Universal // 2010 // 113 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // November 8th, 2010
"WE ARE SEX BOB-OMB! ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR!"
Mainstream media still seems to think geek culture is relevant only to basement dwellers and Comic-Con attendees. This is especially true in movies and television, where nerds tend to be gawky glasses-wearers who play D&D and watch Star Wars. Let's face it: geeks need a champion.
I nominate Edgar Wright.
Wright's latest movie, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an adaptation of the six-volume graphic novel (or "comic book" if you prefer) written and drawn by Bryan Lee O'Malley. In both book and movie form, Scott Pilgrim's twenty-something love story is awash in geek references. Wright adds to O'Malley's flourishes by creating a unique visual style that combines the humor of movies like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz with the video games, indie music, kung fu movies, and Japanese manga that inspired the graphic novels. It is a remarkable movie -- visually stunning, hilarious, action-packed, and wholly unique.
In a year of so-called "game changing" blockbusters, Scott Pilgrim is the real deal -- more visually inventive than Avatar and better constructed than Inception. More importantly, it is the first mainstream movie that incorporates geek culture without belittling or justifying it. The geeks might not end up inheriting the Earth, but they certainly deserve better representation in Hollywood. Scott Pilgrim is a step in the right direction.
Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera, Arrested Development) is a 22-year-old slacker living in Toronto, Canada. He's in a band called Sex Bob-Omb with his friends Stephen Stills (Mark Webber, Snow Day), Kim Pine (Alison Pill, Milk), and Young Neil (Johnny Simmons, Evan Almighty). Scott has a younger sister, Stacey (Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air), who looks down on his carefree lifestyle; and a cool, gay roommate named Wallace Wells (Keiran Culkin, Igby Goes Down).
Scott is dating a high schooler named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong, Unnatural History), but then he meets an alluring delivery girl named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Death Proof) and wants to date her instead. The only problem is that Ramona has seven evil exes, and if Scott wants to be with her he needs to defeat:
1) a junior high crush with mystical powers (Satya Bhabha, Fair
2) an action movie star (Chris Evans, Captain America: The First Avenger);
3) the bass player of a rival band (Brandon Routh, Superman Returns) who also happens to be the guy who stole Scott's last girlfriend (Brie Larson, United States of Tara);
4) an angry goth chick (Mae Whitman, Arrested Development);
5 & 6) Japanese twins (Keita Saito and Shota Saito, Feel the Wind);
7) the a-hole record executive who brought them all together (Jason Schwartzman, Rushmore).
A lot has been written about how Scott Pilgrim underperformed at the box office -- probably too much. Now that the movie is available on home video, all it really means is that more people will have the chance to see it for the first time, on DVD or in the Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Level Up! Collector's Edition Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, stuffed with enough bonus features to satisfy even the most obsessive Pilgrim fan.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a masterpiece -- a perfectly balanced blend of video game, music, film, and comic book influences that come together to create a unique movie experience. In Scott Pilgrim's world, 8-bit sound effects underscore emotional moments and white text in black boxes pop up to provide vital character stats. Music creates visible waves of energy that blow people into the air. Everyone knows how to fight like they're in a kung fu movie, and no one takes any real damage until the loser explodes into a shower of Canadian coins. In the wrong hands, this could have been a gimmicky mess, but collaborators Wright and O'Malley know their respective mediums too well for that. Scott Pilgrim is the best comic book movie ever (sorry Batman fans) because it adapts what works on the page to what works on the screen. The movie is as richly layered as O'Malley's panels are stark and stylized. Wright and his talented assembly of cinematographers, musicians, and effects artists make sure no frame, no sound, no moment is wasted.
Unlike a lot of big-budget movies, Scott Pilgrim relies primarily on practical effects, especially for the "evil ex" battles. The actors, many of whom had never been in an action movie, spent long hours during pre-production in physical training. Their hard work pays off in the fight scenes, shot in the fast-action style of Hong Kong movies of the '70s. Although doubles were used, the cast did a lot of their own stunts, hooked to harnesses and rigging. The result is a series of thrilling, believable, bad-ass fight scenes that match up to the best in that genre.
It's hard to condense six books into a 113-minute movie, especially one with at least six big fight scenes. Many fans feared that the journey from comic book to movie would rob Scott Pilgrim of its emotional core. There's lots more breathing room in O'Malley's books, but the screenplay, written by Wright and Michael Bacall with O'Malley's input, keeps the focus of the film where it should be: on the relationships. At its heart, Scott Pilgrim is about the baggage that accompanies new love, and the detritus left behind when old relationships end. It just happens that Scott has to deal with Ramona's past by punching it in the face.
Although Wright's adaptation of Scott Pilgrim relies on visual effects and slick editing, the story is brought to life by the performances. O'Malley's books feature a sprawling cast of characters, and most of them make the jump to the film. From the biggest parts to the smallest, the actors are all perfectly cast -- bringing the characters from the books to life, while making them their own. Among the standout performances (and there are many) is Ellen Wong as the lovestruck Knives, Kieran Culkin as Scott's bitchy roommate, Aubrey Plaza (from Parks and Recreation) as the foul-mouthed Julie, and Scott's core group of friends -- Mark Webber (a dead ringer for O'Malley's Stephen Stills), Johnny Simmons, and Alison Pill (who gives the best "ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR!" count-off since Johnny Ramone).
Michael Cera might seem like an unlikely choice to play Scott, but he's amazing here -- convincing as both leading man and bad-ass (neither things I ever expected to write about him). He's also the funniest he's ever been. His comedic timing fits perfectly with Wright's brand of visual humor. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays opposite him as the object of Scott's obsession. Ramona Flowers is a tricky role, requiring Winstead to be nothing less than a modern day Helen of Troy. Luckily, she is. The tragically cute Winstead plays Ramona as free-spirited and vulnerable -- the kind of girl any guy would fight Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, and Jason Schwartzman to be with. Speaking of the exes, it's great to see big name actors in small parts that don't feel like stunt casting. It's especially satisfying to see Arrested Development alums Michael Cera and Mae Whitman together again.
Scott Pilgrim on Blu-ray is a visual treat, packed with eye-popping effects and tiny details that reward repeat viewing. Wright shot the movie in Toronto, using the actual locations that inspired O'Malley's drawings when possible, and recreating them when necessary. Despite the over-the-top action and effects, Scott Pilgrim looks like it's set in the real world. As a result, the palette has lots of natural colors, especially at the beginning of the film. As the movie progresses, it gets more vibrant, but the overall look is more muted than most comic book movies. You probably won't use this disc to show off your new Blu-ray player, but the 1.85:1 AVC MPEG-4 1080p transfer is gorgeous nonetheless, with just enough grain to show off the fact that it was shot the old-fashioned way.
Comic books are great, but they don't come with audio -- one place Scott Pilgrim the movie improves on the books. O'Malley established the tone for the bands in his story, but Wright had to bring them to life. To do so, he employed the talents of musicians like Beck, Broken Social Scene, Metric, and Cornelius to write and perform songs for Sex Bob-Omb, Crash and the Boys, Clash at Demonhead, and the Katayanagi Twins, respectively. Those songs, along with Nigel Godrich's original electronic score and the layered audio cues, are every bit as vital to the film as the visual effects. The dynamic DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is so deftly balanced that even during the most wall-shaking action scenes, every note, every audio flourish, and every bit of dialogue comes through with crystal clarity. As an added bonus for the hardest core home theater enthusiasts, Scott Pilgrim on Blu-ray also comes D-BOX enabled.
If Scott Pilgrim vs. the World packs six books' worth of content into one movie, the Blu-ray jams six discs' worth of extras into one set. Let's start with the bonus features that are on both the DVD and Blu-ray discs:
You'll want to watch this movie multiple times anyway, so why not give each of the four included commentaries a listen? The first brings Wright and co-writer Michael Bacall together with Bryan Lee O'Malley. They talk about all aspects of adapting the books for the big screen, how Wright and O'Malley influenced each other, and the differences between the ending of the film and volume six of the comic (which came out around the same time as the movie). The second track goes back to Wright, this time with director of photography Bill Pope. They geek out on all the technical aspects of shooting the movie, from planning and stunt work to the kinds of cameras they used. The last two commentaries are cast affairs -- one with Michael Cera, Jason Schwartzman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, and Brandon Routh; and the other with Anna Hendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Kieran Culkin, and Mark Webber. They're fun, though not nearly as essential as the Wright tracks.
Yet another way to watch the movie. This subtitle track pops up with information about things like song titles, the origin of various T-shirts and posters, production notes, and connections between the books and the movie.
Deleted Scenes (27:23)
21 deleted scenes -- with optional commentary by Edgar Wright -- including extended fight scenes, a bonus Crash and the Boys song, early appearances by Negascott, and an alternate ending that differs wildly from both the book and the finished movie.
"Scott Pilgrim vs. the Bloopers" (9:39)
Your standard collection of flubbed lines, crack-ups, falls, and mishaps. Includes all 33 tries it took for Michael Cera to throw a package into a trash can behind him.
A massive collection of photos taken by Edgar Wright and the cast, plus theatrical posters, fictional posters, the flip charts O'Malley drew for the movie, all of the storyboards, conceptual art, comparisons between the books and the movie, and boards for the original "Mecha Gideon" boss battle.
The Blu-ray has all of the above extras, plus a metric ton more:
U-Control: Storyboard Picture-in-Picture
Yet another way to watch Scott Pilgrim; this time with the storyboards (which are also in the Galleries section) playing along with the movie.
"Making of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" (49:33)
This documentary is the perfect entry point to the massive collection of extras on this disc. It's a basic overview of everything it took to make the movie, and if you watch nothing else this will make you appreciate Wright's obsessive dedication to the project.
Music Featurette (16:27)
While some of the actors came in with musical aptitude (Michael Cera already played bass), others, like Mark Webber and Brandon Routh, had never picked up an instrument before. Chris Murphy, from Canadian megagroup Sloan, was brought in to give them a crash course in how to play live. This featurette covers the bands, songs, and performers featured in the movie.
"You Too Can Be Sex Bob-Omb" (2:42)
A quick video showing Chris Murphy teaching the Sex Bob-Omb/Beck song "Garbage Truck" to Mark Webber (and the viewers at home).
Alternative Edits (12:21)
Not so much deleted scenes as slightly different versions of scenes in the movie.
Bits & Pieces (6:51)
Multiple takes, many of which involve Jason Schwartzman hamming it up.
A massive collection of footage created in the early part of the filmmaking process, broken into the following categories: "Pre-Production Footage," "Animatics," "Rehearsal Videos," "Props, Rigs, and Sets Montage," "Casting Tapes," and "Hair and Make-up Footage." Some of the most interesting bits are the early fight scene tests, featuring alternate stunt double versions of the main characters.
Full, music video versions of the Sex Bob-Omb/Beck songs "Garbage Truck," "Threshold," and "Summertime"; and Metric's "Black Sheep," as played by Clash at Demonhead (my favorite song in the movie).
OSYMYSO Remixes (9:27)
A collection of seven audiovisual remixed "trailers" by British DJ OSYMYSO -- who also created music for Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz -- featuring dialogue and music from the movie.
VFX Before and After (14:37)
The first of three "Visual Effects" featurettes, this is a rapid-fire collection of major effects sequences, broken down by visual effects supervisor Frasier Churchill.
Roxy Fight / Ribbon Version (1:11)
The big fight scene, but with the original ribbon used by Whitman in place of the final blade whip.
Phantom Montage: Hi Speed Footage (3:47)
A montage of hi-speed footage that was shot for the film using a Phantom HD video camera.
Soundworks Collection: Sound for Film Profile (5:43)
A look at Scott Pilgrim's incredible sound designers -- a.k.a. the people who added in all the audio cues and sound effects you might not even notice until your third time through the film.
It may not have done gangbusters at the box office, but Scott Pilgrim sure had a ton of trailers. This set includes three theatrical trailers, 18 TV spots, and four trailers for the excellent video game adaptation of the books/movie.
Adult Swim: "Scott Pilgrim vs. Animation" (3:48)
A short film made for Adult Swim, in the style of Bryan Lee O'Malley's original books. It covers a story from Scott and Kim's early history that's not in the movie.
"Scott Pilgrim vs. the Censors: TV Safe Version" (4:11)
Despite the PG-13 rating, there's hardly any offensive language in the movie (the few big-time swear words are bleeped out in an funny way), so I assume this is a joke. Seriously, I heard the word "bitch" on NBC the other night way more than it appears in this movie.
Production Blogs (45:46)
During the course of shooting the movie, Edgar Wright put out a series of 12 video blogs, doling out behind-the-scenes footage. They are all here, plus two brand-new bonus blogs (although one of them is just a shout-out for Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's upcoming movie, Paul).
A Digital Copy of the Film
As has become the custom, Scott Pilgrim is included not only on Blu-ray and DVD, but also as a digital download. Thankfully, it comes as a download code and not on a superfluous third disc.
I loved this movie. Loved it. But I know that it isn't for everyone. Much like early rock 'n' roll movies were received by adults, Scott Pilgrim speaks the language of a younger crowd. It is built around the assumption that the audience will get its references. If you have no interest in gaming, comic books, or indie music, you probably won't get as much out of it as someone who does.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World isn't just the best comic book movie, or the best movie of the year, it's also Edgar Wright's best movie yet. Scott Pilgrim is expertly paced, hilarious, moving, and thrilling from beginning to end. And now it's available for purchase in one of the most impressive Blu-ray packages of the holiday season. It's unapologetically made for those of us who love geek culture, which means if you're reading this site it's almost definitely for you. Buy one for yourself. Buy one for a friend. Remember: just because movie fans will still be talking about Scott Pilgrim decades from now doesn't mean you have to wait until then to see it. Oh, and read the comics and play the video game; they're cool, too.
Scott Pilgrim scores a billion hit combo! Not guilty!
Review content copyright © 2010 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Top 100 Discs: #2
* Top 100 Films: #10
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, Descriptive)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Alternate Footage
* Deleted Scenes
* Pre-Production Footage
* Blooper Reel
* Music Videos
* Trailers/TV Spots
* Digital Copy
* Trivia Track
* Short Film
* Video Blogs
* Cinema Verdict Review