Arguably one of the bigger hits at this year’s Comic-Con, Sucker Punch marks the first completely original film from 300 and Watchmen director, Zack Snyder.
Set in the 1950s, the film tells the story of young woman called Babydoll (Emily Browning) who is confined to a mental institution by her abusive father. Facing a lobotomy in five days, Babydoll works on an escape plan with her fellow inmates (Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, Jamie Chung and Jena Malone) as the story moves in and out of anachronistic fantasy sequences, replete with dragons, robots, heavy weaponry and musical numbers. Sucker Punch also stars Carla Gugino, Jon Hamm, Oscar Isaac and Scott Glenn.
Following their panel on the film, Zack and Deborah Snyder (his wife and co-producer) talked with a small group of journalists about the extreme stylization of Sucker Punch, the decision not to convert to 3D and the early stages of their upcoming 300 sequel, Xerxes.
Q: We were just discussing Inception and how straightforward the dreams are in that film. Your dreams seem to play a little differently.
Zack Snyder: (laughs) I dream in a different way. I guess that’s what our movie is about. For me anyway. One of the sort of recognizable or procedural parts of the movie is that when Baby fantasizes or closes her eyes or whatever you want to call it, their adventure parallels a little adventure that they’re doing in reality. A super-small one. For instance, they need a lighter. They need to steal a lighter that has a dragon etched on it from a dude. It’s the simplest thing ever. That’s what they’re really doing. Baby’s version of it is what you see. That’s the movie. Part of it. She closes her eyes and they go to another frickin’ world. They fight a dragon. They have a B-25 with a jet engine. They have to slit the baby dragon’s throat and steal the fire. She ends up killing the dragon and, when the music ends, that object has been stolen because she has successfully distracted the person she needs to distract. There’s kind of this super-simple straightforward procedural part of it, but then there’s this insane [aspect]. When she actually does fantasize, it’s a real fantasy. I just use my own imagination as a template. So yeah, they do dream big, I guess.
Q: How much of the movie is those fantasies and how much is the “real” world?
Zack: In a percentage?
Deborah Snyder: There’s four of them. Four of the fantasy sequences.
Q: So it’s much more set in reality?
Zack: (hesitant) Yes.
Deborah: Well, there’s kind of three levels of reality.
Q: Like Inception?
Zack: Four. “Inception” was four levels of reality. We didn’t have quite as much money as they did (Laughs) We got one less level.
Deborah: It’s all bookended. It’s like “The Wizard of Oz.” I always think of it that way.
Zack: So what’s happening is that there’s a giant tornado at the beginning. (Laughs) No, there’s no tornado. But it is bookended, though. Baby is committed to the insane asylum by her stepfather, who wants her lobotomized so she won’t be able to testify or tell the police what he’s done to her. He pays the evil orderly off. He says, “No problem. It’s going to take me a little while because we don’t have a lobotomy doctor here who can do it.” So in five days, the guy’s coming to do it and in those five days she comes up with a plan to escape. She wants to get out before that happens. That’s really the sort of story of the movie. She can help these girls and these girls want to help her to get out. Because they want to get out. But somewhere along the way, she actually starts imagining that this insane asylum is a brothel and she’s a virgin.
Deborah: And in five days she’s going to be deflowered.
Zack: In five days, this rich guy is coming to take her virginity… In that reality, the shows that the girls do are shows for the men who come to that club. Because she isn’t a performer yet and because she doesn’t work out in the club, Mrs. Gorsky [(Gugino)] wants to train her to dance. She wants to train her to be one of the girls. She’s real shy and each of the fantasies is her kind of learning more. She closes her eyes when she dances and we never see her dance. What we see is the fantasy.
Q: But the fantasy has repercussions in the world of reality?
Deborah: Everything ripples back.
Zack: The trick, is, though, that I tried to f–k with that, too. I didn’t want it to be one of those procedural things where they go, “If I stab your leg, your leg starts bleeding in reality. I was aware of that convention and I wanted to f–k with it a little bit… It’s as if one of the main “rules” of dream-making movies is asking, “If I die in the Matrix, do I die in real life? Yes? Okay, well that’s a bummer. How many times can I be shot in the Matrix?”
Deborah: It’s sort of about, where do you go when things get bad? Where do you escape to? How do you cope with that? A lot of times you visualize somewhere else. You want to be somewhere else. And I think that the girls and Babydoll find strength. Each time they go, they seem to find a little more strength and a little more courage.
Zack: Yeah, Scott Glenn is kind of like her Yoda in those worlds… He’s the most awesome person on the face of the Earth. He’ll say, like, “Listen, Zack, I can do the ADR, but I’ve gotta go. I’m flying out to Hawaii to do deep-sea spear fishing.” Where you freefall 40 feet and then kill these giant deep sea tuna while sharks are circling. But he’s not bulls–ting, either. I would tell that as bullsh–t. And then he’s like, “On the way back, I’ve got to stop and get the leathers for my new Ducati. I’ve gotta go break them in and then shoot some machine guns.” I’m just like, “Okay, you’re the most awesome person in the world.”
Q: He plays a sort of Sensei?
Zack: Sort of. It all folds back around on itself. So, in the end, you’re like, “Oh, okay.” But, yes. For practical purposes, he’s Babydoll’s Yoda.
Q: You’re making a gritty, violent but female-driven story. Can you talk about who you hope the film will appeal to?
Zack: Well, I hope the film will appeal to everybody. Hopefully boys won’t see the images and say, “I don’t want to watch that. I don’t want to see a bunch of girls shooting machine guns!”
Deborah: Orcs and samurai and all these creatures.
Q: Orcs like Tolkien orcs?
Zack: Sort of Tolkien orcs.
Q: How many genres are there in this film?
Zack: I don’t know if I can give you a list, but I can tell you that, really, for me it was just about the whole dreaming concept and just, “Why not?” I’m all about, “Here’s a bigger mecha and the samurai are like ten feet tall! How about that? How cool would that be? And maybe one of the samurai has a G minigun. And maybe one of the Samurai has a rocket launcher.
Q: So it’s more like, “What genres aren’t in this film?”
Zack: Hmm. Romantic comedy? English period piece? Western?
Q: I think samurai counts as a Western.
Zack: Ha! Nice.
Q: You guys are set now on not releasing in 3D. Was that a hard decision to come to?
Zack: I think it has a little to do, for me anyway, with not wanting this movie to feel like it was made in a boardroom because it really wasn’t. Warner Bros. has given us an awesome opportunity and they themselves didn’t want to cheapen that.
Deborah: They saw the first visuals and knew that it really didn’t need it.
Zack: They thought, “This movie is out of its mind.”
Deborah: It would hurt us more than it would help us. We really didn’t have faith that we could it, especially after working “Guardians,” which is made in 3D.
Zack: And is awesome 3D… Once we had been spoiled by the kind of baked in 3D that we had created for “Guardians” where every bit of it is perfectly rendered. We’d have to kind of go against something that was as good as it can be. That’s the qualifier. It’s cool this way, but if we shot in 3D, it’s way cooler. You can just do the 3D vibe from the version. And I’m like, “I don’t want a 3D vibe.”
Deborah: I think there’s enough ways not to do it out there and, to Warners’ credit, they were really supportive in not wanting to screw it up either.
Q: We’ve seen images and toys of the big mecha bunny. What is the significance of this to the girls?
Zack: It’s just awesome.
Deborah: But there’s a significance in the bunny as well. A lot of things play in the different levels of reality. We tried to use pieces. Think about it. When you dream, a lot of times it might not be a total picture but, if you’re stressed out about something, you get pieces and little hints of things. That’s what we wanted to do. The bunny is actually Babydoll’s sister’s toy that’s on her bed. Something tragic happens to her, so I think it’s very haunting.
Zack: But the mecha itself if just awesome.
Q: In the footage you showed, you had Led Zeppelin in there, but mentioned that you may not get the rights.
Zack: No, we got the rights. We just had to show it all to them.
Deborah: It’s funny. Years ago, you didn’t have to go and license any music for Comic-Con. But I think there was a lawsuit last year and Warner said, “Anything you show, we have to license everything.” We thought, “We’re never going to get them. Zeppelin never does this.” And we were like, “Please, please, please!” and just couldn’t believe it. It’s just so perfect. In case we couldn’t get it, they showed us ten different things.
Zack: And we were like, [error buzzer]!
Q: What was the other music in the clip?
Deborah: Lords of Acid.
Q: Can you give us a quick update on Xerxes?
Zack: I don’t know if they said it in the article, but I’m using Frank [Miller’s] frame to kind of whack at this. I’m using the same process that Kurt [Johnstad] and I used when we wrote “300” except that sometimes we don’t have any images. We’re a little bit ahead of him right now. But we have his outline. We have dialogue. It’s pretty detailed. We might have to double-back once we get the artwork if there’s something cool, which there certainly will be. It follows Themistocles and the battle of Artemisium, which is basically a sea battle that took place on the exact same three days as Thermopylae. So it’s kind of a parallel story. But it kind of starts before “300” and goes past it.
Sucker Punch hits theaters on March 25, 2011. Check back soon for our exclusive interview with stars Emily Browning and Jamie Chung.