Judge Erich Asperschlager is pretty sure all exes are evil.
"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.
Facts of the Case
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 Game);
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:
Deleted Scenes (27:23)
"Scott Pilgrim vs. the Bloopers" (9:39)
The Blu-ray has all of the above extras, plus a metric ton more:
U-Control: Storyboard Picture-in-Picture
"Making of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" (49:33)
Music Featurette (16:27)
"You Too Can Be Sex Bob-Omb" (2:42)
Alternative Edits (12:21)
Bits & Pieces (6:51)
OSYMYSO Remixes (9:27)
VFX Before and After (14:37)
Roxy Fight / Ribbon Version (1:11)
Phantom Montage: Hi Speed Footage (3:47)
Soundworks Collection: Sound for Film Profile (5:43)
Adult Swim: "Scott Pilgrim vs. Animation" (3:48)
"Scott Pilgrim vs. the Censors: TV Safe Version" (4:11)
Production Blogs (45:46)
A Digital Copy of the Film
The Rebuttal Witnesses
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!
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2010 Erich Asperschlager; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.