Interview: 'Man of Steel' Director Zack Snyder In Man of Steel, the director behind Watchmen and 300 has had a go at that most quintessentially American superhero. He speaks with NPR's Linda Werthheimer about his reverence for the character's mythology — and why he chose to change some of it up.
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Zack Snyder, Making Superman Over For Our Era

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Zack Snyder, Making Superman Over For Our Era

Zack Snyder, Making Superman Over For Our Era

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The quintessential American superhero - the one who helped forge the genre - returns to the multiplex this weekend: Superman. The latest iteration, called "Man of Steel," explores the birth of the character, why he came to Earth, his inner conflicts growing up and how he resolves them. The film's director, Zack Snyder, joins us from NPR West to discuss the film. Good morning.

ZACK SNYDER: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

WERTHEIMER: Now, I must say that the - sort of the back story of Superman was my favorite part of the movie, especially in the scenes with Kevin Costner, who plays his earthly father, Jonathan Kent.


KEVIN COSTNER: (as Jonathan Kent) You're the answer, Clark.

DYLAN SPRAYBERRY: (as young Clark Kent) Can't I just keep pretending I'm your son?

COSTNER: (as Jonathan Kent) You are my son. But somewhere out there, you have another father; and he sent you here for a reason.

SNYDER: Kevin did an amazing job, I thought. Even though he's an incredibly versatile actor, I think in this setting - in a Kansas cornfield - he seems to be very much at home.

WERTHEIMER: He's done that cornfield thing before.

SNYDER: He really does - he's mastered the cornfield. (Laughing) He - also, just giving that sage wisdom to the young Superman, you really feel that he's just trying to take care of his son and equip his son for the life that's ahead of him. We've said that, you know, Superman is like the ultimate adoption story. And it really is. You know, I have adopted children, and so it's personal for me - that whole interaction between Jonathan and the young Clark.

WERTHEIMER: I really thought that the early Krypton scenes were some of the best.


RUSSELL CROWE: (as Jor-El) Good-bye, my son. My hopes and dreams travel with you.

AYELET ZURER: (as Lara Lor-Van) He will be an outcast. They will kill him.

CROWE: (as Jor-El) How? He'll be a god to them.

WERTHEIMER: Extraordinary. Beautiful. Spectacular special effects in that part of the movie, those - you know, those great balls of light that were rolling around in the sky; the skyline, and the ships that were going around this planet that was about to collapse. That was amazing, and I think richer than any version of "Superman" we've seen.

SNYDER: Well, I just felt like, you know, for me, I have a reverence for that mythology, and I really wanted to treat the experience of seeing Superman born and that ancient technology, which I find fun to think about. And I thought within that world, it was fun to see Jor-El like, putting his son into the basket and sending him down the river.

WERTHEIMER: The beautiful, little baby ship that they send him off in.


WERTHEIMER: The other thing that was interesting was the character of Gen. Zod.


MICHAEL SHANNON: (as Gen. Zod) My name is Gen. Zod. I have journeyed across an ocean of stars to reach you. Your world has sheltered one of my citizens. Surrender within 24 hours, or watch this world suffer the consequences.

WERTHEIMER: The actor who played him was just ferocious. I mean, Superman was in some danger of having scenes stolen right out from under him by that guy.

SNYDER: Well, Michael Shannon, who plays Zod, is an amazing actor. And I really wanted him from the beginning.

WERTHEIMER: But he was very good. I loved the place where he shucked his cast-iron suit and just really engaged with Superman.


WERTHEIMER: That was another one of those long fight scenes, though. This movie is about two and a half hours long. I mean, did you have any concerns about that?

SNYDER: I guess at the beginning when we first started the project, the thing that no one had seen is what the real true consequences of Superman fighting within our world would be, you know, battling another Kryptonian, another superhero of his equal strength. And that's really where, sort of, philosophically, the scale of what happens, happens.

You know, we weren't really too concerned, personally, with the length. I think my first cut of the movie was like three hours and 20 minutes long. So it's much shorter.



SNYDER: An hour shorter than that.

WERTHEIMER: So you feel like you really whacked it, huh?

SNYDER: Yeah. Yeah. It's hard because, of course, like, you know, when I talk to the true dorks, they're like why is it so short?



WERTHEIMER: So you'll have to put out the director's cut.

SNYDER: I literally don't have one.

WERTHEIMER: The Superman costume - that's always kind of an interesting thing. People talk about the symbol on his chest.


AMY ADAMS: (as Lois Lane) What's the "S" stand for?

HENRY CAVILL: (as Superman) It's not an "S." On my world it means hope.

ADAMS: (as Lois Lane) Well, here it's an "S."

WERTHEIMER: Of course, the real change in this his underwear is on the inside of his costume.

SNYDER: Yeah. It's quite a big deal.

WERTHEIMER: I was going to say did you have lots of meetings about that?

SNYDER: You know, the cool thing about being a movie director and a slight dork, is that you get to sort of play around with a superhero - well, with the Superman costume in this case. But what we wanted to do with the costume is make it feel like it was based on, you know, this alien technology and culture. And so that when he wore it, it wasn't like a thing that, you know, his mom sewed out of a blanket or anything like that.


SNYDER: Which is some of the...

WERTHEIMER: Like the TV show did look like that.

SNYDER: Yeah. It's like she just sewed that - that she just whacked this costume out for him. I just felt like to make it make sense we wanted to base it on Kryptonian culture. And it's a cape culture. It's cool; we should all wear capes. I think it's a fashion thing that's going to catch on.

But look, the underwear comes from - it's a leftover from Victorian strongmen, is what they originally based the design of the Superman costume on in 1938. And so I feel like we've moved on a little bit from that era of modesty. I feel like we've moved on from that.


WERTHEIMER: It was so last century.

SNYDER: A little bit.

WERTHEIMER: Well, let me ask you about the people you had in this movie. I mean, you had some really superstar actors.

SNYDER: I really credit the power of Superman himself, because I think every one of these actors - Kevin Costner, Diane Lane...


DIANE LANE: (as Martha Kent) Dusty!

ADAMS: (as Lois Lane) Mrs. Kent? I'm Lois Lane from the Daily Planet and I'd like to talk to you about your son.

SNYDER: Amy Adams, all of them, just calling them and saying, listen, you're on my wish list of guys I want on my movie. It's a Superman movie. And they'd say, let's talk about it. That sounds fun. And, you know, every single one of them was either a fan or understood, sort of, the significance of Superman, and, you know, really wanted to participate. You know, I think in our collective psyches, Superman has a place that is pretty strong.

WERTHEIMER: Zack Snyder, thank you very much.

SNYDER: Thanks for having me. That was fun.

WERTHEIMER: Zack Snyder is the director of "Man of Steel." It opens today.

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