IAR INTERVIEW: Director Zack Snyder Talks 'Man of Steel'

Thursday, 13 June 2013 16:31 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR INTERVIEW: Director Zack Snyder Talks 'Man of Steel'

The term “visionary” is thrown around quite a bit when discussing filmmakers, but it’s never been more fitting than when referring to director Zack Snyder.

Snyder began his career directing music videos for the likes of Morrissey, and Paul Westerberg, but his big break came when he helmed the remake of George A. Romero’s horror classic Dawn of the Dead. However, it was Snyder’s adaption of acclaimed comic book writer Frank Miller’s 300 that made him one of Hollywood’s most sought-after directors. He followed up that success by adapting what many consider to be the greatest graphic novel of all-time, legendary comic book scribe Alan Moore’s Watchmen. The film went on to gross over $185 million worldwide and is considered by many to be an unappreciated masterpiece of filmmaking. 

Snyder’s next two films would prove to be departures for him, the computer-animated family film Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, which was adapted from Kathryn Lasky’s children’s book, and Sucker Punch. The latter of the two is the director’s only completely original film to date, based on his own story idea, but also his least critically and financially successful film as well. Snyder has also written and produced the upcoming sequel to 300, 300: Rise of an Empire, and has had his name attached to such highly anticipated projects as a remake of The illustrated Man, the long in progress Justice League movie, and a Star Wars spin-off film inspired by Seven Samurai. But first, Snyder takes on arguably the most popular super hero of all-time with his latest film, Man of Steel, which is a reboot/reimagining of the Superman franchise that flies into theaters on June 14th.

The new film retells the classic Superman mythos about a Smallville boy name Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), who comes to learn that he is actually Kal-El, a humanoid alien that was transported to Earth by his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) from the dying planet of Krypton. Adopted as a child by farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), he is raised with the values of his adoptive parents but feels alienated because of his unique super powers and struggles to find his own place in the world. When a traitor from Krypton named General Zod (Michael Shannon) attacks Earth, Clark becomes the hero Superman to protect the planet, its people, his mother, and the women he loves - Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams). The film’s excellent cast also includes Laurence Fishburne (Contagion), Antje Traue (5 Days of War), Ayelet Zurer (Darling Companion), Henry Lennix (The Matrix Revolutions), Christopher Meloni (42), and Richard Schiff (TV’s West Wing). Man of Steel was written by David S. Goyer (Batman Begins), and based on a story by Goyer and producer Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight).

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with director Zack Snyder, along with several other members of the press, at the Man of Steel press conference on Soundstage #23 at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California. The “visionary” filmmaker discussed his new movie, adapting the iconic character, choosing General Zod for the film’s antagonist, the absence of Lex Luthor, the way in which the movie unfolds, and composer Hans Zimmer’s beautiful score.

I began by asking Snyder, who clearly has experience adapting comic books into films, if he could talk about the challenges of rebooting the Superman franchise. “I was worried about Superman honestly as a project because it was a thing that I was interested in but then on the other hand I was scared because Superman is SUPERMAN and it seemed at the time like a lot of work. Although I will say that after I read David Goyer’s script and talked to Christopher Nolan, there was no fear in the script or the idea,” he explained. “The idea was very straight forward and very confident. I think that's what gave me this feeling of confidence that I felt like I could make this cool, and that there's a thing in there that I'm interested in. Maybe I just needed to let go of the fear of this icon.”

“I do like Superman as a character and I have followed him throughout the years,” Snyder continued. “The fear for me was that, could I honor what he's been and what he has the potential to be? I think David did an amazing job with the script so that was in there and we just had to go after it. I think the vision was sort of an unapologetic Superman movie that we wanted to make. I felt in the recent past that people have been apologizing for Superman a little bit, for his costume, for his origins, for the way he fits into society. We just wanted to say, no, this is the mythology, this is how it is, it's suppose to be this way and I think that's kind of the movie we made. We wanted to enshrine him where he belongs and whether or not that's making it too important, I don't know but it was the way we wanted to do it. It was fun to do.”

While there are plenty of Easter Eggs hidden in the movie that reference Superman’s true archenemy, billionaire scientist Lex Luthor, and prove that he does exist in this new Superman cinematic universe, the actual character himself does not appear. I followed up by asking Snyder to discuss his choice to not include the iconic villain in this particular film, and while the director didn’t really answer my question, he did share this thought on the topic. “What I want to say about Lex Luther … and there is a kryptonite question that floats around the Lex Luther question too. Okay, within the perimeters of this story there's no kryptonite and no Lex Luther, but that’s not to say that they don't exist in this world.”

So why was General Zod, most famously portrayed by the great Terence Stamp in Superman and Superman II, chosen as the villain for Man of Steel? “I think the cool thing about Zod is that he offers a real threat to Superman,” Snyder said. “He offers a physical and emotional threat to Superman that is much stronger then any earth bound threat. He's able not only to match him physically but also represents his planet, and he's a hard opponent that way. Michael (Shannon) and I talked in the beginning about how we wanted Zod’s point of view to be pretty clear. It’s like, if this was happening to your planet and you were trying to save the people that you loved, what lengths would you go to?”

Although the film’s plot is once again a retelling of Superman’s famous origin story, David S. Goyer’s script takes an unusual approach by unfolding in a nonlinear way. “I think that it's a cool way to do it.” Snyder remarked. “You're with Clark, he's making his way and you're sort of getting these cool insights into the why of him. I think it's fun to do it this way. When he's facing a decision you get to see why he’s making those decisions. Presenting it that way allows the momentum of the story to keep going and you also get an insight into the man in a way that is interesting. It serves the movie in a really fun way”

Legendary composer John WilliamsSuperman score from the original Christopher Reeve films, which was also used in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, is now synonymous with the character but Snyder wisely chose to hire Academy Award-wining composer Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight) to create entirely new music for Man of Steel. “Before we began working on the movie we got questions about the music,” Snyder explained. “I would go to meetings where I thought I was going to discuss the approach for the film but instead the questions would be, are you going to use the John Williams score from the other movies? We hadn’t even shot a frame of film yet!” 

“We knew that Williams’ music was out there and that it is a strong piece of music. But our philosophy was to act as if no films have ever been made,” he continued. “We wanted to act like we found these comic books underneath our beds and said, hey, this would be a cool movie! We should make this Superman character into a film. Because we had sort have taken that point of view there was no cherry picking. You couldn't go, hey, it would be cool if we just borrow this. We knew that everything was going to be from zero. I was hoping that Chris (Nolan) would talk to Hans when they were scoring The Dark Knight Rises and twist his arm or bribe him somehow into working on our Superman movie. I don't know exactly how it was said but for whatever reason he agreed.”

Finally, Snyder had this to say about creating the score with Zimmer and the composer’s contributions to the film. “It's funny because one thing I think that is interesting that comes through the music is that there's big events in the film and the score is amazingly supportive of those events. I think Hans did amazing work and we talked about the music even before I heard it. I said that it would be cool if the Superman score were humble, if there was humility in the score, which is really hard, and it's abstract. I just said, humility and now make that into music, whatever that means. When you hear it, it's in there. He says he doesn't have any super powers but then you hear whatever that is and you say, wow, that's humble.”

Man of Steel opens in theaters on June 14th.

To watch our exclusive video interview with Henry Cavill, Michael Shannon, and screenwriter David S. Goyer about Man of Steel, please click here

To read our full coverage of the Man of Steel press conference, please click here

To read our exclusive interview with Richard Schiff about his work on Man of Steel, please click here

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