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[Scott Pilgrim Preview Tickets]

Yesterday was Scott Pilgrim day for me. No only did Dre and I catch a sneak preview of the film (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), but, prior to that, I got to read the final chapter of the Scott Pilgrim comic (#6 aka Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour).

Short, spoiler free, recommendation:

Both rock. If you’re in your teens/twenties/thirties and part of the “video games, comics, music, arrested development ((The phenomena, not necessarily the excellent TV show which features at least two of the actors from this film.)) , culture industrial complex ” the film is a must see (in the theater, preferably one with a good sound system) and you should track down copies of the books.

On the Movie: The movie is a “valentine” to modern music, video games, and comics, and perhaps the best comic-to-movie translation yet (one that takes full advantage of the medium of film). The performances are great. Its biggest issue is that the secondary characters, in particularly the female ones, suffer from cuts made to tell the story in a single film (more on that below). But that shouldn’t keep you from seeing it.

On the Book: An excellent wrap up to a great series, adding depth an meaning to events that took place in the previous books. Also, it’s a surprisingly mature take on the move not just to adult relationships, but “adult” living (if you will). It really kicks things up a notch and then some.

Much longer, mostly spoiler free, reflection:

I came to Scott Pilgrim relatively late. I’d known about it for a while, but only started reading it around Book 4 (aka Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together). Up until that point the only “slice of magical, musical realism life” comic I had been following was Blue Monday, a comic I blogged about way back in 2002. Published by Oni Press, the same indy company that brings us Scott Pilgrim, Blue Monday was John Hughes 2.0 — focused on an impossible high school experience, heavily influenced by music, manga, and pop culture. While there was a sort of continuity to the comics, it was much more about the ride than the destination for both the readers and the characters in the book.

It was director of the film, Edgar Wright, that really got me interested in the property. While at the University of Chicago, I got to see a few bootleged episodes of Spaced, a BBC tele series he co-created with Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes ((Nick Frost was also involved)), and was completely blown away with how much it got, and more importantly translated, the experience of those of us caught between Gen X & Y. My interest in Wright was further peaked by Shaun of the Dead. So when I learned that he was developing/directing the Scott Pilgrim (SP from here on in) film, I knew it would be a must see for me as I knew what ever he produced would be engaging.

Up until that point, while I’d seen some SP pages online, I’d never actually read any of the books. My interest piqued by news of the film, I decided to dive into the comics. My reaction was: ok, so this is like Blue Monday, but with some added Canadian (it takes place in Toronto), video game, and comic references. The SP characters might have more “complete” development arcs, but it was seemed largely a quick-read, hipster coming of age story with more style than substance — perfect for adaptation to a film (especially with Edgar Wright at the helm). But that was about it.

And that was my opinion until yesterday, when I read the final issue of the comic.

I’m not suggesting that the final issue transforms the series into high literature. However, in tying up the loose ends of the story of a Canadian Rocker coming to terms with adulthood while fighting his new girlfriend’s seven evil ex’s, series creator Bryan Lee O’Malley reveals to the reader that a lot more has been going on in the books than the fun but superficial tale that it initially appears to be. There are no real twists – though at least one character turns out to have taken a very different (and much more satisfying) course of action that the reader is initially led to believe – or surprise endings. What is revealed is a metaphorical depth and maturity to the story that I had completely missed. What’s especially great about this is that it sparks a desire to revisit the previous books in order to see how much of this was in the story from the beginning (the answer, btw, is most of it was there from the beginning). This is all the more impressive considering it’s taken O’Malley more than six years to complete his story.

Bottom line: to my pleasant surprise, I discovered that, in the end, there was a lot more the SP the Comic than I gave it credit for. And that elevates it to a must read for those interested in this type of comic/story.

Then I saw the move, which delivered on being an “Epic of Epic Epicness.” And it was great. And it was and wasn’t the comic. And that was both good and less good.

Lemme ‘splain:

The good/great about the movie

First, it is a definite must see. Right from the start — literally starting with the “Universal Pictures” intro – it completely captures the vibe of the comics in a way that no adaptation that I’ve seen before has ever done. While Sin City (and other comic based movies) look just like the comic, but are emotionally empty, everything about SP full of life. A la Walter Benjamin, SP the film isn’t reproducing the comic on the screen, its extending it and finding new things within it. And everyone is having fun while doing it.

It nicely captures  the video game aesthetic, which, isn’t the biggest translation as video games are already a moving image (if not out-and-out cinematic) medium. Where it truly shines is in how it uses comic metaphors to represent sound. In fact, I think it’s a groundbreaking film when it comes to showing music.

A quick bit of semantics to explain that last point — where as the best concert films, like Stop Making Sense, are about showing the production of music, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is about showing the music itself (if I remember correctly, everyone is lip syncing/faking playing music recorded by other people). To accomplish this Wright takes the comic metaphor of the written sound effect and creates something amazingly visual and dynamic (the Bass battle that takes place in the middle of the film is perhaps the best example of this). His approach is also big – by that I mean cinematic, conceived and executed for a movie theater (as opposed to a home theater) sized screen. If O Brother, Where Art Thou? was the Cohen Brother’s valentine to bluegrass, then SP is Wright’s valentine to modern music.

And, across the board, the actors are all great. While many may be accused of playing themselves (Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman in particular), I think that critique misses the boat. While no one is stretching their acting range within the movie, what’s clear is that they all “get it” and are very intentionally delivering the performances needed to make the story work.

So with all this praise so far…

… What about the less good?

The movie and the comics are intentionally different. In part, that’s because the movie went into production before the final two books were completed. Wright worked with O’Malley to include ideas and themes from the later books, but things diverge quite a bit in the two stories after the encounter with The Clash at Demonhead((see the movie or read the books and then this reference makes sense)). The divergence isn’t by itself a bad thing. And a number of the changes are necessary, but what’s lost in the divergence is unfortunate.

Another reason for the differences is the length of the materials. The problem that Wright faced is that there was way too much material for a single film and not enough to justify multiple films (in alternate universe somewhere MTV bought the rights and opted to make SP into a miniseries and storywise, it worked a little better.). The movie is a little too long. So, pacing wise, the film ends just as its starting to drag.

And though the cuts and divergences work in terms of creating a satisfying film, they also hurt the characters that populate the story in two ways.

First is that the supporting characters all suffer. What makes this especially rough is that many of the supporting characters are well written women (something that set SP apart from most other comics). In particular, Kim Pine (one of Scott’s exes and a the drummer in his band) ends up getting flattened from a complex character in the comics to a generic “bitter bitch” role in the film. Also, to build to a concise climax in the film, Scotts two love interests (Knives Chau and Romona Flowers) also lose a lot of their characterization, and in many respects become weaker for it — in particular Romona. To go further into this would take me into the territory of major spoilers, something I want to avoid. Suffice to say, part of the strength of the comics were the female characters in it. Ultimately that isn’t as much the case with the film.

Which brings me to the second problem. To keep the story simple and the film length down, the movie becomes more of a “heroic love story” than a “growing up story.” While Scott still has to mature in terms of his relationships and gain some self knowledge in the movie, the comic (in particular the final book) handles this is a much truer way. The comic is as much about Romona maturing and changing as it is about Scott’s journey. That, just doesn’t play out as well in the film, again weaking the Romona character.

Bottom line about the film

These two critiques should not stop you from seeing the film. See it when it opens next week! And see it in a theater (preferably a filled one). It’s worth it!

Hopefully, the critiques will lead you to reading the books ((available in most comic shops and book stores)) in order to get an equally (if not more) satisfying take on the same characters.

I am back in Rochester and working on a bunch of projects — including getting ready for next weeks Future of Reading conference at RIT. My goal is to get  onto a posting schedule by Monday.

Right now I’m trying to get my office set up and organized and put the final wraps on a book chapter. If everything works out – both things should be done later today.

  • Back in Ithaca for the day — taking care of bizness & tidying my apartment for the summer sublet… #

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  • Just finished being interviewed by @AlliTweetRsrch about using twitter & I felt I should tweet about it! (I did wait till it was done) #meta #
  • @tunabananas — I feel your pain. Gald to hear I'm not the only one… in reply to tunabananas #
  • @tunabananas I know the feeling. Sections of the chapter have been written across 5! years! Gah. I'm sorta x-referencing… in reply to tunabananas #
  • Grading, grading, grading — Big final meeting for the class I was a TA for. #

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A few years ago while I was at the University of Chicago, I was walking home in Hyde Park when I saw a cat approaching me from an alley. At least I thought it was a cat. As it got bigger and bigger and bigger, I began to think “that’s a funny looking cat… wait a sec…??!!” And with that I got out of the way (and thankfully wasn’t shiv’d) by a huge South-Side raccoon.

Since I’ve been here at Cornell, I’ve run into lots of fauna — deer, rabbits, woodpeckers —but nothing to topped the raccoon-run in… until last night. So walking home from giving a final exam, I ran across another “funny looking cat…”

[Cornell Skunk 1][Cornell Skunk 2][Skunk 3]

I think we both were scared of each other. Luckily, Skunks reserve their spray for bigger threats than the likes of me.

Still realizing what was in front of me when I was less than four feet away from it caused me to jump out of the way and literally say “I’m sorry… I’m sorry” while it was hissing at me. Thankfully, it accepted my apology and let me snap these pictures.