Although you can debate whether or not he lived up to its promise, “300” made Zack Snyder a rock star as a director, thanks to its virtuoso combination of red-meat storytelling and highly-sophisticated visuals. Eight years later, Snyder has moved on to even bigger, more ambitious projects, but his affection for the world first created by Frank Miller led him to write and produce a sequel, “Rise of an Empire,” even if he knew he wouldn’t be able to direct it. And even with Noam Murro behind the lens, Snyder’s presence is indelible, impacting every choice in the storytelling and the style.
Snyder, who is currently preparing for the “Man of Steel” sequel, spoke with reporters at the Los Angeles press day for “300: Rise of an Empire.” In addition to talking about the challenges of creating a sequel to a film where basically all of the characters in the first one died, he discussed the choice of Murro as a director, and examined the movie’s technique and themes as it expands the world of ancient Greece.
Zack, what was it about Noam’s directorial background that drew you to him as your successor?Â
Zack Snyder: When Noam came to us to talk about the idea of making the movie. We had the script, and we knew that I was going to go do “Man of Steel” and there was no way, honestly, I was going to be able to do anything. It was a big decision to say, “Oh, well maybe we should get another director to direct the movie.” So, we started to talk about directors, and Debbie [Snyder] had worked with Noam on a TV commercial back in Toronto, and we talked. She had been a big fan of Noam’s, and still is of course — and now in this new incarnation. That originally initiated the idea that we might work with him, and then he came and told us a little about what he wanted to do with the movie… Frankly, it was a lot of the things that I had said to these guys all those years ago when I was pitching the original movie. What I felt was a symmetry in the full circle aspect of it. Then he did this cool presentation, and then we felt like he had the, sort of, vocabulary to make something cool, and he has. That’s how we sort of came to it.Â
Given how technologically-savvy audiences are these days, how do you keep this story exciting without using maybe more sophisticated, anachronistic weaponry?
I mean, truthfully, there are robots in the movie . [Laughs] I’m kidding. When we were working out 300 originally, it was a thing that we just thought was cool. Clearly there is cool action, and stories to be told that don’t take place necessarily in a sci-fi environment, or an environment that needs… We have a great tradition of historical films that make for good drama and action. We have an amazing fight choreographer, and stunt coordinator, Damon Caro. One of his favorite languages is swords and soldiers, and may be better than — well, perhaps I won’t say that . [Laughs] I think when Kurt and I talk about it, these are things that we find cool. So, by the time Noam gets it I hope the spirit is infused with the energy anyway, that might help this to be interesting visually. Those robots just don’t have the abs . [Laughs]
Family seems to be one of this film’s central themes — defending it, et cetera. Talk about the importance of that element in this film?
I think what Kurt and I were talking about when we originally started talking about how we would incorporate the different characters, and make them do what they were going to do in the movie — I think it’s always like “Oh, the dad, the wife, the mother.” Those are strong things that we always talk about. For us, it’s just sort of talking about the origins of the story — that these guys go into battle for their families, or their children. It made it’s way into the story pretty easily.Â
Ultimately, how difficult was it to mount a sequel or companion piece to the original film that could stand on its own and at the same time complement its predecessor?
I guess, well, look, we have an amazing cast and they’re funny and smart and physical and amazing actors. We have an awesome director who made I think a picture that, it is true that when we made “300,” in truth, a lot of the movie was also created with economic restrictions. We had this idea of the style of the movie we wanted to make, and we knew it was a boutique-y movie; we thought it was a movie for kind of a small audience that would be into this kind of crazy, comic-booky sword and sandals movie. It was kind of a genre that didn’t exist. You know, there are sword and sandals movies and comic book movies, but there wasn’t — the rules of mashing those things up wasn’t really [around], and Frank [Miller] had done it in the comic book, and to me when I read the comic book, it was, “Oh, this is an amazing comic book,” I remembered.
The cool thing about what these guys have done and the movie has done is that it took that language without a comic book, because Frank hasn’t finished it, but sort of with Frank’s inspiration flowing across, frankly, her and I first and then Noam and now these guys. What he did in that book is kind of echoed across in the movie. And I think what he did, because I was not 100 percent sure when we first — when we finished “300,” it’s like, “Well, they all died, I guess that’s it.” We didn’t really think there could be another movie. But I think when Frank came and said this other thing happened on the same three days as Thermopylae, we were like, what? That’s cool. And actually, it’s really fun for me to see these two movies kind of exist, now, next to each other. We were talking about how, oh, you could cut them together, actually, if you were ambitious — and maybe some fans will do that. But it’s really satisfying for me because, in a way, it’s come full circle.