So those of you who read my review, Top 5 Sci-fi Films To Look Out For in 2013, will know that I have been patiently waiting for the release of Branded for sometime. Maybe because my expectations were so high or the fact that I'd seen the trailer too many times, but the film did not quite hit the mark.
Set in the not distant future in Moscow, Russia, Branded tells the story of a successful marketing genius, Misha (Ed Stoppard). He is a part of the governing presence of advertising in Russia, ultimately controlling what the people buy, do and think. He and his girlfriend, Abby (Leelee Sobieski) team up to produce a reality TV show, similar to Extreme Makeover, where an overweight guest undergoes plastic surgery to achieve beautification. The show garners immense attention by the public but everything goes awry when after the surgery is completed and the girl fails to wake up. The public is outraged by the producers and Misha flees the city to escape his marketing wrongdoings. Years later, after a
strange incident, he returns to Moscow only to find that "fat" is fashionable and advertising has triumphed, the people powerless to its commanding effect. Misha, seeing the consumer desires actually manifested as physical creatures growing from people, devises a plan to rid the world from advertising once and for all.
Okay, so the movie to me had two distinct chapters. The first half was very relatable to modern society with advertising controlling how the populous thinks. The second half of the film suddenly introduces a sci-fi aspect, which is completely unwarranted and
just plain weird. The film trailer especially seemed to concentrate on these "consumer creatures" so as a viewer I expected this aspect to be more prevalent throughout, as a result the first half of the film seemed rather lengthy. The creatures themselves looked ridiculous, some looked like balloon animals while others looked liked hairy amoebas, had Nuremberg scissor bodies or were giant soft drink bottles transformed into colossal insect beasts. They were never clarified and one can only assume they were a metaphorical hallucination by Misha (the best reasoning I could come up with). Other peculiar happenings in the film like the moving star constellation, the cow ritual and the unexplained bolts of lightning further confounded the story.
The movie to me seemed to not make up its mind which genres and film styles it wanted to execute, not really doing either of them any justice. Don't get me wrong, I love mixed-genre films. Tarantino does this superbly but he delivers a genre, like a kung-fu film or a Western, to its meticulous cliché and then adds his personal touches. Branded however did not accomplish the sci-fi genre well, with only fleeting glimpses at dystopian themes and the supernatural. Additionally, a narrative was frequently heard incessantly informing us dim-witted viewers the details of the story that we were simultaneously witnessing on screen. The narrative was purposeless making scenes tiresome and over-explained. The flashbacks, in 4:3 screen ratio, were a nice quirky touch but the whimsical effect took away from the seriousness of the film.
Branded has been compared to John Carpenter's satire, They Live!, where the world has been taken over by aliens and advertising literally controls the masses. Carpenter's film however took the comedic route, over-exaggerating themes of control to be funny yet applicable. Branded also neglected to take the serious approach and follow the dystopian oppression path like films Nineteen Eighty-Four, Dark City or Brazil. It could have been a really dark, brooding movie but was instead a bit of a jack-of-all-trades mess.
Okay, criticisms aside, I did enjoy the story. Not including the "creatures", the plot was intriguing and to me quite illuminating into the world of marketing, especially with the Russian setting. I
agreed with the themes of advertising dictating consumer society and loved the blatant references in the film to corporate global brands; it was a bit contemptible but highly amusing. Some of these imitated brands included Yepple (Apple), Vipsache (Versace), Obbidas (Adidas), Johnny Vodker (Johnny Walker), Soda Soda (Coca-Cola), Giant Soft (Microsoft) and the infamous The Burger (a blatant attack at McDonalds). The characters were well acted although the script was not riveting. The CGI was below par but adequate by my standards. The sound design was mostly good, mainly the creature sounds, but I did notice faults in terms of the dialogue and bad ADR syncing.
For all my disparaging observations of this film, I was still satisfactorily entertained. I liked the story, the acting was good, and despite the "creatures" and certain technical inadequacies, the film was a decent watch. I could tell that these first time directors were inexperienced and either had time restrictions, budget difficulties or an untrained crew to properly fulfill their lofty intentions. I have high hopes for their next effort. I'd give Branded a 6 out of 10.
Directed by Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulerayn. Written by Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulerayn. Starring Ed Stoppard, Leelee Sobieski, Jeffrey Tambor, Max von Sydow, Mariya Ignatova, Roman Petrenko etc. Country: USA, Russia Language: English, Russian