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A Tenuous Human Connection

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While it’s not out of the ordinary for a film to change in the cutting room, or even change significantly, it’s relatively rare for entire concepts that were in the original script to be shot and then done away with. Regrettably, due to the MPAA or otherwise, this is case with Sucker Punch. The original concept called for dance routines for each character, five in all plus a group number, but in the final cut only one has survived and it has been relegated to the final credits. This results in a film with a subconscious. There is a palpable feeling of something missing and several scenes where extras are standing in the background waiting for something to happen which tragically for them, never will.


When pre-production on the film began and Marius De Vries, music director of Moulin Rouge, was hired, in addition to choreographer Paul Becker, most journalists assumed the film would be part musical. Becker was not present at the film’s junket in Los Angeles, but during a 14 March 2011 interview he described the Sucker Punch’s dance sequences, apparently unaware that they would not be in the final film, “Each female lead in the film has a persona and objective. We meshed the objective and persona of each character to the tone and concept of each dance. Because the film takes place in a brothel it calls for these huge production numbers.”


Those interviewed characterized the absence of the “huge production numbers” as part of the creative process, not the wasting of precious shooting time and budget dollars. Snyder explained the omissions by saying, “It undercuts the seriousness of the movie. What I wanted to do was create this sequence where you would look at this scene and go, ‘Wow, it’s fun to be in this club. I guess the girls are being prostituted, but it’s still fun!’ But then the sequence ends with the girls crying and you’re like, ‘Oh, fuck. I’m a jerk.’”


Jena Malone, who played Rocket, said, “I did a sci-fi nurse zombie pole dance. Look for the director’s cut, I think you’ll be satisfied with that and so shall we. We all worked really hard on these dances that we got to do and they’re very fulfilling.” Carla Gugino reacted by saying, “They [the dance sequences] really were very key. I think down the road you’ll eventually see it in the body of the movie.” Carla’s counterpart, Oscar Isaac said, “At the time it [our dance] was, as scripted, in the middle of the film and uh, as we worked on it, it would start to reveal all these levels of what our relationship may have been.”


Music producer Marius De Vries offered the clearest explanation for the removal of the dance sequences when he said, “We had an awful lot of possible strategies. Zack wanted to be adventurous and be able to experiment and didn’t want to commit up front to one particular way of doing this [...] There were songs that were actually shot as performance pieces because we wanted to see how far into that theatricalized level of reality which is one of her delusions, how far we could go and not break the turn of the movie. And the answer to that is not as far as we thought.” Although it’s difficult to believe that six elaborate dance sequences were scored, shot and then cut because Snyder “didn’t want to commit up front” we will probably never know the final explanation.


A bright spot in the film is the soundtrack. It weaves in and through the narrative and helps support the relatively detail free storyline. The best moment is the extremely heavy remix of Bjork’s “Army of Me” from her album, Post. De Vries was one of the producers on the 1995 record, probably explaining the song’s inclusion in the film. When asked about a soundtrack made up of covers he said, “The vast majority of what’s in here are covers and the reason that they’re covers is that we felt that it would be impossible to take any of the original productions and just needle drop them into these scenes and have them tell the story in as a sophisticated and precise a way as we needed them to.”


Co-Music Producer and long-time Snyder collaborator Tyler Bates followed up De Vries by saying, “This is Zack’s original story and I think he didn’t want the songs to overpower the movie as much as he wanted them to lift it and support it. Also, it gave us the opportunity to tailor them so they were specifically in the style of what Zack was projecting on screen, his storytelling. I think if it was just dropping covers in there it wouldn’t be as special.” 


The Bjork song is the only original recording on the album, although it’s been heavily altered and is almost two minutes longer. “I’ve done a lot of movies where songs have been used in this way, for storytelling, but this is perhaps the only one where almost every song has been specifically designed and re-recorded and re-tooled,” said De Vries. The other songs that are covered, mostly by the cast of the film, are by a diverse array of artists including The Stooges, The Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, The Pixies, The Smiths, Queen, and Roxy Music. There is also a version of the Annie Lennox song Sweet Dreams sung by Emily Browning that makes you wonder what the film would have been like if it had stayed a musical.


At a point during one of Sucker Punch’s action sequences a young doughboy is seen sitting in the trenches, presumably exhausted, his head down and helmet covering his face. Baby Doll stops for a second and leans over, lifting his helmet so that she can see his eyes. They are tear filled and a deep brown and she gazes into them, transfixed. This part of the film is never explained, but it serves as a reminder of what cinema, even pop-cinema, can be. It also shows by contrast to the rest of the film what an unwieldly, unforgiving medium big-budget motion pictures can become.


Just watch Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse or read any of the numerous accounts of failed big budget movies. Will Sucker Punch fail at the box office? No, it’s too loud and pretty to do so. However, if that is the only criteria for the success of a film, then there would be no need for moments like the one in the trenches, a moment where a human connection was made.

George Russell is a writer living and working in Los Angeles. His PopMatters essays have appeared in an anthology published by W.W. Norton. He can be reached at russell@popmatters.com.


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