I will be honest. I’ve sort of actively disdained the Scott Pilgrim franchise pretty much ever since I saw the cover to Volume 3 parody the Super Mario Bros. 3 cover. But the recent media blitz promoting the movie (and game!!) has left me practically frothing at the mouth. Look everyone! It’s indie bands and chiptunes and sly 8-bit game references and Beck!!! It has all the stuff you like!
I hate when I realize I’m being pandered to. It’s like it robs me of any enjoyment I could’ve gotten out of the experience without knowing. I don’t think anyone should be pandered to. It doesn’t help that a Scott Pilgrim movie feels about 7 or 8 years too late to feel thematically fresh. The advent of webcomics inundated the Internet with the quasi-wit of Generation Y slackers that grew up on the NES and the Streamline dub of Akira. Hey guys, the sprites from Final Fantasy are talking about Ranma 1/2! Isn’t that just the geekiest?
Scott Pilgrim, penned and illustrated by Brian Lee O’Malley became the poster child for this vein of storytelling. Geek culture-addled Scott Pilgrim has to fight the seven evil exes of too-cool-for-school Ramona Flowers if he wants to date her. These battles take on a video game-like progression of difficulty, complete with the exes exploding into coins, etc. This EPIC TALE proved so irresistible to the Hollywood graphic novel adaptation mill that the film rights were snapped up by Universal and Edgar Wright, keen pop culture satirist, tapped to direct.
I will admit, Edgar Wright was the ONLY reason I saw this movie. The creative force behind Shaun of the Dead and the much-funnier, much-less-seen Hot Fuzz, has proven to me by now that he has an eye for genre bending, humor, and doing justice to the subject matter he simultaneously lampoons. Hot Fuzz was not only a comedy about the ridiculous nature of action movies, it was also one of the best action movies in recent years.
Why am I harshing on Scott Pilgrim: The Franchise?! Because it’s like we have nothing to say to each other. Scott Pilgrim touches on River City Ransom, Ninja Gaiden (the original), Mega Man, A Link to the Past, the NES and SNES and many other things I never owned or played. Yet I’m still a gamer! I grew up with a Genesis! I played Sonic! I think there were two Genesis allusions the whole movie. And as for anime and music? It references Akira in one of the chapter titles, Scott wears a t-shirt with Astro Boy on it and the character’s name is from a song from some indie band I’ve never heard of. He’s like that guy at a party you try to start up a conversation with, and he’s like, “Yeah, I game. Ever heard of Final Fantasy II for the SNES?” “Oh, you mean Final Fantasy IV?” “No, pretty sure it was Final Fantasy II.” Awkward silence. I mean, it’ll resonate for a lot of 20-somethings out there, but it’s awfully specific in its aim.
So you’re probably expecting me to hate the movie. But I didn’t! Why?! Mostly because that pop culture divide is largely irrelevant when it comes to enjoying the movie. Will you get more out of it if you’ve played DDR or beat ’em ups? Sure. But the searing eye candy Edgar Wright coughed up is enough to entertain any movie goer who appreciates fast-paced film making. And this movie is nearly at Baz Luhrman levels of frenzy. Shots are cut at a blistering pace. CG embellishments make the actors look like comic book characters brought to life. Seriously, this is the first movie that seems like it took a few plays out of the Speed Racer handbook of visual vocabulary. (There’s that made-up term again!) And it’s not just visuals that delight. The dialogue is actually clever and delivered with comic timing for a change.
The music is actually pretty well done for the most part, too. Beck actually composes all of the music for the fictional band Sex Bob-omb and the score is composed by alt-rock superproducer Nigel Godrich, who’s worked with stars like Beck and Radiohead on some of their landmark albums. The soundtrack is loaded with indie acts and garage rock riffs, and totally fits the misfit tone of the movie.
It’s just too bad being good didn’t guarantee success. Limping out of the gate with a paltry $10 million when estimates put the movie at around $60 million, Wright’s most expensive movie to date, certainly makes eyebrows raise. Why would a movie that seemed like such a cultural zeitgeist flop so badly? It hasn’t been through lack of marketing that Scott Pilgrim failed, that’s for sure. It’s proooooobably because its target audience isn’t known for paying for anything. Teens and twentysomethings these days get their nostalgia gaming kick not by dusting off the NES or SNES, but by downloading ROMs and emulators. They peer-to-peer share their music collections. Plus they’re a notoriously poor demographic. They probably would rather see a cam rip of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World than fork over the $10 per person to go to the theater and see it legitimately. Then there was the aforementioned rather limited scope of the appeal. Maybe not as many people have fond memories of Clash at Demonhead or listen to chiptune albums as they thought. At any rate, a perfectly entertaining movie suffered because of it. For shame, readers!