What film will be the breakout sensation of Comic-Con International 2010? You might want to put your money on Edgar Wright's "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," which plugs its pop-culture amp into comic books, comedy and cool-kid music. Todd Martens, the lead writer on Pop&Hiss, the must-read music blog, will be our go-to writer on the film here at Hero Complex, and today he maps the music landscape where the film roams.
One doesn't have to get far into Bryan Lee O'Malley's six-part "Scott Pilgrim" series to realize some of the inherent challenges in bringing the pop-culture-obsessed comic to the big screen. From the first few pages of "Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life," released by Oni Press back in 2004, O'Malley's creation unfolds like a video game being played at a frame-by-frame pace.
At its heart, it's a tale of dating mishaps and a fear of relationships unknown, and the commitment-phobic themes unfold amid the series' grand martial arts-like fight scenes with "evil" ex-boyfriends. Yet Michael Cera, who has the title role in Edgar Wright's cinematic interpretation "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," wasn't worried about the metaphor being obscured by the cartoonish fight scenes and the outlandish plot, in which Scott Pilgrim must win the heart of Ramona Flowers by taking on her seven ex-boyfriends.
That's largely because "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," due Aug. 13, is not only a comic book movie; it's arguably this summer's most rock 'n' roll-centric film. Cera's Pilgrim is a twentysomething slacker who despite declaring himself awesome is a below-average bass player. With half a dozen original songs, including pieces from Silver Lake's Beck, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" will live and die by its music as much as its action and script.
"Whenever you see a band in a movie, the music is barely passable," Cera said. "It's like when you see a film, and someone is writing a book. Whenever you hear excerpts of the writing, it's just terrible. You're like, 'That's what they're writing?' It's kind of the same theory."
In the books and corresponding film, Pilgrim performs in the floundering Sex Bob-Omb, a name inspired by a character in Super Mario Brothers video game series. O'Malley wrote out some of the band's lyrics in the comics, and the snotty, rejection-focused verses are drenched in punk rock. Yet Sex Bob-Omb vocalist Stephen Stills, played by Mark Weber in the film, is wailing away at an acoustic guitar, and O'Malley has earlier noted that alt-country forebears such as Uncle Tupelo were on his mind while writing the first book.
Such details would seem to lend multiple possible directions for Sex Bob-Omb, which Wright and music supervisor/composer Nigel Godrich entrusted to Beck. The first thing Beck accomplished was putting the cast's minds at ease, ensuring that the music would be taken seriously and not played for pure camp effect. "Once Beck agreed to do it," Cera said, "I felt good."
O'Malley recalled some of his early discussions with Wright on the sound of Sex Bob-Omb. He said he tried to sell the director on Times New Viking, a Midwest punk band signed to Matador and steeped in rudimentary, low-fi noise. Wright, however, wasn't having it, at least not until the pair met with Beck in his tour bus at San Francisco's Outside Lands music festival.
"We wanted them to sound like a garage band," O'Malley said. "We wanted them to sound rough and really distorted. There's this band called Times New Viking who had just released an album, and I was like, 'These guys are perfect.'"
"Edgar wasn't completely taken with them," O'Malley continued. "So we start down with Beck, and the first thing he said was, 'I think they should sound like Times New Viking.' So Beck totally understood what we were going for. Edgar and I just kind of looked at each other." (One can hear a snippet of Beck's Times New Viking-inspired tunes in the "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" trailer below).
Wright notes, however, that his initial Sex Bob-Omb vision
wasn’t too far removed from Times New Viking. The director said he suggested
something more akin to Japanese garage rockers Guitar Wolf, a band he had taken
to after seeing zombie comedy “Wild Zero,” and a group that puts a slightly
more old-school rockabilly spin on its roughed up sound.
“I like Times New Viking,” Wright said, and “the link
between Guitar Wolf and Times New Viking is that they’re mastered too loud.
They’re the only two bands I can think of in my iTunes like that. Guitar Wolf’s ‘Jet
Generation’ has a sticker on the back that says it has been mastered too loud
and it shouldn’t be played at full volume. Times New Viking is the same. They’re
designed to screw up a playlist.”
Though only four Sex Bob-Omb songs are on the soundtrack, of which The Playlist has compiled a detailed track-by-track, O'Malley said there's plenty of Sex Bob-Omb songs in the vaults.
"Beck writes a dozen songs in one day," O'Malley said. "So that’s what [Beck and Godrich] did. They wrote about 21 songs, and we picked the ones we liked. That whole thing was done in one day."
In the film, the songs are performed in part by the cast, with Weber on lead vocals and Cera singing back-up. It hasn't been announced whether the Beck-sung versions would be released, but Cera and O'Malley each hinted that it was a more-than-likely possibility.
One thing, however, is for certain: The full Sex Bob-Omb lyrics written by O'Malley in the first book, a break-up anthem about a couple attempting and failing to work things out ("You've been out partying with guys I've never met / Drinking beer and smoking cigarettes"), did not worm their way into the film. O'Malley made that much clear: "I didn't want to be responsible for that."
— Todd Martens
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IMAGES: At top, Sex Bob-Omb in "Scott Pilgrim" comics (Bryan Lee O'Malley). Second, A "Scott Pilgrim" cover. Third, Alison Pill as drummer Kim Pine in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" (Universal Pictures). Fourth, Michael Cera and his fire sword in the upcoming movie (Universal Pictures). Bottom, promotional poster for "Scott Pilgrim."
UPDATED AT 1:10 P.M., JULY 12: The above post was updated to add a quote from Edgar Wright, as well as correct the video game that inspired Sex Bob-Omb. I had mistakenly noted that it was a nod to Mega Man, when in fact it was a reference to the Super Mario Bros. series of games. My video game knowledge was not as sharp as I believed it to be, as I was thinking of Mega Man's Bomberman.