Brian Jacobson

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World vs. the media landscape

By - Aug 27th, 2010 04:00 am

The real fun nowadays is not in reviewing a movie. Anyone can do that, as witnessed through critic-collating Rotten Tomatoes or ubiquitous blogs like Ain’t It Cool. You just relay the plot, say how profound it felt to you, maybe what it all means to the universe, and then give it a rating of some sort.

The real fun is in pulling apart the source material some weeks later, standing over the wreckage after keen observation and media study, and then mash up the bits into some new form to dangle before the masses on the Internet like a new toy for the cat. Such is the current fate in motion of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, now playing at a theater near you.

The movie has a lot going for it, and critics have been generous with it across the board. The box office is reportedly abysmal, although it did have many strikes going against it in the first place. There are no enormous stars, although the ensemble cast was well picked and well performed. There is no 3-D, thank goodness, but it sure feels like it.

The film is based off a six-pack set of critically-acclaimed and award-winning graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, so there isn’t an Oprah Book Club rallying behind it. References in the visuals and language are very anime and hipster, infused with heavy fuzz rock (Beck leads the soundtrack). It’s all very ADD-friendly.

As the subsets of appeal gets tighter, the movie-going target demographic shrinks. If it was first released on cell phones, it might have done better. This is really too bad, because I would guess that no matter your background (OK…mmmaybe anyone under 45 years old) Scott Pilgrim is an immensely crowd-pleasing, funny, visual flick. In fact, the less you know about the plot, background, set pieces, and the new crop of arguments and dialogue surrounding this movie the better, so I’ll shut up now while you run out to watch it.

[Place bookmark here, waits for reader to finish movie]

Ah, back already? Good. Now we can discuss and explore.

It was a much more enjoyable movie until I started reading reviews, interviews, forums, tweets, and hardcore blogs. My trip to the movies was an escape where I let go and let any disbelief become suspended. It was an alternative landscape filled with caricatures living out early slacker life all the while under the sway of Scott Pilgrim‘s Walter Mitty-like universe. I mean to say, no one questioned the appearance of words on screen, or hyper fight scenes, or how anybody got by without jobs.

Funny thing about that is that Scott does not wink and nod or actively imagine this fantasy world but instead inhabits it without much control over it. It was a presentation of the books without comment or derivation from the core plot (although much of intricate and interchangeable relationships have been filtered down considerably).

Scott is more of an anti-hero when O’Malley breathes him to life. He does not use his unexplained fighting powers to fight crime but instead it self-serves his love life and a sense of self-preservation. There is no oppressive society for him to rail against; most characters are in their early 20s there is never a kid or older adult in sight.

Massive kudos to director Edgar Wright, who is from a different past generation(-X) but has been honing this subject ever since UK TV’s Spaced comedy series ran in the 1990s (starring a certain Simon Pegg, who went on to star in Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz). Wright is a master of using past pop culture references in a sublime way to re-use them for comedy bits that rely on an audience’s collective memory to get the joke instead of piledriving it home.

Mad props to cinematographer Bill Pope, whose noticeable technique is grounded in the Matrix movies (which he was director of photography), finds a frenetic action value from Army of Darkness (also Pope’s), and understands where comic book movies needed to go from this point (Pope has shot five of those now including the seminal Darkman back in 1990).

What’s most remarkable to me is how the conversation surrounding a movie that no one saw is that it has become deep and intricate. This continuing banter will probably get more intense with the inevitable DVD release where it will find cult status. Whether it’s a frothy but pointed interview with a director in Vanity Fair or even just a sidebar on Huffington Post, Scott Pilgrim may become the “most-talked about movie in America.”

I’d like to see Oscars. I do! I don’t want to just see Academy Awards given out for best soundtrack, visual effects, and cinematography. I’d like to see a Best Supporting Actor nod for Kieran Culkin, who plays Scott’s roommate Wallace. I’d like to see nods for writing, acting, directing, and most certainly editing.

It’s a pipe dream for sure, since the mainstream will delegate the movie to MTV Awards Land. But while Winter’s Bone and Inception are the ideal of the old-garde in Hollywood, there is no reason that a huge leap forward couldn’t happen with this little film about love, facing down demons, and rock & roll.

You want to fight about it? Bring it on.

Categories: Movies, Pop Culture

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us