In the Nineties, movies like Judgment Night, Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers and The Crow were accompanied by hugely popular soundtracks – though latey, many films' soundtracks have seemed like afterthoughts. Not so for Zack Snyder's new film Sucker Punch – about five women trying to escape from an insane asylum –whose assortment of covers, remixes and mash-ups, many of which feature contributions from the cast, were consciously assembled as an "event soundtrack."
Snyder is a fan of reinterpreting other musicians' work in his films; his Watchmen soundtrack also featured a couple of notable covers. "If you go with the original song, you just get the moment. But if you go with covers you also get all of the baggage you bring to it," he tells Rolling Stone. "I like the baggage. It kind of resonates and rings across time, it's not just of the moment."
Early in the film, star Emily Browning's haunting rendition of Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" perfectly sets the scene that unfolds around it. "Emily's contributions throughout the film, adding colors to some of the other songs, led to her singing the full version of 'Sweet Dreams,'" says soundtrack co-producer/composer Tyler Bates, a longtime Snyder collaborator. "When Zack heard that, he was like, 'That's it. We should really push that and have her tell the story.' [Emily's] first line of dialogue is actually 27 minutes into the film so it is an interesting way to introduce her character."
Bates collaborated on composing the soundtrack's score and cover arrangements with industry vet Marius de Vries (Moulin Rouge), who told us that Snyder's original script included moments in which the characters sang. Though the idea didn't make it into the final cut, it helped set the tone of the film.
"I think it's clever, the way Zack approached this," de Vries said. "It was never going to be an opera, or even going to be a musical. It was very unlikely even to have any 'break into song' moments within it, but the fact that we designed it so that it could I think gives it that sort of strange, music-driven resonance. Underneath it all there is this sort of operatic structure. Even though the arias aren't stated explicitly, in their absence you can still sort of feel them."
The film's key action sequences take place in an alternate version of reality that is woven into yet another alternate reality in which the asylum is a brothel. Each action sequence is bracketed by four cuts from the soundtrack: a Björk/Skunk Anansie remix of "Army of Me," a blistering cover of Iggy Pop's "Search and Destroy" from Skunk Anansie, a spaced-out version of The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" with Alison Mosshart and Carla Azar and Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" sung by Emiliana Torrini, highlighted by a big orchestrations and a rock & roll edge.
Bates considers Torrini's cover to be a standout. "'White Rabbit' I think was really the truest example of taking the song and expanding the original arrangement to the point where we left all of the relative elements of the song in its pop form behind," he says. "I just basically used the first verse vocal melody as a theme that I carried through the whole bunker sequence."
The Jefferson Airplane tune was a Snyder pick from the earliest days of the film's pre-production period. "I felt like that song, the psychedelic sort of Sixties drug trip song, was perfect for our World War I [action sequence] where there are these girls with machine guns and mechs and madness," he says. "The whole thing's like a trip anyway."
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