“To where does the mind escape when it can’t take any more?” This question is posed by director Zack Snyder at the beginning of his introduction to a lavishly illustrated new hardback from Titan Books -- a tribute to all aspects of the rich artistry that has gone into the creation of Snyder’s stunning, forthcoming new action-fantasy picture, “Sucker Punch”, and a provocative taster of what this epic looking film has in store for us when it finally gets released in the next few months.
After helming several previous high-profile projects which had all either been remakes or adaptations of well-known graphic novels, with an existing fanbase whose expectations had to be taken into account every time any kind of creative decision was taken, “Sucker Punch” marks the first time Snyder has worked with original material; in this case the project was originally conceived by the director and co-written with Steve Shibula. Titan Books’ sumptuous 256 page tribute to their efforts reveals a dark, deeply evocative, sometimes disturbing piece of fantasy cinema that also functions as an exploration of the human imagination when it becomes a weapon of survival in a dark and troubled world. The director of “300” and “Watchmen” has set out, it seems, to create a dark vision of inner turmoil that simultaneously celebrates the creative impulses that underpin the artistic urge itself.
The principle character of the film is a young girl on the cusp of womanhood, whose life has been destroyed while everyone she’s ever loved has been killed. Now confined to a forbiddingly bleak mental asylum in a rain-lashed Gothic version of sixties America, Babydoll (Emily Browning) retreats into a fantasy world, itself just as dark, menacing and disturbing, for it is an echo of her own troubled mind and desolate surroundings. A burlesque theatre show in a fairy tale dream-palace cum brothel becomes the imaginary venue for her meeting with some new sisters-in-arms: Blondie, Sweet Pea, Amber and Rocket. Together they embark on a series of amazing imagined quests which take them into a series of increasingly baroque, heightened fantasy worlds conjured by Babydoll’s imagination from the random elements in her surroundings, and all of which represent her battles with her own inner demons.
The unbelievably huge scope of the imagination that has gone into bringing the multi-textured fantasy worlds of “Sucker Punch” to the big screen has resulted in some often stunningly beautiful artwork that stands by itself as a worthwhile creative endeavour. The book delivers a gorgeous selection of images, photographs, paintings and sketches that reveal a truly remarkable visual opulence that taps all areas of fantasy cinema and comic book art to create what promises to be a very memorable piece of film if the finished article can live up to the standard indicated here.
Zack Snyder’s short introduction is accompanied by some of artist Alex Pardee’s original character sketches and paintings, initially designed for promotional t-shirts that were handed out at comic-con 2010. They’re exaggerated anime-like drawings, conceived in such a way as to reveal the primary personality and characteristics of each of the all-female team of protagonists. These are early stage conceptual 'imaginings’ which reveal a strong anime influence that seems to have made it into the film in other areas as well, such as the robotic mecha-armour suites that appear in some of the paintings, and which look like something straight out of “Neon Genesis Evangelion”. Pardee’s first tentative series of title logo designs and a few behind-the-scenes stills can also been seen here.
Next, each character is revealed in his or her real-life incarnation, as portrayed by the actors and actresses chosen to bring them to the screen. Each of the main female characters get several pages devoted to images of them taken from the movie, with promotional stills, production stills etc, that reveal how those initial sketches were eventually transposed to film. Stylish images of some of the fetishistic costume designs and the film’s general aesthetic (which is characterised by dark, Gothic fantasy with a hint of the baroque) provide the vivid tone of these pages, which also feature brief character synopsis’ and outlines of each character’s role in the plot.
The rest of the book is devoted to some truly lush, detailed and sumptuous-looking design art, detailed conceptual paintings, interesting photographs of some of the model work and copious production stills, which reveal between them the various fantasy settings -- both exterior and interior -- and rich, imaginative landscapes that provide the backdrop to the film’s blend of action and comic book fantasy. The initial gloomy gothic darkness of the mental asylum in which Babydoll is incarcerated shows up in all of the vaguely cathedral-like spaces of her interior imaginings; even the gaudy, cherry red-quilted excess of the fantasy brothel set is a disturbingly incongruous mixture of baroquely furnished burlesque design augmented and lit thorough faux religious stained glass window iconography. There are “Lord of the Rings” style fantasy worlds, populated with fearsome dragons and menacing Orcs; a horror show version of a World War One No-Man’s-Land peopled with horrific zombie German soldiers and tattered figures in gas-masks, as looming Zeppelins dominating the shadowy horizon; a monumental, neo-Gothic, Medieval castle that towers into the cloud-scudded heavens -- all this, and much more is rendered in beautiful full colour images that have been beautifully reproduced here within the book’s glossy large format pages. The volume finishes up with a selection of trial poster designs, revealing the various and varied approaches considered for the film’s promotional campaign.
“Sucker Punch” has yet to open, so this art book is our first real glimpse at the imagined world Zack Snyder aims soon to bring to the screen. It’s a world of unlimited imagination, without constraint or restrictions of any kind, including that of genre. Whether it will live up to the expectations engendered by the extremely evocative and beguiling artwork we’ve been furnished with here only time will tell, but the director has certainly grabbed our attention with this beautifully produced introduction to his opulent, dark, colourful and action-packed world of dreams and nightmares.