Edgar Wright gets retro with ‘Scott Pilgrim,’ a hero for the AOL crowd

Aug. 04, 2010 | 2:57 p.m.

Todd Martens of the Pop & Hiss blog continues his guest-writer pilgrimage on Hero Complex

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“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is advertised as “an epic of epic epicness.” But it also could be considered a date movie with dated datedness.

“It’s largely a nostalgia trip,” said director Edgar Wright of the retro tech that appeared in the film.”It’s better to start dated. … Scott Pilgrim doesn’t have a cellphone. He’s the only character in the film who doesn’t have a cellphone. I love that. A lot of people comment about the contemporary references, and them being very 2010, but really, the technology references are all outmoded.”

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In this Web 2.0 era of constant technological one-ups, Wright said the only way to give the film an aesthetic shelf-life was to preserve the past and sprinkle it on the edges of the film. Cool gadgets? Not here. But there are clunky desktop PCs, America Online and Bollywood-dancing “demon hipster chicks,” and the latter are out to stop Michael Cera‘s Scott Pilgrim from dating the love of his life.

To be sure, the trials and tribulations of a relationship are given a surreal setting in Wright‘s comic-book adaption “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” The universe imagined by graphic novelist Bryan Lee O’Malley is one in which the strum of a guitar is punctuated with a lightning bolt, and characters whip battle hammers out of their purses. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” was shot in modern-day Toronto, but think of the film as contemporary life that’s been filtered through an old-school video-game lens.

“There’s a lot of Nintendo references, and those are all very close to my heart,” Cera said.”I grew up playing Super Mario Brothers 3. It’s the one where Mario can turn into a raccoon, and that was the one I was really obsessed with.”

Part Quentin Tarantino and part John Hughes, Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is a hip mash-up of the last few decades of popular culture, placing sitcoms, Zelda, Hong Kong films and rock ‘n’ roll on equal footing. The characters work in coffee shops, play in bands, break up, scrounge for bus fare and, um, occasionally extract flaming swords from chests. And when Cera’s Pilgrim plops down in front of a computer, he fires up …. America Online?

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For all the special effects, manga-inspired fights and fairytale hearts that appear when characters kiss, this action-romance is decidedly vintage. The combat is a valentine to Street Fighter II, and an “extra” life is always a possibility. Characters explode into coins, and why not, since vintage joystick culture is the currency of the land?

If Pilgrim is the only twentysomething rock-‘n’-roll slacker in Toronto with an “@aol.com” address, that’s the point, Wright says. The director had zero intention of modernizing the character, who first appeared in 2004’s Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life.” He went so far as to clear AOL’s signature “You’ve got mail” line, as well as long-outdated Windows and Mac sounds. The only obvious telltale technological sign that the film takes place in the late 2000s is the sight of a Nintendo DS.

Said Wright, “All of the game references? Some people talk about the game references as if they’re some baffling higher level of references that’s impenetrable. Well, I haven’t played a console myself probably in about 10 years. Most of the game references are from the late ’80s and early ’90s.”

The tone was established by the books, and Wright and co-writer Michael Bacall took dialogue straight from O’Malley’s tomes. O’Malley’s Pilgrim is clueless when it comes to all things Internet, even needing directions to find Amazon.ca, a question Cera’s Pilgrim delivers with excited naiveté. It’s back to the future in a way; when Cera’s character envisions life “with jet packs,” you know his cosmic visions are probably set by “ALF,” not “Avatar.”

It was all carefully crafted, and tech nerds will have to pay close attention to notice all of Wright’s nods to the glory days of Wozniak and Jobs. When Pilgrim’s roommate Wallace Walls (Kieran Culkin) wakes up, he boots out of bed with an old Windows start-up alert. Though characters may trade text messages, Wright noted that he didn’t want any instant messaging, or of-the-moment Web designs. The only way, said Wright, to keep a film from becoming dated is to make it dated.

“When there’s Web pages and stuff in movies, they’ve been made up for the film, and it’s a font and a window that you’ve never seen before,” Wright said. “I find that irritating. It’s better to make it real and to make it out of date.”

– Todd Martens

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Photos, from top: Michael Cera in “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” Credit: Universal Pictures. Second, one of “Pilgrim” comics. Third, Edgar Wright at the movie’s premiere. Credit: EPA. And fourth a “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” promotional poster.


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