It seems that only editor David Brenner ("Man of Steel," "The Day After Tomorrow") was capable of cutting director Zack Snyder’s "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" down to size for the two-and-a-half-hour theatrical version.
This meant trimming the various subplots and superhero cameos by meta-humans the Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. "It was tricky keeping the focus on the two protagonists," Brenner said Wednesday night after a Dolby Atmos & Vision screening at the Vine Theater in Hollywood. "They weren’t tracking in the first half, and Lex Luthor [Jesse Eisenberg] came in too late."
The movie, which VFX Supervisor John "DJ" DesJardin called "a long-running political thriller that just happens to have superheroes in it," solidified when Batman tells Alfred (Jeremy Irons) that Luthor wants to use Kryptonite to kill Superman, the editor added. "You can’t over cut characterization, either. You want to build into the action in the end [the hero fight and the final confrontation with Doomsday], but you don’t want to overstay your welcome."
Yet even though Brenner literally cut footage from every dramatic moment, he included a bizarre and confusing Batman nightmare —where he’s fighting an army of demons that culminates with Superman’s betrayal— that accomplishes more than just advance the story: "It pays off in universe building [and in setting up next year’s ‘Justice League’]."
One of VFX supervisor DesJardin’s biggest challenges was perfecting the Doomsday fight. The initial plan was to do it as one shot, but the superheroes were too small in comparison to the 20-foot alien beast and it was too long a shot to make any editorial changes, so the VFX supervisor went for a "slash and burn" approach modeled on "The Empire Strikes Back."
"We made it with normal cuts…with Wonder Woman [Gal Godot] leading the charge," DesJardin explained. "We changed stunt poses late in the game but had the world figured out. It became Wonder Woman-centric. You want to see her combat in a slow, intimate way. She’s enjoying cutting loose on this thing. She’s had down time for 100 years."
But there was a panic among the sound team when they glimpsed Doomsday’s burst of electricity. Director Snyder wanted you to hear it but not be overwhelmed by it. "The sound of the DC world has layering and complexity, creating more space between sound and music," offered Chris Jenkins, the sound re-recording mixer, who earned the Oscar for "Mad Max: Fury Road."
"Atmos helps our brains articulate a reality," added Scott Hecker, the supervising sound editor, who also earned the Oscar for "Fury Road."
According to editor Brenner, Vision dramatically increases "blacks and bright spots," while Atmos "makes big action scenes live with strong music and sounds without it feeling muddy."
Don’t worry: next summer’s three-hour plus "Extended Cut" on Blu-ray/DVD will offer more footage of the minor characters (as well as a mysterious one played by Jena Malone that was cut out entirely).