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In director Zack Snyder?s new action fantasy Sucker Punch, due in theaters March 25, Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish, and Vanessa Hudgens (above) are among a group of girls unjustly incarcerated inside a cruel and unusual mental institution. It's up to Emily Browning's Babydoll to lead her fellow prisoners in a daring, dangerous escape attempt. Their weaponry: pure imagination... plus a fair amount of sexuality and artillery. Imagine One Flew Over the Cuckoo?s Nest meets Brazil... and then imagine all of Comic-Con whipped in a blender and drizzled on top of it, and you have the hyper-pop noodle-cooker that is Sucker Punch. EW recently asked Zack Snyder — whose previous flicks include the fanboy faves Dawn of the Dead, 300, and Watchmen — to take us behind the scenes and explain his vision.
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Former High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens grows up in Sucker Punch — and got to work with a whole different kind of Zac(k). You won't hear her sing in the movie, though the film is wall-to-wall with inventively arranged rock/pop classics likes Eurhythmics' ''Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)'' (sung by Browning) and Björk's ''Army of Me.''
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Browning (Lemony Snicket?s A Series of Unfortunate Events) and Malone (Saved!) train for Sucker Punch's many fight sequences. Snyder initially saw the movie, which he wrote with Steve Shibuya (marking Snyder's first original screenplay), as a heady, haughty meta-commentary about various aspects of show business itself. Early drafts of the script were ''very self-reflexive,'' says Snyder, with the movie ironically commenting and critiquing its action and the dark turns the characters take, as well as the anticipated reaction of the audience. ''That's what drove it at the start,'' says Snyder. ''But the more I worked on it, the drama and the characters took over. I didn't want to be too pretentious about it all. It's a cool theme, but it was also like 'Okay, Snyder, quit your ranting!'''
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Browning flies into battle — said battle to be painted in later by the film's computer animators. Snyder says he's been kicking around the idea of the Babydoll character for nearly a decade. In many ways, the action-flick maestro considers Sucker Punch his first ''real'' action movie. He offers an explanation in the new book Sucker Punch: The Art of the Film, published by Titan Books: ''While all my previous feature work contains action of one kind or another, Dawn of the Dead is a horror film, 300 is a war film, Watchmen is overwhelmingly a drama, and Legend of the Guardians is an adventure film at its core. But in Sucker Punch, the action sequences are integral to Babydoll's emotional and mental journey.''
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The sexy courtesan dances in Sucker Punch are never shown. Instead, they are metaphorically imagined as outrageous fight sequences full of sci-fi and fantasy imagery. In one sequence, Babydoll and her team storm a castle under siege from monstrous Lord of the Rings-esque orcs and tangle with a fire-breathing dragon. Snyder (here with Malone) wanted to — and was obligated to — deliver a PG-13 film. While there is no nudity or sex and very little blood in Sucker Punch, the intensity of the sexual themes and fighting kept earning him an R rating from the MPAA. Snyder says it took him about seven passes — and cutting 18 minutes of fighting alone — to finally get a PG-13.
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Snyder dresses one of his orcs. Because he can.