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. Below is a longer version of the “Pilgrim” article he wrote for the Los Angeles Times Calendar section’s big Comic-Con International preview package on Sunday.
If a geek-chic lifestyle came with a primer, it might read something like Bryan Lee O’Malley’s “Scott Pilgrim” graphic novels. A six-part series influenced equally by rock ’n’ roll and old Nintendo games, O’Malley’s tale of one hopeless romantic’s quest to win the girl of his dreams is filled with relationship-challenged characters who come of age the same way Mario and Luigi battle pixilated turtles — with a kick, a jump and a prayer for a second chance.
Now, five years after writer-director Edgar Wright phoned the then-Toronto-based artist to adapt his work, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is poised to become a breakout sensation at Comic-Con International. The film, helmed by the fan favorite behind the cult comedy send-ups “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” stars indie-film heartthrob Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim, an insecure musician forced to battle the seven evil exes of the object of his obsession, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). She’s out of his league, and to win her he has to fight for her — literally.
There are plenty of massive martial arts set pieces that play out as if life were a video game — characters don’t die, they explode into coins — in addition to a soundtrack led by Beck, all delivered in campy, ironic style that’s immediately relatable to a generation weaned on “Seinfeld” and the Legend of Zelda.
“The central metaphor for the trials of relationships as fights is the big hook,” Wright said of the film, which isn’t set to open until Aug. 13 but will get the royal treatment at the convention. An off-site “Scott Pilgrim”-branded pop-up exhibit in the courtyard of the nearby Hilton San Diego Gaslamp Quarter will offer fans a chance to interact with Wright, O’Malley and a number of the film’s cast members, some of whom will also be on hand for a panel in the convention’s biggest arena, Hall H, on Thursday night.
Introduced by Portland, Ore.’s Oni Press in 2004 with “Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life,” O’Malley’s creation owned a cartoonish look in the style of Japanese manga. It was an instant cult success, as the first book earned him a nomination for best new talent at the prestigious Harvey Awards. Loaded with music and gaming references, the books had an appeal beyond the standard comic community.
“This was the one I picked up that I felt like I would not be intimidated by,” Cera said. “I didn’t have to know too much about graphic novels. These are quick reads. You can go through them in a half-hour, so they’re not daunting.”
Wright targeted “Scott Pilgrim” before O’Malley had even completed the second book in the series.”I expected them to turn it into a full-on action comedy with some actor that I hated,” said O’Malley, who recently relocated to Los Angeles with his graphic-novelist wife, Hope Larson. “I didn’t even care. I was a starving artist, and I was like, ‘Please, just give me some money.'”
But Wright, with his singularly nerdy sensibility, was arguably the perfect man to handle the adaptation. His 1999 British comedy series “Spaced,” which starred Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes as a pair of unlikely roommates, approached pop culture in a similarly affectionate way. The show was liberally peppered with references to movies and video games (Pegg’s Tim is a big fan of Tomb Raider and Resident Evil) and had plenty of over-the-top action.
“With the game references, and the way that the characters are governed by the media that they consume, there is a link between ‘Spaced’ and ‘Scott Pilgrim,'” Wright said. “That became interesting to me, but the level of reality in the ‘Scott Pilgrim’ books is different than ‘Spaced.’ There would be crazy adventures in ‘Spaced,’ but they would wake up from the really insane stuff. It would be a dream or a flashback.”
After being given O’Malley’s first book in 2004, Wright said, he was hooked by its mix of fantasy and reality, and found inspiration in musicals. The director referenced the lead characters of “Grease” when discussing the film and said he wanted the challenge of making the amplified world of “Scott Pilgrim” a believable one.
“The way to do this was play this as a musical,” Wright said. “Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson start singing, but at the end of the scene, nobody says, ‘You guys have a whole routine. That was amazing.’ It’s just accepted. Danny and Sandy sing, and then they go back to dialogue. That was how the fights played out.”
Cera, whose underdog appeal attracted Wright, has established himself as one of Hollywood’s go-to guys for rock ’n’ roll vulnerability, thanks to roles in “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” and “Juno.” Cera said the film’s namesake character, who balances his self-proclaimed awesomeness with a host of neurotic ticks, is far from just a geeky good-guy.
“There are times you’re disapproving of what he’s doing, but you’re still on his side,” Cera said. “You still have faith that he’s going to do the right thing. He’s a fun character. He’s kind of like the friend who you roll your eyes at, and he does things that annoy you, yet you still love him for some reason.”
Ultimately, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” plays out like a grandiose metaphor for very real dating drama. Wright attempted to match the comics’ sometimes hectic pace without sacrificing the more fraught moments. “The books walk a line where you wonder if it’s fantasy, or if it’s really happening, At some point it stops mattering,” O’Malley said, adding that he believes Wright captured the “whimsical weirdness” of the series.
Though lighthearted in tone, it turns out that fighting for your dream girl comes with plenty of growing pains. “Going through those trials, Scott himself becomes more cynical, more jealous, more irrational, and he could become one of the evil exes,” Wright posited. “This film,” he added, “is about a potential path to the dark side.”
– Todd Martens
RECENT & RELATED:
Top photo: Michael Cera’s Pilgrim, right, tracks down Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Ramona Flowers, center. Credit: Universal Pictures
Second photo: One of the “Pilgrim” books. Credit: Oni Press
Third photo: Cera’s Pilgrim and Winstead’s Flowers get close. Credit: Universal Pictures
Bottom photo: A promotion for the film. Credit: Universal Pictures
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