Taglines on movie posters are iffy things. They are there to grab your attention if the image on the poster can’t pull that off on its own, with words that are supposed to get you excited as it toots the horn of the film that might not deserve to even have a horn capable of being tooted. Just look at the tagline for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which claims that the movie is “An epic of epic epicness.” Pretty big tooting going on right? Wait… Anyway… This is definitely one of those times that the tagline gives the right amount of hype that the film deserves. It is indeed of the epic proportion.
Scott Pilgrim takes its story from a series of graphic novels created by Bryan Lee O’Malley (go read them now!), and it goes a little something like this: Scott Pilgrim is dating a high schooler until one day a girl named Ramona Flowers comes along and becomes a strong infatuation for him. Eventually they start dating, but in order to keep dating her he has to do much more than your average Joe. You see, Ramona comes with the baggage of leaving a trail of victims in her wake, seven evil exes to be exact. Now Scott Pilgrim must defeat all of them to get his happily ever after with her.
As far as book to film conversions go, this is easily one of my favorites. Then again, a lot of the graphic novel to film conversions go over pretty well with me. 300 and Watchmen were both great films in my opinion, but I could watch both of those films on mute and still sit in awe thanks to the beautifully recreated imagery from the source material at the hands of Zack Snyder. The imagery from the Scott Pilgrim novels is great in its own right, but they do not have the same visually stunning effect that the two previously mentioned films have. Instead it must pull from a grander bag of varying tricks.
There are more than enough recognizable images coming straight out of the books, but in order to bring Scott Pilgrim to the big screen, Edgar Wright does more than just translate the images into a live action motion comic, all the while paying homage to the source material and original medium. The editing goes all out in order to reproduce the experience of reading multiple panels on the pages of the books through the use of quick edits and transitions from one scene to the next, as well as split screens and the like. Because of this the flow keeps the viewers on their toes at a fast pace without ever feeling exhausting, making it hard to believe that he was able to compress 6 books down into only two hours.
As the film begins it sticks pretty closely to the novels, with a lot of familiar lines and images being reproduced identically, until it eventually branches out on its own. With that said a lot of stuff has to be cut out to keep with the length of a feature film. Some fights are cut, certain characters might not get as much time to shine as you might want, etc, but these cuts are handled gracefully and there is little that truly feels like it is missing. The biggest hurdle was actually the fact that only about half of the books were published when this film was being made, with only some images, ideas and such available to use for the second half of the film. In all honesty I feel that the 6th book brings about a better ending than the film does, but only slightly because the film makes the story its own and creates something that doesn’t leave one feeling dissatisfied.
With all that it lost the film still holds its own because it keeps intact the specific brand of humor of the books. Wright does this beautifully with the help of the cast and post-production process, bringing on wave after wave of overwhelming laughter and cheers from the audience. Then again, I was lucky enough to see an advanced screening at Comic-Con, so this was the perfect audience to get this type of reaction from. If you don’t know anything about the books, it might be a good idea to give them a gander so you will know just what you are getting yourself into. What you will quickly discover is that: A – A lot of stuff is going over your head in this outlandish and random humor with references that might as well be written in Klingon. B – the writer sure knows his video games references, and you will now start your journey to become best friends with him. I was in the latter camp (minus the creepy stalker scenario), and if you are too then you will truly enjoy this film to the full extent. But no matter where you fall you should still give it a chance anyway because there is still no doubt in my mind that this can work its way into the hearts of any one with one.
As I mentioned before the editing did a lot to pay homage to the graphic novel medium, but something else that added to this effect was the use of text within the shots. One of the most obvious differences between the two mediums is the addition of sound, yet the film still sticks with the methods that graphic novels use to get this across to the reader. If someone rings the doorbell, “ding, dong” will flow from the source of the sound and dissipate as it fills the room. However, this text based detail work is not simply just used in this way, but actually goes one step further by acknowledging the source for a lot of the inspiration of the books themselves. For example, during the fight scenes familiar audio and visuals from Mortal Kombat might come into play, with the word “vs” popping up to show our combatants and “K.O.” popping up to emphasize the end of the duel as the loser bursts into coins. Though these things are hard to miss, they are far from overwhelming and only add to the already heightened nature of this world.
The books hint at the combat and music of this world (since Pilgrim is a bass player with a surprising amount of combat skills under his belt), and other than a random Bollywood number during the battle with evil-ex #1, these can also be added to the list of things that transitioned well from the books to the screen. The wise choice was made to stick with bands and music that have an emphasis on distortion, garage band, and technological influences rather than current pop hits, making for an amazing soundtrack overall that fits perfectly with the world. With that in mind, the combat was by far one of the best aspects of the film. Each fight was original and specific to the combatant Pilgrim was coming up against, keeping everything fresh as he moved from one to the next. As ridiculous as they were, it was actually surprising how believable the fights were and a large amount of props should go towards the actors who pulled them off, including Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong and Mae Whitman.
Clearly I am having no trouble heaping praise onto this film, and I won’t stop before I get to Michael Cera’s performance. Originally I was afraid that it would be too much like every other role he has done, and though there is a lot of him in this role as Pilgrim, for once I didn’t feel like I was just watching him. He was Scott Pilgrim, with all his insecurities, his obliviousness, and humor coming off perfectly. The same can be said for the other actors in concern to whom they are portraying, with each one understanding what makes their character unique. But I will say the biggest complaint I have for the film is that something seemed off with the character of Ramona Flowers. In all honesty I don’t feel like the blame should be placed on Winstead in her performance, but rather this is the one place that something was lost in the compression of the source material. Here she is a little too much of a Debby Downer, and though I understand why, it would have just been nice if they had kept in some of the lighthearted moments her character has in the novels so we could really understand why Scott Pilgrim would be willing to go through all of this for her.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a film that may not find as wide of an audience as I hope it does because people might be put off by its specific brand of in jokes towards the nerd community, but I really hope more people will give it a chance because in my opinion it is up there with Toy Story 3 and Inception to be one of my favorite films of the year. So I will just go on tooting its horn for it.
Final Grade: A- (A with the Comic-Con Audience)