Thursday, August 19, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World - Dare I Say The Perfect Adaptation?

Perhaps for me to write an unbiased review, I should wait for this big stupid grin to leave my face. But I'm certain my love for this film won't diminish any time soon, might as well write it now while the film is still fresh in my mind. Firstly, this movie could not have come at a better time. I have been suffering from a disease shared by many movie goers and comic book fans alike called "adaptation fatigue". I've encountered so many poor translations in recent memory, that I don't even bother seeing all of the comic-to-movie adaptations these days. The Losers, in my queue. Kick-Ass, waiting to be watched. Wolverine, yeah. I still haven't seen it. Even the movies that usually deliver the well-adapted goods have disappointed, such as the most recent Harry Potter film. (Any fan of the book who claims to have enjoyed The Half-Blood Prince movie is certifiably insane - it was awful.) Enough about those movies that I have been too lazy or uninterested to see, it's killing my post-Scott Pilgrim high. From the first trailer, I knew this was one film I wasn't going to wait for the dvd, and now after seeing it, I plan to see it again in theaters. I can't even remember the last film I saw at the movies twice.

Since I have yet to hear one person utter their disappointment with this film, I'll focus on why this movie may be the best comic to film adaptation ever. (That being said, if you haven't read the books, you may not appreciate many of the points made in this review. Please feel free to read ahead, it may interest you enough to make you read the books!) Scott Pilgrim vs. The World shows that devoted fans and your average movie goers can both be pleased without compromising either groups' interests. Some filmmakers (or maybe producers) look at comic books as ready made films, storyboards to be shot. In rare instances, this  has resulted in interesting films, such as Sin City. Other attempts to rigorously follow the source material have had far more boring results (see Watchmen - then again don't. Because it was a soulless film that turned out to be more two dimensional than its comic book counterpart). Edgar Wright managed to follow the books very closely, frequently including exact visuals and dialogue, but there were still plenty of new additions to the film. In other words, it wasn't a two hour long nod to the fans - but it was. The divergences made sense, whether to adjust to the pacing of a film, or flesh out the characters in the series. No matter how perfectly Michael Cera portrayed Scott Pilgrim (and I think he does a fine job), it could have come across very flatly if it had been an exact copy of the character from the book. I also think Scott would have seemed far more unlikeable in the film, where as with the books we have time to reconcile his actions and understand his internal struggle better than what could have been done on film. As much as I loved the visual of Scott recalling his past relationships flippantly as Mario-tinged fantasies, this would have been downright cruel on film. And instead of having Scott absorb his Nega-Scott as he does in the final book (actually quite a touching moment), Wright chooses to show Scott happily making plans for brunch with himself, a humorous take that matches the tone of the film, but still shows Scott "growing up". These are just a few of the many ways the movie struck a perfect balance between staying true to the intent behind the series while proving that copying the books isn't the only option available.

I don't think this movie resonates as a great adaptation just because it maintained the original tone of the books; Wright's unique vision added quite a lot to the story. If Bryan Lee O'Malley's books encapsulate how love feels at 24, then Edgar Wright's film most successfully shows one's experiences at 17. More specifically, is Wright secretly a 17-year-old girl? Because his take on Knives Chau was spot on. Though much of what was included was exactly from the book, where O'Malley left Knives (still a giddy schoolgirl leaving for college and "over" Scott), Wright took her and made her a believable character. From what I recall, and 17 wasn't that long ago for me, falling in love didn't feel so inconsequential at that age. Knives deals with rejection in the film in the same ways as she does in the books (calling Ramona "fat", changing her look to be more like Ramona, envying Envy Adams), and her heartbreak is still used as a point of humor, but I felt more strongly for her since she has some  redemption at the end of the movie. In the book, it is Envy that gives (and receives) closure to Scott. But in the film this role is filled by Knives, a character that truly deserves that ending since she is the first of Scott's relationships we are introduced to in volume 1. Reading the series, I never thought about how devastating Knives' situation would have been to me at that age. I found myself relating more to her than Ramona at the end of the film. This was all re-affirmed by the filmmaker's choice to use Broken Social Scene's "Anthems For a Seventeen Year Old Girl" as Knives, broken-hearted, looks at Scott at the end of the film. Well played, sir.

The more superficial aspects that made this film amazing, from the 8-bit version of the Universal theme and logo, the Beck penned Sex Bob-Bomb musical numbers (the opening scene gave me goosebumps), to the countless references to Zelda and other games, these were just the cherries on top of an already well made movie. I expected it to be as good as the books, but I never thought I'd be lucky enough to see something as original to rival them. After many disappointments, I'm happy to see that Hollywood can still hit the mark once in a while. Let's just hope audiences come around and see it while they can.

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