film still stands completely as something that is almost essentially required to understand the “tone” of the DC/WB universe, and of Snyder’s own film-making. Everything the director has at his disposal is put to use on screen from the gorgeous costumes, lavish and insanely detailed sets, music, experienced character actors, and unrivaled framing, lighting, and content. The film is even there for those to have a very clear point of reference for Superman’s destruction of Metropolis in Man of Steel and Batman’s own paranoia of the Son of Krypton in what we’ve seen of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice right down to the sneak peak scene where Superman unmasks Batman, which looks as if it’s calling back to Rorschach’s own de-masking. WATCHMEN asks not why superheroes exist, but should they exist? How can all of that power go unchecked and not lead to rampant fear mongering, hatred, and delusion from the general public?
Batman v Superman seems almost like a thematic continuation of the Watchmen mythos, and knowing Snyder I highly doubt that was accidental. Look for a full article of this very soon, but in the meantime, be sure to watch Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut as a precursor to Snyder’s upcoming superhero epic before it hits theaters this March.
What is truly incredible, if not terrifying, is the fact that since 2009’s WATCHMEN there have been over 30 superhero movies released…but only one of them dares to ask, Who watches the Watchmen?
Sucker Punch, the film we started this piece referencing, is another beast altogether. It’s the film millions pine across Twitter for now, only so far ahead of it’s time that the breakneck world of online media has almost sadly forgotten it. There are only a handful of wholly original films on the market even today, especially big budget, wide release ones such as Snyder’s. Even in 2011 the circuit for social media wasn’t on it’s toes as much as it is now, and with Twitter still a relatively untapped marketing platform, there was only the word of mouth to guide it.
In that year, only one film in the Top 10 highest grossing was driven by a female lead, which was the emotional sendoff to the Twilight franchise with The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2. Of the countless hundreds films, only a handful were lead by females which included Red Riding Hood, Jane Eyre, Meloncholia, Bad Teacher, Monte Carlo, One Day, Violet and Daisy, and HANNA. That is 8 films. 5 of which had male co-stars to act as love interests.
Sucker Punch was an original, female driven action/fantasy film which remains next to only HANNA as the only film with any substance and artistic merit to make it out of that year, and could be released today to open arms and critical praise, with flowing admiration. A common criticism of the film is focused on why the women seem to be dressed in such “nerd-wank fantasy” attire, a criticism Zack tackles maturely and honestly:
Everything in the movie is about a show within a show within a show. Someone asked me, “Why did you dress the girls like that, in those provocative costumes?” And I said, “Well, think about it for a second. I didn’t dress those girls in the costume. The audience dressed those girls.” And when I say the audience, I mean the audience that comes to the movies. Just like the men who visit a brothel, [they] dress the girls when they go to see these shows as however they want to see them.
But my hope was that they would take those things back, just like my girls hopefully get confidence, they get strength through each other, that those become power icons. They start out as cliches of feminine sexuality as made physical by what culture creates. I think that part of it was really specific, whether it’s French maid or nurse or Joan Arc to a lesser extent [laughs], or schoolgirl. Our hope is we were able to modify them and turn them into these power icons, where they can fight back at the actual cliches that they represent. So hopefully by the end the girls are empowered by their sexuality and not exploited. But certainly that’s where they come from, the journey is asking, “What do you want to see? Well, be careful what you want to see.”
Mark my words, in a decade or so, Snyder’s film will be revisited as an unparalleled force behind women’s representation in film, and a viscous attack on sexism and objectification in “geek culture.”
Look for more on this subject as we develop our “Feminism and Zack Snyder” piece for you very soon.
Dawn of the Dead which has become a staple of zombie culture, can be pin pointed with Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil as one of the key marks for bringing the genre “back from the dead”, but only 1 can be associated along with “Dawn” in being the tipping point for the “fast zombies” in popular culture, which would Danny Boyle’s nightmare inducing 28 Days Later. Making over $102 million dollars total, Snyder’s zombie film (also his directorial debut) grossed more than 20 million more than “Days”, and thus likely ushered in the fast zombies for a mainstream audience.
Zombies would eventually become more locomotive anyway, yes, but it’s hard to picture that happening without the sensation that Snyder’s film caused. Revisiting the film today, it still holds up extremely well and even acts as an almost touching tribute to how people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds can change and stand together. For instance the typical “redneck biggot” played by future Man of Steel player Michael Kelly becomes a bonafied softie by the film’s end and actually acts as one of the only heroes that shows a true heart of gold. In an age of CGI horror and remakes, “Dawn” is now a pinnacle of 21st century horror film-making.
A piece from Slate, published in 2004, leaves this segment with a humorous reflection of the past:
It will be ironic if Snyder’s Dawn remake represents the tipping point that makes fast zombies the mainstream. George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, more than any other creature feature, hammered home the slow zombie’s metaphorical possibilities. In the first Dawn, scores of shopping-mall-bound corpses ride escalators in an endless loop and wobble listlessly to Muzak. This new Dawn, though one of the best scare movies of the last few years, is far more concerned with zombie style than zombie substance: While Snyder’s zombies may be mindless, they’re less a consumerist mob than a bunch of high-strung car chasers.
It is ultimately still too early to see all of the far-reaching influences Snyder has had on modern film, and as much as we try to discover, there are likely film students in college right now who look to Zack for inspiration. A man who has done so much in less than 20 years is nothing short of impressive, and his reign is not even close to being done with. Can you name any modern day interpretations of some of Snyder’s greatest films, or will you let that be the duty of your children, and their children, as they discover Snyder after cracking open a book of America’s most influential directors?