Although “Dawn of the Dead” was the film that introduced moviegoers to Zack Snyder, it wasn’t until he made “300” that audiences decided he was a creative force to be reckoned with. Part of the reason for this is due to the participation of Deborah Snyder as the producer on big screen adaptation of Frank Miller’s work — a collaborator in both life and work who both nurtures his creativity and shepherds his visions to the screen. Since then, she’s worked with him on “Watchmen,” “Legend of the Guardians” and “Sucker Punch” while expanding the cinematic universe they created with the upcoming “300: Rise of an Empire.”
But before they return to ancient Greece, Deborah and Zack team for “Man of Steel,” a reimagining of Superman’s origin story originally conceived by “Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan. Following the mixed reception the Snyders’ received for “Sucker Punch,” “Man of Steel” offers a unique opportunity to commercially redeem themselves while moving in a different creative direction.
Comic Book Resources spoke one-on-one with Deborah at the film’s recent Los Angeles press day, where she dispelled rumors that “Man of Steel” was a less personal effort for Zack than his previous films, while examining the differences — and similarities — between this and their past work.
CBR News: “Sucker Punch” was obviously a very personal project for Zack — what kind of pressure did its mixed critical and commercial reception place upon you two when taking on “Man of Steel?”
Deborah Snyder: It’s interesting, because I felt like “Sucker Punch” was extremely polarizing. There were a lot of people who really loved the film, and I feel like now, more have been coming since the DVD [release]. But there was a backlash. I think it was easy for people, because it was so stylized, to dismiss that there was anything deeper going on there, but I’m enormously proud of what we did and what we accomplished on that film. I can’t control how people are going to react or what they’re going to say about it, and I think it’s a mistake to try and gauge “I think this is what people are going to want.” I think you just have to take the story and service it the best you can.
We always pick projects that are personal, even this one, [because] whatever project you do, you’re living with it for two, three years — especially ours, because of all of the visual effects. It’s a long process, and I think sometimes when you make decisions that are for different reasons, they end up backfiring. I don’t think you can second-guess what everybody’s expectations are.
What can you tell us, then, about the decision to restrain some of the creative impulses in “Man of Steel” that audiences have come to associate with Zack’s work, such as speed ramping? Did any of those choices have to do with the reception of his past work?
No, I think it just didn’t feel appropriate for the film. You know, Zack has said this is our most realistic film to date, and yet it’s Superman — how ironic is that? I feel our goal in this was trying to make him a part of our reality. You know, any world building works when you’re immersed in it, and we didn’t want to have [things like] fictitious stores. We wanted it to feel really like part of Americana, like our Smallville was this small town. [Superman is] so extraordinary, the more we can make him more like one of us, the more you can relate to him and care about him. I think that’s how we made our choices.
Zack’s films have always taken a sort of metatextual approach to their subjects — “300” itself mythologized the events in the story, “Watchmen” filtered storytelling itself through pop culture consciousness. Do you feel like that self-analysis is happening in this film, or is it, as it outwardly seems, more of a straightforward depiction of Superman?
He’s straightforward and he’s Superman. I think that’s what’s ironic about this particular film, making him more like us, and not necessarily seeing that character in that way before. I think people expect action and spectacle and all of this kind of stuff, but to see him struggle, and to see him confront issues that are more human issues, to see him lost and vulnerable in that way is not how he has really been portrayed in film — I know the comics have gone a lot further in different places, but if you’re not a comic book fan, if you’re a member of the general audience, I don’t think you’ve ever seen this character this way. And I think that’s what makes it different — that’s your entry into him.
Having finished “Man of Steel,” how eager are you to look at what’s next — and how close are you to making a decision about what that is?
Well, right now it’s a little overwhelming because — to be honest, we wanted to make sure we had enough time to do the 3D properly, so we literally just shipped that out. And we have “300,” which we’re producing and shepherding, and we’re working on that at the same time.
I think we’re always looking and talking about what we want to do next, but I think once the movie comes out, we’ll make that determination. Right now, our focus is, let’s get this movie [out], and let’s keep our fingers crossed. I’s a lot of work and a lot of travel right now and everything — and still keeping an eye on that other movie that’s finishing.
Zack’s films prior to this one felt like all of a piece, or at least a natural progression from one to the next. Do you see “Man of Steel” as a step in a different direction, or is it a continuation of the same creative trajectory?
I think it’s always an evolution. Everything you do, you learn from what you’ve done. You grow, hopefully, from what you’ve done. We’re genre filmmakers, that’s what we do, and we love making these kind of movies. We enjoy them. On a personal note, we were adopting our two kids — [“Man of Steel”] is an adoption story, so there is a lot, I think, of personal influences that go in. And Zack, like it or not, has a point of view that’s very specific, regardless of what he’s doing. I feel it’s very much his point of view. He wanted to shoot on film, with a single camera. There’s a look to it, there’s a stylization to it that might be different from some of his other things, but it’s still whole in that idea.
This feels sort of like the right time for a portrait of Superman where there are more shades of grey, as opposed to previous interpretations where audiences and filmmakers really projected their ideals upon the character. Do you think this story has cultural relevance or comments on where we are right now?
Look at our Smallville — look at small towns all over. It’s not as idealistic as it has been portrayed before. Look at the state of newspapers — we hint at that [Lois Lane] goes and takes her story to the Internet. I think we are making a commentary on real life. Our film is ingrained in our world today, and our world isn’t as idealistic as it once was.
Directed by Zack Snyder and arriving in theaters June 14, “Man of Steel” stars Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Christopher Meloni and more.