Friday, 18 October 2013

Book vs Movie Showdown: Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Scott Pilgrim, video gamer and bass guitarist in a not-so-great rock band, thinks his life has finally taken a turn for the better when he fall for Ramona Flowers, an Amazon Canada delivery girl who takes short cuts through his dreams. That is, until he learns he must defeat all of Ramona’s seven evil exes for her to become his girlfriend.

The Book: The Scott Pilgrim Series by Bryan Lee O’Malley

According to Joss Whedon, “Scott Pilgrim is the best book ever. It is a chronicle of our time. With Kung Fu, so yeah: perfect.” I don’t think I would go quite that far.

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s six part graphic novel, published over the six year period from 2004 to 2010, starts off fantastically well, with the first two volumes being works of surreal brilliance. When Scott meets Ramona, a mysterious girl who rollerblades through his dreams; changes her hair every few weeks; and buys her shoes from the same place as Mr Silly; his life literally becomes just like the video games he wastes so much of his time playing. Ramona’s seven evil exes are essentially end of level bosses who vanish in a shower of coins when defeated; special “items” appear from nowhere when Scott performs certain tasks; and Scott even manages to earn an extra “life” at one point. The showdowns between the exes are great, too, with each playing out in a different but equally imaginative way (for example, the Bollywood inspired showdown with Ramona’s first evil ex, Matthew Patel).

Yet, O’Malley can’t seem to sustain the creative steam of the first few volumes, and around the midpoint, the story becomes more about Scott’s “real world” problems (like getting a job and reconciling with his own exes), much to its detriment. Even Ramona loses everything that makes her special by the final volume, with her character becoming virtually indistinguishable from the other women in Scott’s life, both in personality and visually. Joss Whedon did get it right about the Kung Fu, but that’s about it.

The Movie: Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010)

Stars: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin

Edgar Wright’s perfectly cast film version of Scott Pilgrim, on the other hand, takes all of the best bits from O’Malley’s graphic novel and combines them to form a unique movie that is part video game, part motion comic (complete with captions, visible onomatopoeia and comic panel-style framing) and part modern fairytale.

The first half of the movie, covering the excellent first two volumes of the comic, follows the source material so closely the comic could practically have served as a story board for the production, but after that, things go in a slightly different direction. The fact that Wright only had 108 minutes of screen time to work with, rather than six 180-ish page volumes, means he was forced to cut the story back to the bare essentials, and unusual for a book to movie adaptation, this actually works in the movie’s favour. The film’s second half focuses almost entirely on Scott’s battles with the evil exes and is mercifully free from the dull realism that sapped all the magic from O’Malley’s comic. It’s faster paced and more focussed than the way-too-long comic and as a result, far more enjoyable.

That’s not to say that Wright always got it 100% correct. As mentioned previously, the original Scott Pilgrim series was published over a six year period and given the movie went into production prior to O’Malley commencing work on the sixth and final volume, Wright was forced to make his own guess as to how the story should end. This resulted in him initially going in a completely different direction from O’Malley to the point where, after defeating all of Ramona’s evil exes, Scott chooses his previous girlfriend, Knives, instead of Ramona. The advantage of this ending is that it means that Knives is better developed in the movie than the comic and has a bigger part in the finale but it does render the rest of the movie more or less pointless. Fortunately, after discovering O’Malley’s actual ending, Wright changed the movie’s ending to match O’Malley’s (only about the last minute or two – Wright’s original ending is available on YouTube and as a DVD extra if you’re interested in seeing it), making for a more satisfying finish that maintains the movie’s magic right to the very last minute.

The Winner

The Movie. Although O’Malley’s comic starts off well, it is Wright’s take on it that manages to go the distance.

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