Sunday, August 22, 2010

Scott Pilgrim: What comic book movies should be

I saw Scott Pilgrim vs. The World with friends last night. I had not realized, when I saw it, that it was based on a graphic novel, but it makes perfect sense. The film is as visually creative as Tim Burton's recent Alice in Wonderland but with a Wayne's World sensibility. The first image you see is an 8-bit video game-style rendering of the Universal Pictures logo. This is accompanied by an appropriately retro version of the usual signature theme. From this point on, the movie firmly establishes itself as a movie / video game hybrid, and I expect that audiences will fall into two camps: those who are aware of video game (specifically console and hand-held video game) culture who will enjoy the humor and visuals and those who are not and won't.

I can't say enough about the work they've put in to layering a video game world over the movie. I'll likely have to watch the movie again just to pick up on some of the touches I missed, but keep an eye on out-of-focus backgrounds. These are often fully rendered and the subtle touches are just as much a part of the story as the costuming and makeup.

The love story is essentially ignorable. Boy meets girl, girl has sketchy past, boy sees through all that, love springs eternal. It's nothing you haven't seen before. On the other hand, the secondary relationships are absolutely priceless. Scott's chaste relationship with an underage girl, his gay roommate with whom he shares a bed, and his cartoon-thin band mates are the real fulcrums of this story of a young man who hasn't yet given up being a boy.

Is it all good? No. What's entertaining about the film is its constant string of humorous twists on the culture of the generation that was born in the late 1980s to early 1990s. Some of the references are spot-on. Some of them miss the mark or just don't play well to the audience (I'm not in the target demographic, however, so there might be a very different mix of humor that works for people who are). The film walks a fine line between goofy spoof and cutting satire and sometimes comes up short on both sides. Still, the vast majority of movie works well and it's a rare movie that attempts as much as Scott Pilgrim.

I refer the frequent reader of my blog back to The best days of cinema were... 2009? where I described why I believe that creativity and quality story telling are alive and well in modern movie making. I'll happily add Scott Pilgrim vs. The World to the list of films that make my point.