The sad thing about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is that people assumed that because it embraced its niche-oriented demographic’s interests, in its ad campaign and in its content, that it was destined for cult status and nothing more. This prediction was sadly realized by the film’s disappointing box office returns, which seemed to confirm the unqualified prediction that the movie was about and hence for nerds, not normies.
Still, anyone so hung up on the fact that Edgar Wright’s new movie is about the precious existence of a dopey little geek (the first volume of cartoonist Bryan Lee O’Malley’s original comic is entitled Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, after all), missed the most visually exciting, funny, and emotionally involving studio-produced film of the year. More so than the exact but minor comic gem that is Shaun of the Dead, or even the endearingly bombastic Hot Fuzz, this is the film that announces Wright’s presence as a real force to be reckoned with. It’s a comic book adaptation whose acceptance and celebration of its protagonists’ navel-gazing personality speaks to a level of nuance that easily surpasses its wildly inconsistent source material. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was the summer’s main event, and while it quietly slipped in and out of theaters, its new DVD release will hopefully prove how long its legs are.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a self-absorbed little dope, albeit a very sympathetic one. He’s not quite a hipster, nor is he completely a geek, which is to say that he plays in a shitty little band named after a minor villain in the Super Mario Bros. video games and is socially active and engaged, but only to the extent that that engagement involves himself in some way. So while Scott, a 22-year-old post-grad, uses Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) to get over his year-old breakup with pop star Envy Adams (Brie Larson), he also winds up falling in love with Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). His gay roommate, Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin), and various other members of Scott’s cabal of friends warn him that he must dump either Knives or Ramona (preferably Knives), and Scott drags his feet until he has to make a choice. And that’s when things start to get really screwy: To date Ramona, who may or may not literally be the girl of his dreams (he first meets her while he’s dreaming), he finds out that he has to fight her seven evil exes.
Both Wright and O’Malley are very upfront about the fact that Scott Pilgrim is a self-absorbed little moron. In their eyes, that’s a good part of what makes him funny and sympathetic in the first place. Cera’s performance is knowingly affected and self-absorbed throughout scenes depicting Scott and Knives’s awkward dating: He takes any opportunity to change the subject of a conversation to heaping unearned praise on himself. The film’s tendency to celebrate his obsessions is justified because Wright goes out of his way to acknowledge his protagonist’s callow narcissism, much more so than even O’Malley did in his original comic.
A great example of this is the way that Wright’s Scott lives right across the street from his old family home. Scott’s living arrangement with Wallace was always meant to comically achieve the same effect, especially as the two even share the same bed. But even the way Wright visualizes that gag surpasses the way that O’Malley only underscores Scott’s basic insecurities. In one scene, Scott suddenly wakes up in Wallace’s bed after dreaming of Ramona, then Wallace wakes up beside him, then Wallace’s one-night-stand, also named Scott, wakes up next to him. That gag works better in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World because there’s a sense of timing and use of space that speaks to Wright’s remarkable sensitivity for comic precision.
Wright makes his protag’s shortcomings the source of the film’s comedy is how miniscule. Scott’s attention span is proudly miniscule: We see him read an email from Matthew Patel (Staya Bhabha), the first of Ramona’s evil exes, in what appears to be great detail (the words “a duel,” “to the,” and “death” are intercut with shots of his oblivious face in steadily tightening close-ups), but he totally doesn’t process the letter’s meaning. In the comic, Patel just shows up and incredulously asks Scott if he bothered to read his email. This happens in the movie too, but again, here the joke is that we’ve seen the email and know more than Wright’s oblivious protagonist. In that way, Wright perfectly enunciates the dull-witted nature of his character in ways that O’Malley only teasingly hinted at.
Wright’s film similarly employs allusions with such verve and intelligence that it’s very easy to ignore the way his detractors lazily accuse him of pandering to a fanboy fanbase. For example, Scott and Romana’s courtship recalls the playful cynicism and bubbly hopefulness of Osamu Tezuka’s manga. Whenever they float around in the limitless expanses of negative space, together as a unit or separately, their body language recalls the romantic way Tezuka’s protagonists flit about each other, as if unburdened by gravity. When Scott closes his eyes and sees Ramona close up just before they kiss for the first time, she’s practically glowing, her eyes radiating a generous warmth that evokes Tezuka’s most beatific women. Ramona and Scott are filled with a magical inner light, a naïve hope for their future that also happens to be affably self-possessed. Scott’s first date with Ramona just happens to naturally end with them in bed together. There’s no guile, nor any deception to that progression: They just go from not clicking at all to spooning sweetly under Ramona’s comforter. They don’t have sex because just lying next to each other is enough: “But this is nice,” Scott murmurs. “Just this.”
Similarly, whenever Wright tosses more nerd-culture references at his audience than is strictly necessary in any given scene, it’s with good reason—and a simple one, too: Scott loves Ramona. The visualized sound effects and bad puns that recall Adam West-era Batman, even the silly Zelda references, are the nerdy manifestations of butterflies in one’s stomach. Scott’s just not quite himself around Ramona (“I sort of feel like I’m on drugs when I’m with you”) and the same is true of Ramona: She admits that she refuses Scott access to her emotions because she similarly has problems with completely sharing herself with a partner. Ramona’s not Scott’s own personal growth spurt and neither is Knives, who eventually realizes that, as Wallace tells her early on, she deserves someone better than Scott. Scott, Knives, and Ramona are flesh-and-blood characters living a very surreal life.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is so much more than the sum of its parts. The film’s penultimate 15 minutes is the only time Wright goes overboard and winds up making the characters too insufferably cute to tolerate. Everything else plays to the young tyro’s strengths, especially his expert comic timing as in exhibited in the joyful rhythm of the fight scenes’ choreography, the montage sequences’ hyper-kinetic editing, and the seemingly effortless precision of the characters’ hilariously constipated verbal jousts. Wright’s cast has never looked this good, especially Cera. In Scott, he seems to have found the best expression of the gawky young man personality that he pretty much owns now that Jesse Eisenberg has decided that the only way to grow as an actor is to move on to bigger things. If Cera and Wright’s efforts in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World prove anything, it’s that refining what already works is clearly just as worthy a career path.
There’s nothing noticeably wrong with Universal’s DVD release unless you’re comparing it with the studios Blu-ray release. The Blu-ray replicates the smooth, colorful, rich texture of the film’s original 35mm master while the DVD appears less rich and vibrant. The DVD release’s comparatively homely qualities don’t exactly jump out at you, but if you were to just buy the DVD of the film and ignore the fact that such a new-fangled thing as a Blu-ray of the film exists, you wouldn’t really be able to notice that there’s anything wrong with your purchase. The richly layered audio mix is, however, just as great on the film’s DVD release as it is on the Blu-ray edition. Wright really outdid himself in the attention he paid to the way the various sound effects, music tracks, and dialogue tracks interact with one another. The 5.1 surround English track flawlessly replicates the way the film sounded when it was theatrically released.
The collection of extras is a mixed bag. Both the 10-minute blooper reel and the optional trivia track are fun but seriously padded; there are a few really funny and noteworthy allusions and gags, but otherwise, there’s not a whole lot about them worth recommending. The audio commentaries, at least, are entertaining; the one where DP Bill Pope and director Edgar Wright shoot the shit about the look of the film and the way they organized the characters’ world to suggest a video game is especially instructive. The 27 minutes of deleted scenes from the film are kind of amusing, but they aren’t new so much as redundant, or just plain negligible, clips that begin many of the scenes that are still in the film’s theatrical cut.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was the summer’s main event and while it quietly slipped in and out of theaters, its new DVD release will hopefully prove how long its legs are.