Sunday, March 3, 2013

Book Review: The Art of Sucker Punch!

I’ve declared my love for Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch plenty of times in the past. It’s a wildly divisive film, but it does have its fans, who are slowly growing in number as more people discover it. I always liken it in my mind to Disney’s Fantasia, i.e. an experimental, visually striking series of loosely connected music videos that not everybody wants to sit through. But if you can find a way to approach it then there’s plenty to appreciate. You simply have to be willing to submit to the journey.

We can probably at least agree that the design is a driving force behind the film so I was absolutely thrilled when our dear friends at Titan Books sent me a glorious hardback copy of The Art of Sucker Punch. I adore film art books in general, and this is a perfect film to study more closely and maybe we can even learn something along the way.

So, if you’re a fan, help me unravel Sucker Punch... after the jump!

Print will never die as long as there are art books. No screen can adequately convey the thrill of seeing art beautifully reproduced on the printed page. When shelf space is at a premium, I want high quality keepsakes, and Titan rarely disappoints in that department. And I like that this book is wider than it is tall, which brings it closer to replicating the film’s frame.

There’s not an awful lot of text here but the good news is that it’s all written by director/writer Zack Snyder. I’m a fan of his films and am most interested in what he has to say about his own work. At this point any information that helps shed light on Sucker Punch’s concepts and creation is welcomed. In this book I certainly enjoyed reading about Snyder’s passion for his first personal project, but I must concede that the ideas are still a little muddied. As Zack points out, at its core the film is about a fragile, emotionally troubled girl in an asylum who escapes into her imagination. The problem is that she imagines the asylum is a high class brothel, which she then imagines becomes dangerous fantasy battlegrounds. It feels like perhaps one too many layers there and we become so detached from reality that it’s difficult to find the stakes. If you’re in one shitty, degrading situation why spend time imagining you’re in a different, shitty degrading situation? You almost have to entirely push past this premise to be able to enjoy the film, and while I’m willing to do that, I can understand that others aren’t. For some reason I still find it fascinating. 

The introduction is one of the best bits, with a range of imaginative art by Alex Pardee. Something that really struck me about seeing the initial character concept art for the first time was that it’s not all the photorealistic paintings/design that we often see in this type of book. Instead a lot of it seems influenced by tattoo art, or manga, or graphic novels. At times it’s quite loose. These are not designs that are held back by any concern for practicality, but rather seem to be about capturing a distinct feeling or flavour. It certainly reflects the spirit of the film where the over-the-top visuals and ideas tend to trump traditional storytelling.

The rest of the art is all laid out in a very orderly fashion. The initial third focuses on each individual character, providing a few pages on each with some thoughts from Snyder. The production art is sparse here, with each girl only getting a few costume designs/concepts, the rest being film stills. What is included is wonderful, but if no other art was available then it might have been nice to see more behind-the-scenes photography to make this book a little more exclusive. Not that the characters aren't great to look at!

The latter two-thirds of the book are broken up into the various worlds, illustrating the various sets and inhabitants (clockwork zombie soldiers, the robot bunny) as well as the more memorable set pieces (the dragon battle, and giant samurai versus minigun). The film is a sensory overload so I appreciate the opportunity to examine things more closely. I respect the fact that a talented artist has spent hours carving sculptural detail into a mask that might only flash across the screen for a fraction of a second. I especially loved seeing the detailed tattoo style art that runs along Babydoll’s sword. There’s no shortage of material in this latter part of the book, with everything from early pencil sketches to lavish finished paintings. There’s plenty to dig into and the concepts are all pretty wild. My love is pretty unabashed when it comes to these parts.

If you're a fan then I definitely recommend this. If anything it makes me really want to watch the film again. I still love you, Sucker Punch!

You can grab The Art of Sucker Punch from Titan's site, and they even have this limited edition that has a signed print by Alex Pardee and is signed by Zack Snyder! Holy crap - I might have to get that...

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