So, I suppose it is my job to write all the more nerd controversial posts on this blog. Such is my fate and I have accepted your nerd rage. Between the new Wonder Woman costume and the Twilight fixation it is about time I tackled this week’s Rage Quit.
This past weekend I was very excited to go out with both Caitlin and Adam to view the reportedly controversial film “Sucker Punch”.
**WARNING: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THIS POST.**
Normally I know what to expect going into a Zack Snyder movie. He draws from other source material, likes to make very long and beautiful music videos, er, “sequences” and usually loves the material so much he accidentally squeezes the head right off of it. I like to call this “Of Mice and Men and Zack Snyder Syndrome”. He’s got a big ol’ boner for comics, so his major projects are almost always comic source material, the biggest of his career of course being “300” and “Watchmen”. His next big project is of course “Superman: Man of Steel”. Starting to see a theme here? If not, get out. I have no use for you.
So with all this knowledge in mind I was super excited at the idea of seeing a Zack Snyder film that was not based on a comic book. Little did I realize that rather than being based on a proper graphic novel, this film was, in its own right, a filmed graphic novel. I was more than pleasantly suprised as a result. “Sucker Punch” was one of the most highly anticipated films with materials at Comic-Con last year. People were so incredibly excited for this mix of psychology and epic battle badassery that the nerd rage associated with “Watchmen” seemed to disipate almost instantaniously. While reviews have been mixed and box office has been crap I still think its worth taking the time to talk about media translation of the material and why, overall, if you are a graphic novel fan, this is the film for you.
Let’s start at the very beginning. (A very good place to start…)
Graphic novel influence outside of the printed book is VERY rare to see and very very rarely done well. And when I say graphic novel I dont mean your basic DCU and Marvel stuff. Comic and Graphic Novel are two very different genres. Comic books have these universes set up with huge scopes and intermingling characters who, while having their stories to tell, are still based within these worlds. X-Men, Justice League, the Avengers, Teen Titans… all of their major interlooping stories such as “Civil War” or “Infinite Crisis” all have their basis in their comic base lore. Graphic novels are stories that you need to see in order to have the correct impact that the author wants to share. Not to say that these stories are in any way greater than what you read in the comic vein, they are just different. Often darker or more fantastical, graphic novels bring to life just what their titles suggest, the graphic nature of the story. The pained faces, the ultra violence, the impact of these happenings on their characters… reading about a broken individual is much different than seeing one. And thats why graphic novels and film seem to go so hand in hand with each other. They are stories that are meant to have a visual effect.
This of course comes with draw backs. Ever hear people say, “The movie was good, but the book was better”? I have never left a movie based on a graphic novel without hearing those words uttered by patrons at least 3 or 4 times just within my listening radius. Despite their similarities, these two genres have a very hard time mixing in an effective way. It would make sense then, one would think, to take the graphic novel influences to make a movie, rather than just make a movie out of a graphic novel, yes?
So lets take a look at some of the bigger graphic novel influences.
So I’m going to begin with some pretty basic, but none the less super important, titles. If you have not read any of them, get on it. They’re brilliant.
When looking at the graphic novel universe outside of Marvel or the DCU, two names normally come to mind, Frank Miller and Alan Moore. They write novels, in the truest sense of the word. You can feel free to fight me on that, but most people start out their graphic novel experiences with one of these two authors’ titles. They are also all stand alone titles, as compared to series (arguably Sin City is a series, but Miller has said that he wrote them each as independent noir books rather than issue by issue set up; you do not need to have read the others to jump in with the 4th or 5th book).
Miller is famous for his blood/sex drenched modern noir “Sin City” books as well as the critically acclaimed “300” which is veeeeery loosely based on the Spartians struggle against the Persians at the battle of Thermopylae. Alan Moore is best known for his chaotically profound works of vigilantism, “V for Vendetta” and “Watchmen”.
I think its very interesting/worth noting that out of the four of these novels, Zack Snyder has directed the movie versions of at least two, “300” and “Watchmen”.
These works are all graphically stunning pieces of work which draw you into a world of chaos, danger and deception. In all, people who are considered heros make decisions that shake the foundations of base morality. In “Watchmen” heros decide that the only way to save the world is to destroy half of it. In “Sin City” the hardened folk of the town go around fighting corruption by saving deadly hookers and killing corrupt law officials. In these novels it is very hard to tell who the man in the white hat and the man and the black hat are. Their universes exist in a haze of grey at all times.
On top of this, women are very rarely written well by either of these two men. They’re all hookers, sluts, dependants or bitches. In “Sin City” all the women are beaten, abused, hookers or the villains of the piece. “Vendetta” shows us a woman who is completely abused and shell shocked by her male mentor so that she proceeds to follow blindly in his footsteps. While the intensions are nobel, it is still an incredibly abusive relationship. With “300”, we see a warlord Queen sell her body for the vote of a petty senate member who betrays her. And with “Watchmen” we see a female vigilante, the Silk Spectre, born of the idea of being a sex symbol who is later in the novel brutally raped by a team member. Then we have her daughter, Silk Spectre II, who goes the opposite route being an uninteresting, nasty, bitter “independent” woman who, at the same time, has been in some kind of relationship emotionally dependent relationship since she was 16 years old, (first with the all powerful Dr. Manhattan and then before that was even over, the more controllable Night Owl).
So with all these influences floating around in his head, Zack Snyder said “Hey, you know what I want to do? I actually want to make a movie about female empowerment, but in a strange chaotic universe where by merely imagining it these strong ladies create kick ass ways to fight back against their oppressors through the power of music.”
And so he did.
So lets get into the meat and potatoes of this discussion. With all these ideas and influences running around in his head, this is the first original conception that Zack Snyder has ever done. As a result, he essentially wrote his own graphic novel. Mr Snyder gave us a story that, had it been written, drawn and inked first, would probably be being given critical acclaim right now instead of mixed reviews. However on that note, there is no way that this story could have been told correctly on paper. It had to be in film. And so here we have our connundrum ladies and gents. This movie is the perfectly filmed graphic novel that never was a graphic novel.
The story is very simple. A young girl is submitted to a women’s mental institution by her evil step father and the corrupt asylum owner where she has 5 days to escape before a doctor arrives to lobotomize her.
**Steven Spielberg used to say that all good film plots could be summed up in one sentence.**
It is simple. It is elegant. And from this foundation it is about building something fantastical. A story that can only be told by visuals. Snyder Inceptions the crap out of this piece by creating mental worlds within worlds to stand in for the atrocities happening around the main character, Babydoll.
The girls are all refered to by “cutesy” names which are representative of what the clearly sexually abusive Warden calls them, Babydoll, Sweet Pea, Blondie, Rocket and Amber. In any other setting these would be 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon stripper names, yet Snyder gives them a sense of softness and delicacy. They sound more like sorority sister nicknames when the girls use them.
Babydoll, immediately upon incarseration, inserts herself into a mental world where the girls ARE “special dancers” of sorts, therefore creating this world of glitter and lust instead of the real one of presumed grays, dirt, grit and misery. Babydoll’s world of sex and violence is still better than the original because it is a performance. She is in control of her own performance, just not the performances of those around her. And when things in this made up world become too dificult, specifically when she has to dance for men, another world is created that she has complete controll in. The world of her rescue, where she and her friends are the heros, kicking ass and taking names.
In the world of the asylum, they have no control as human beings. They are at the mercy of not only the Warden and Doctor Vera Gorski, but also their own mental anguishes. In the world of gloss and sex they have control as women, through their sexuality and their cunning. Each task to gather one of the items they need for their escape has the girls playing upon their feminine charm to distract the men of the community, the Warden, the Cook and their patrons. In the world of combat, the dance within the dance if you will, they have control as men, (in the representational sense). They become warriors, taking on positions that were normally held by males throughout time, a samurai, a knight, a WWII pilot, a guerrilla fighter and a military gunner. They fight for complete control in these roles that represent who they are and give them what they need to survive.
Babydoll holds their martial discipline. Sweet Pea represents honor. Amber is their leap of faith. Rocket is the imagination of the corps. Blondie is the intelectual fury.
It is through what they do in these worlds that they are able to bring these skills into the real world to do what they need to do to escape the asylum. It starts as a tune in their heads and it translates into the world around them. Some of these traits are too much for them in the real world. Some of them lead to ultimate sacrifice. But it is what builds these girls into women and these women into powerhouses to be reconned with. In the end even Doctor Gorski notices and she too takes up these mantles.
It is these visuals coupled with the interactions of characters that make the film really ring true. And if everything had been accentuated to its full potential within these themes the film would have been 4 hours long.
It is not completely unreasonable to think that if Snyder had written this out in book form it would be celebrated like the stories of Moore and Miller. It would be one of the better representations of women in a graphic novel genre.
So if you’re a big ol’ fan of the visual novella, check this film out. They were not wrong to plug this the way they did at Comic Con last year. It really is amazing to see, especially on the big screen.