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Why Scott Pilgrim Works for Gamers

Feature; Aug. 30, 2010; Channels: Video Games; By Kyle James Hovanec
Subtypes: Opinion

Video games based on movies rarely turn out well -- and vice versa. The two contain elements respective to their field of entertainment -- elements which usually don’t gel well out of their comfort zone. Dialog common in most movies makes for a poor or uneven experience in a game, and nonstop action sequences common in games make for an overblown viewing experience. Movie and games are two separate entertainment experiences never meant to be together.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Graphic novels, on the other hand, seem to meld into the film world fairly easily, translating into a video game-turned-movie seamlessly.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World isn’t based on any existing video game titles, but rather a series of graphic novels by author Brian Lee O’Malley. The novels follow the story of Canadian slacker and indie rocker Scott Pilgrim and his quest to be with the woman of his dreams while facing a series of evil exes who hinder his romantic progress along the way. Littered with comic and video game references, the graphic novels took what was a fairly common theme in fiction and made it their own unique beast. For once, gamers, comic geeks, and hipsters were represented in a media format in which they weren’t portrayed as awkward social outcasts, but rather as people with lives, loves, and needs. Rather than focusing on their need to be different from the norm, the novels reveled in the simple fact that these people are, well, people.

The movie, directed by Edgar Wright, follows closely to the series. Despite being based on a series of graphic novels, Scott Pilgrim is a video game movie through and through, from the opening 8-bit themed Universal Logo to vivid fights between evil exes who act more like bosses for Scott to defeat rather than jealous exes. 1 Ups are rewards for a battle of the bands concert, and vicious fights in which a normal person would be normally left for dead end with the fighters healed and recovered. Between each fight, scenes of story exposition fill in the gaps. Learning a lesson in most movies usually results in a music cue and a reassuring gesture from the protagonist’s friends. Here, a lesson learned results in a rise of character statistics and an upgrade to better weapons, much like nearly any RPG. Blue-haired hipster girls inexplicably have the power to wield massive hammers straight out of Donkey Kong, and 17-year-old school girls can fight with twin blades like a miniature Kratos. The Scott Pilgrim characters make no effort to hide the fact that their world exists with video game rules and logic and gleefully indulge in this environment. Nor does anyone take the time to explain all this gaming related craziness either. They don’t need to. Anyone who has ever played a video game will understand.

Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together

Even more cleverly hidden in the movie are the numerous references to video games from past and present. Scott’s eureka moments come with the Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past jingle. The KO voiceover which accompanies the defeat of the evil exes is similar to Street Fighter Alpha 3’s. Final bad guy Gideon Graves’s constant blinking in and out of existence before his demise is reminiscent of the distorted dialog scenes between killed targets in the Assassins’ Creed series. Even the band names featured in the movie cleverly riff on different video game names: Sex Bomb-Omb being the little walking bombs from the Mario series and the Clash at Demonhead based on an early NES platformer. There are even more references which are much more apparent. Bad guys explode into mountains of coins like platformer enemies of old, and even the late appearance of Scott’s evil self, Nega Scott recalls a similar looking character from the Legend of Zelda series, Dark Link.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a movie which fully embraces the gaming genre and uses the age-old boy-meets-girl story in a context any gamer can watch and enjoy. If Quentin Tarantino were born in the '80s and raised on a staple of film and video games, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is probably something pretty close he would come up with: A movie which treats gaming as an entertainment subculture filled with a rich history rather than a nerdy pastime basement dwelling shut-ins can only be a part of. Gaming is more than the shut-ins; more than the 12-year-olds screaming on X-Box Live; more than the JRPG loving Otaku. Gaming is hours of entertainment provided to us when we need it the most. Gaming is playing with our friends and huddling around the TV for hours on end. Gaming is going through the crazy days of high school and having a form of solace from the craze of grades, fitting in, and hormones. Gaming is fun, memorable, colorful adventures which weave in and out of our normal lives. Scott Pilgrim portrays just that -- a story of love, loss, and love again with plenty of gaming goodness in between.

The spell of bad video game-based movies has been broken. Finally someone gets the gaming culture as a whole. They understand the references; they understand the significance. Watch this movie. You will too.



JCXanirus - Sep. 2, 2010 at 9:31:58pm

The trailers that I've seen on TV defiantly did not lead me to believe this was a spoof off of video games at all. Then again, I'm guessing anyone who actually knew the name beforehand (I didn't) would of known this. Glad this review clarified that, I just may able to tolerate Michael Cera in this movie. (Don't really like his tone of voice. Just seems so puny, and doesn't seem much of a very concerned boyfriend either in Juno.)


rfludwick - Aug. 30, 2010 at 2:53:45pm

I thought the movie was particularly good myself. I liked the comic books even more, actually. Unfortunately, the movie isn't doing so well. I don't think that's a critique on the source material more than it's a critique on the level of familiarity with the general public and the source material. :(

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