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MOVIE REVIEW – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Posted September 8th 2010 by Adam Grayson.

If you haven't heard about Scott Pilgrim by now, shame on you. But don't fret, you can redeem your nerd cred by reading the comics, seeing the movie, playing the game, and loving it (not necessarily in that order).

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is based on the Scott Pilgrim comics by Bryan Lee O'Malley. The story follows our hero, Scott Pilgrim, as he fights for love. However, he doesn't fight in the same way Prince Charming fought for Cinderella's love, the way Jack fought for Rose's love, or the way Han fought for Leia's love, not really at least. No, Scott must punch, kick, slice, and shoryuken his way to love. The story's love interest, Ramona Flowers, has seven evil exes that Scott must defeat in order to continue dating Ramona, reminding us of the plot of many video games, Mario for example. Better get those 1-ups ready, Scott, it's gonna be a bumpy ride.

The League of Evil Exes!

The movie is directed by Edgar Wright, also responsible for Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and it shows. While there are no zombies or old British ladies with shotguns, just like the other films, Scott Pilgrim moves very quickly; the pace not only serves to move the story along but also as a form of comedy. The quick cuts, pans, and zooms all work to get across a sense of over-dramatisation. In addition to this, Wright also includes his sense of hyper-subtlety. There is so much going on on the screen all the time that one can easily overlook these references. Oftentimes they're in the background, off to the side of the screen, or only seen for a fraction of a second. Perhaps the easiest to notice are the references to the number of evil ex Scott is on. See how many you can find; I guarantee you won't find them all without watching the movie multiple times. These are one of the movie's strong points.

Not all of the editing tricks are used for comedic purposes however; many are simply used to fit six volumes of reading experience into a two-hour movie. Due to the fast pace of the film, I found myself wondering how those who have not read the comics would fare in following the story. The plot and drive of the movie are obvious and easy enough to follow -- boy must fight bosses to save/be with girl -- but I could see many viewers getting confused over characters and such.

One who has not read the comics could easily be confused with the characters. Scott Pilgrim (the comics) introduces a lot of characters, and a big part of the allure of the story is learning about who these characters really are, what motivates them, and knowing how they act and feel in certain situations. However, the movie dismisses most of this character development simply for the sake of time. For this reason, there are "minor" characters who don't play that big of a role in the movie; those unfamiliar with the comics will likely miss/ignore the reason as to why the character is introduced, shortly to be forgotten. A prime example being Envy Adams, one of Scott's ex-girlfriends. In the movie we know that Envy is one of Scott's exes, but we really only see her as the lead singer of The Clash at Demonhead. After the fight with Todd, Ramona's third evil ex, we never see Envy again, whereas in the comics we get this long, deep back story explaining Envy's and Scott's relationship both past and present; we even see her in later volumes. Again, the character development is one of the great things about the comics, so it's a shame that it's glossed over in the movie.

A lineup of the movie's main characters.

Speaking of great things from the comic that are glossed over... There are lots of astounding panels, flashbacks, quotes, and entire scenes/subplots in the comic that are simply left out in the movie. The biggest one I noticed (which I was completely surprised was omitted) is the light that permeates from Ramona's head throughout the comics. The origin and meaning of the light isn't explained until close to the end of the story, but we see it many times through the six volumes and realize that it actually has a very important role in the story.

Another scene, probably my favorite of the comics, was also left out. There is a point in the comics where Kim Pine (a friend, past girlfriend of Scott's, and the drummer to Scott's band, Sex Bob-omb) is captured by a pair of Ramona's evil exes. Throughout the fight, Scott is only focusing on defeating the exes, almost ignorant of the fact that Kim is being held hostage. At one point, it seems that Scott's will to fight has vanished, but Kim encourages him to fight on and win the battle. Because he's so focused on Ramona at the time, even after the fight and after Kim helping him, Scott is very dismissive to Kim's all-night plight and her discomfort over the past hours. The scene not only tosses some humor and game references in there, but it is one of Scott Pilgrim's iconic scenes that just pulls at your heart. We see a gentler side to the usually blasé and peeved girl that is Kim Pine; one that perhaps still has well-hidden feelings for Scott. Regardless, this fantastic scene does not make it into the movie.

That's Kim Pine. She drums.

While disappointing, it is relatively understandable that many of these scenes did not make the cut. As with any movie adaptation, only the most important parts of the original story are kept and translated to film. However, the movie focuses much more on the action side of things rather than the fantastic fusion of action and romance in the comics. This doesn't make the movie any less enjoyable, but it's a real shame that most of the emotion that attaches you to the characters is lost in the translation.

Now onto everything else about the movie: the good stuff. Let's start with the visuals. They are astounding. ‘Nough said. Though for those skeptics out there, let's continue. The visuals are close to being too over-the-top, but not quite -- they're just enough to be awesome. Those who are not familiar with Scott Pilgrim may see the trailer and simply think it's another teen action movie filled to the brim with unnecessary computer graphics and special effects. Those people could not be more wrong. The visuals can be broken down into three categories: special effects, comic book representations, and video game representations.

Special effects are what you'd expect -- things like Scott's flaming sword of Love, the dueling dragons and beast during the Katayanagi/Sex Bob-omb battle of the bands scene, and the snow melting under Ramona's roller blades. These are the weakest of the three visuals. This does not mean they are bad; they are just something you will simply be impressed with, shrug at, and move on (since we see this kind of stuff in every movie nowadays). The comic book/video game representations however, are something totally new and unique.

Some pretty outrageous things happen at the Battle of the Bands.

Perhaps the most outstanding aspect of this movie is its near-perfect representation of the comic books. The majority of the dialogue, camera angles, scenery, and overall visuals are taken directly from the comics. I constantly found myself whispering excited "Oh my God.." ‘s throughout the movie simply due to the fact that what I was seeing on screen was exactly what I had read in the comics. Not only were the camera angles, dialogue, costumes, and scenery all replicated, but the movie also uses comicbook-like narration and onomatopoeia in a visual manner. That is to say that short narrative passages and "chapter titles" appear on screen as well as words like "KROW" or "WHUD", all imitating their drawn counterparts perfectly. There are scenes with zoom lines, noise lines, thought bubbles, and even hand drawn panels straight from the comics. All of this is done with style and grace, especially considering the experimental nature of the effects and tendency for people to think that the movie's trying too hard.

The exactness of some of these scenes blows my mind (top: movie, bottom: comic).

Almost a combination of the previous two, the video game representations make use of the great special effects and the conventions of comics/gaming. For all of the evil ex fights, the battle is introduced with each opponent on either side of the screen. The word "VS" appears onscreen and the battle begins. Most fights also end with the classic "KO!" As in the comics, there are many 8-bit visuals (pixelation, blocky text, etc.), of course symbolizing the gaming nature of the movie. To go along with the video game visuals, there are the video game sounds...

The classic "VS" appears as Scott prepares to battle Matthew Patel, Ramona's first evil ex.

The sounds and music in this movie are top-notch. There are entire scenes that have dedicated gaming themes. The first and most obvious example being the opening scene where friend and fanboy, Young Neil, is playing Zelda (A Link to the Past) on his DS. Not only are the Zelda sound effects amplified, but they're also relevant and timed to what's happening onscreen. While I noticed Zelda and Sonic sounds the most, there are plenty of other games the movie draws its soundtrack from.

On top of the various video game sounds, the rest of the movie's score is incredible. Within the story of the comics, and even on the back pages in each volume, Brian Lee O'Malley shows us readers how much music influences him and his work. To name a few indicators, Sex Bob-omb (the band consisting of Scott, Stephen Stills, and Kim) is a huge factor in the story; Scott Pilgrim wears music influenced clothes (his SP, a.k.a. Smashing Pumpkins, shirt); O'Malley includes a playlist of songs that he listened to while creating each book; and most of the characters (Scott Pilgrim included) are named after songs. Sex Bob-omb is a huge part of the soundtrack that outshines the rest. As I said, the band is a big part of the story; O'Malley even goes so far as to write out the lyrics, chords, and tempo to the song "Launchpad McQuack" in the first volume. Even with the amount of detail O'Malley pays to Sex Bob-omb in the comics, we can still only imagine so much without audible music. This is where Beck comes in (that's right -- Beck), as he was in charge of creating the band's music based off of O'Malley's ideas. Beck did a terrific job portraying Sex Bob-omb's music. The music is given a kind of garage punk feel to it. After only moments of hearing it, I realized how perfect a fit this was. While Sex Bob-omb is a musical highlight, the rest of the music is nothing to ignore either, ranging from rock, to punk, to chiptune, and a combination of all of the above. The movie boasts a whopping 60+ amazing songs.

This is Sex Bob-omb. They make music.

The casting and acting in the movie is spectacular. Not only do all of the actors naturally look like their characters, but with the addition of costumes, dialogue, and mannerisms, Scott Pilgrim and friends make an unparalleled leap to film. With that said though, there are a few characters who are a little bit different from their illustrated counterparts. The most obvious are "the talent", Stephen Stills (Mark Webber) and Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) himself. The differences aren't too drastic nor do they take away from the characters in either media, it's just something that stuck out due to the exactness of the other characters.

Michael Cera was a very good choice for playing Scott Pilgrim, let's get that out of the way. However, it seems like Cera's Scott Pilgrim is much more timid and unsure than the Scott Pilgrim from the comics. Anyone who's seen Cera's other movies knows that he always plays himself -- a slightly awkward and shy individual. In Scott Pilgrim, Cera does stray from this formula slightly, but not enough. Scott in the comics, while disheveled and oblivious, always seems certain of himself and his actions. Even when going through rough times, it doesn't seem like he's shy or awkward. Maybe it's just Cera's past films or the way he talks, but I couldn't help feeling that his version of Scott was a little more on the introverted side of things.

Michael Cera fitting his role perfectly with the Power of Love.

Finishing off, it seems like there are two distinct halves to this film. One half that follows the comics to unbelievable precision and one half that strays from the comics; the distinction is very apparent. Not to say that one half is better than the other, but some fans of the comics may find themselves a little put off by the differing sequences. I myself was in this position while watching. However, when I went to see it again, I found that I enjoyed the movie (the differing parts in particular) more than my previous viewing simply because I wasn't surprised by the sudden differences. Rather than being disappointed that the scenes were different, I instead watched them in the context of the movie itself and found that they are really well done and get the point across in an entertaining and time-conscious way.

Kids, don't go emulate Scott on this one. Punching girls in the boob is not cool.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a great movie. As with any adaptation movie, there are bound to be countless comparisons between the original and the film (for those keeping track, I referenced the comics 29 times in this review). While the movie suffers from stuffing so much into two hours, it does do an unbelievably fantastic job of staying true to the source, so much so that my mind was shattered no less than 10 times during the movie. Everything about this movie is good -- the story, the characters, the effects, the scenery, the writing, the music -- everything. As far as movie adaptations go, this is one of the best; as far as movies go, it's amazing; and as far as cult hits go, it's way up there. This is good, folks. For far too long have us nerds been praying for a good adaptation movie only to be let down time and time again. I myself was very skeptical about this film. While I knew it looked good, and I sure wanted it to be good, I wasn't sure it was actually going to be good. So while the movie is not perfect, directors should look to this movie as reference for future adaptation films, and hopefully things will only get better on that front.

Video games, comics, romance, rock ‘n' roll, comedy, pirates, Seinfeld, skaters, ninjas, half-ninjas, anime, vegans, Toronto, sub-space, twins, large hammers with +2 against girls, arcades... If any of these words catch your attention, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is for you. If you're reading this review, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is for you. If you like movies, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is for you. The point is, go see this movie. If you haven't yet, then you'd better be reading this review in the theatre, preparing for two hours of awesome.

Posted in: Reviews, Entertainment

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