Sunday, March 27, 2011

Yeah, yeah yeah: spoilers.

Two thoughts occurred to me as I watched the beautiful disaster known as “Suckerpunch.”

First was “How much CGI does a movie have to have before it’s considered as animated or mostly animated?”

The second was “How did Zack Snyder pitch this movie to the money guys?”

I was looking forward to the film, based on its rather outstanding visuals and, I must admit, its cast of beautiful women kicking ass in action sequences. I wasn’t prepared by any of the film’s marketing to expect a half-baked film with a film within a film that is ultimately some sort of statement about personal freedom.

Emily Browning plays a young woman whose loses his her mother and in the course of defending herself and her sister against the advances of an evil stepfather, kills her younger sister. She is then hustled into an insane asylum where the step-dad bribes an orderly to have her lobotomized in five days before the police can start investigating – even though the cops have started their inquiry.

It is this moment in the plot – about 15 minutes in – that for me the film fell part. The idea the step-dad could do this is completely illogical. Now in light of this film being some sort of anthem for personal freedom and choices – supposedly – I guess anything is possible, but the set-up doesn’t work.

Once inside the asylum, our heroine, dubbed “Baby Doll,” participates in a therapy involving theater. Through that she imagines she is being held captive at a combination burlesque house and brothel. While there during the course of a dance, she is transported to another fantasy dimension where she encounters Scott Glenn as some sort of wise man. He instructs her how she can escape.

So every time she dances, she and her fellow prisoners are in this fantasy dimension and Glenn’s character sends them on some sort of mission. This mission is a parallel to what is happening in the dance club and in the asylum (although we never see the action in the asylum).

These action sequences are pretty amazing to watch but they don’t carry any dramatic weight because they are a fantasy. If we were seeing the action in the asylum we could possibly feel something for the characters.

The conclusion is that Baby Doll doesn’t escape. She is lobotomized, but one of the fellow inmates escaped thanks to her efforts. That woman manages to get to the bus station where the kindly old drive – Scott Glenn – covers for her when the cops start looking.

Cue a CGI landscape with the bus rolling off and a voice-over blathering about choices and freedom.


I would have loved to have listened to Snyder explain how he was going to make this “personal” film about personal freedom and cut a trailer that made it look like a women in prison action movie on steroids.

Or did the success of “300” and “Watchmen” – which cost $120 million to film and made $185 million world-wide in theaters, not a huge success – give the director carte blanche? “Watchmen” was essentially an expensive art house film for comic fans. “300” was a silly film whose tone reminded me of one of those men’s magazines from my youth with covers featuring half-naked women Nazis and bare-chested heroes.

In any event, any success this film will have will be from its cleverly edited trailer and not from word-of-mouth. The audience with which I saw it was pretty much glassy-eyed by the end. They clearly wondered what they had experienced and not in a good way.

On the question of animation, I’m fearful someone at the Academy of Motion Pictures Art and Sciences will be asked to start considering movies for the animation classification if the majority of the footage is created in the computer rather than the soundstage, such as this one. While I have nothing against CGI films – I re-watched “Sky Captain” recently and confirmed just how much I loved that film – I think sooner or later someone is going to look at these kind of films in a different way.

Perhaps the producers of these CGI-heavy films will take a similar stance to that of Robert Semeckis who claims his motion capture technique has no relationship to rotoscoping – right.

In any event avoid “Suckerpunch” like the plague.

© Gordon Michael Dobbs 2011