Looking at the surface of Zack Snyder's filmography, it's easy to suggest that he's a director with a lot of flash but not so much substance. All of his films thus far have originated from pre-existing texts, feature muscular visuals, and are primarily appealing as bombastic crowd pleasers. But if you're willing to look deeper, all of them have more to say than the sum total of their technically-proficient parts: 'Dawn of the Dead' creates new suspense out of old tropes; '300' combines classical mythmaking with modern moviemaking; 'Watchmen' uses the façade of a superhero movie to make a sophisticated pop culture satire; and 'Legend of the Guardians' razes the notion that talking-animal movies aren't just for kids. And judging by preliminary photos, promotional trailers, and most importantly, a visit to the set, Snyder's next film, 'Sucker Punch,' promises to be his most complex and provocative yet.

Cinematical joined a small group of journalists in Vancouver in December 2009 for a tour of the production offices. In addition to watching one of the film's wild fight scenes get shot, we ran through a rough synopsis of much of the film with producer Deborah Snyder (Zack's wife), and interviewed several members of the cast and crew, including Snyder himself. In the weeks to come, look for additional comments about 'Sucker Punch' from Snyder and his impressive ensemble of kick-ass ladies. But in the meantime, check out a few highlights from the visit that will offer some clues about what to expect when the film is released on March 25, 2011.

1. Despite early clips featuring a pastiche of different pop culture influences, 'Sucker Punch' is an original story, written by Snyder himself.

Snyder is a student and a champion of pop culture and cinematic postmodernism, and the film feels like a combination – and culmination – of all of the influences and inspirations he borrowed from in the past. Via dream sequences and empowerment fantasies of the female characters, the ensemble squares off in a World War I where giant anime-inspired mecha loom ominously over battlefield trenches, a Middle Earth over which dragons face down helicopters, and otherwise unimposing young women possess skills and abilities that go literally beyond their – and your - wildest imagination.



2. Snyder's speed-ramping cinematography goes unrestrained in 'Sucker Punch,' but it also gets focused more sharply than ever.

The theatrical trailer offers too many moments where time speeds up and slows down to keep track of any kind of real physical or temporal momentum, but the film as a whole is engineered to maximize Snyder's agile, florid visual style. As both the director and screenwriter (along with Steve Shibuya), Snyder is not merely adapting his visuals to suit the text, he's engineering them to work together. And while I won't spoil what feels likely to be the most talked-about shot in the film, he manages to gloriously fuse form and content by using green screen and segmented sets and other sorts of technical trickery to allow his camera to move over, under, and get inside the action.

3. Without having seen the finished film, we can't judge how well 'Sucker Punch' comes together, but the combination of a visionary filmmaker creating an original work is significant.

In 2010, Christopher Nolan used the leverage he gained from turning 'The Dark Knight' into a commercial and critical smash to make 'Inception,' a groundbreaking, invigorating thrill ride that was all the more accomplished because it was completely original. Studios seldom bankroll new or original works because unlike adaptations, remakes or sequels, they don't carry any recognition value – meaning commercial potential – via anything except the pedigrees of the filmmakers involved. But after three successful films at Warner Brothers, Snyder is taking a similar opportunity to not simply indulge his creativity, but to shape it into something unique. And almost regardless of the outcome, there's something exciting about a big-budget movie coming out that is both original, and which promises more than conventional thrills.