A second look at Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Excellent movie and box office flop Scott Pilgrim vs. the World came out on DVD this week and my co-writer J.R. decided to pick it up (which is 2/3’s of the reason we keep him on staff).  I originally saw the movie opening weekend and absolutely loved it, but since that point I have gone ahead and read the actual Scott Pilgrim six-book series by Bryan Lee O’Malley.

Now with a bit of context added to my perspective, I’m going to go back and look at the movie again.

There will be SPOILERS ahead for both the comic and the film, as well as the deleted scenes included on the DVD, including the alternate ending.  You have been warned.

When I had originally heard that Scott Pilgrim would be getting the live-action treatment, I was conflicted about it.  I just didn’t think a movie with as many sight gags could really work without being animated.  And in theory, the franchise could be presented as illustrated in the comic in the style of Johnny Test on Cartoon Network.  Very simplistic, fast paced, and goofy.  But the movie itself works excellently and does its source material justice, thanks to tons of special effects all over the place.  If you haven’t seen the comic, things like the Pee Bar and the combo counters may seem quirky, but if you have, you’ll love how much of the comic actually made the transition.

But it’s the story that suffers the most changes from comic to movie, albeit justified in many cases.  The decision to cram all six books into one movie was a good one, seeing that its box office performance completely decimated any chance of a sequel.  Instead the movie is given a ridiculously fast-paced tempo.  Not so-much tons of action fast-paced as in one-scene ends, we get a transition, then the set-up, then the next scene all within about 25 seconds.  But shockingly enough, it works with the ridiculousness of the story, and it’s especially helped out by the performances of the actors.  When viewing the deleted scenes, it became obvious that most of them were cut just because it slowed the pacing down, even with maybe 10-15 seconds of additional content.

But while the first half of the movie – the fights betweeen the first three boyfriends – was left relatively untouched, the second half became nearly unrecognizable, which fans of the book might think could have been fixed had the movie been made in two parts.  With so less of space, many character plot points are left out.  Envy Adams is a much more important character in the comic, and even shows back up for the climactic battle.  Steven Stills’s sub-plot of recording Sex Bob-Omb’s album is altogether missing.  Kim Pine’s character is mainly background, removing one of the most important characters from the story.  Crash and the Boys, the original rival band, lose their return appearance to join in on a fight scene, and are actually killed off in the opening battle.  Several characters, such as Joseph and Lisa are altogether missing from the movie because of the lack of free time.  The Japanese twins – Ramona’s fifth and sixth evil ex’s – suffer the largest cut, as not only is their entire story removed – forcing Scott to battle their robot creations – but they do not even have spoken lines in the movie.

But that last part is also due in part to the movie being created before the story was even finished.  Bryan Lee O’Malley was working on the fifth book when production began, and changes were made to both his story as well as the movie due to one another.  Perhaps the only person to benefit largely from the movie was Knives Chau, Scott’s Asian high-school (ex)girlfriend.  In the comic, Knives and Scott spent a little bit of time together, but it was never seen as a serious thing, as Scott was simply trying to get over Envy Adams.  When he meets Ramona, Scott leaves Knives and the thought of them getting back together never comes up…well, besides Knives’ obsession with him.  The movie spens most of the time seeing Scott realize that he actually strongly cares for Knives, leading to their teaming together in the final battle to defeat Gideon.

This shows that the movie, for whatever reason, chooses to downplay the character of Ramona Flowers, despite the entire plot focusing on her.  She is quite possibly the least likable character in the film, as she shows no real emotions towards Scott, breaks up with him after the two team up together, and ends up with Gideon again before Scott ultimately defeats him.  In the end, it’s almost the logical choice that Scott would end up with Knives instead of Ramona, as was presented in the alternate ending.  But of course, that would force the question as to what was the entire point of Scott fighting for Ramona’s love to begin with.

The crazy pacing of the movie is largely what costs Ramona her comic-glory.  Many of the scenes that show that she and Scott legitimately care for one another come in scenes in which not a whole lot is going on, action wise.  These are what had to be cut for time in the film version.  In the comics, when Wallace forces Scott to move out, he moves in with Ramona and we get more of a feel for their relationship, and Scott only begins getting upset about his predicament when he suspects that she’s still not over Gideon.  But in the comic, we also get Ramona’s redemption when we find out that despite Scott’s beliefs to the contrary, Ramona never returns to Gideon, but rather goes to her parents’ house and sulks for a while, which is exactly what Scott does at the same time.  By the end of the comic, you realize that Scott and Ramona together is the only possible resolution.

The movie is perfectly enjoyable, and I highly recommend picking up a copy of the DVD.  I just wish they had done better on Ramona, rather than putting so much focus on Knives.  It’s really my only true complaint about the excellent movie adaptation of such an excellent comic.

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