Thursday, September 16, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs the World

It's common to have a video game release alongside a film release as some sort of companion marketing synergy something-something. It's rare that I actually experience those products in tandem as intended. But that has been the case with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. So I have two pieces of media to process here, both of which have increased my curiosity about the original source material.

I actually technically started with the game, but I'll begin with the movie. If you are not in an extremely specific demographic, then this movie isn't for you. If you're old enough to have predated the video game generation, then the whole thing is going to feel like a whirlwind of predictable, repetitive, superficial bubblegum. If instead you're too young and had your video game cherry popped by Halo or Grand Theft Auto, then you won't connect with the references or the 8-bit stylings. In short, your ability to enjoy this movie may be limited by whether you know what a bob-omb is.

I guess I should have known I would have liked the film, as that the director's filmography includes Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead. Both of those movies understood their genre well, and Scott Pilgrim is no different here. The film feels like some delicious blend of video game and comic book. That's either going to come off as cheesy or awesome, depending on your perspective. I did hear a groan from the audience when the movie took a left turn about twenty minutes in with its first boss battle. It reminded me of the time I saw Crouching Tiger in the theater and there was a similar confused "what?" that came from the crowd when a character in the film started to fly. Please, get over yourself, suspend your disbelief, and enjoy this alternate slice of reality. Physics be damned.

In short the plot is that Scott Pilgrim falls in love with Ramona Flowers (and with her vibrant hair, goggles, mystery, and deep brown eyes who can blame him?), and must progress through a series of seven boss battles to win her. The progression of the film is entirely predictable. You will know after a scene without looking at your watch about how much movie is left. But it's really no different than knowing that the solution that House comes up with 20 minutes in is wrong and the one he comes up with 5 minutes from the end is right. It's just narrative structure. But, you know, with boss battles.

The movie was paired with a coordinating game release for XBLA and PSN. The game is a classic beat-em-up, in the style of River City Ransom or Double Dragon. Unlike Castle Crashers, this modern beat-em-up makes no effort to modernize the visual style. The Scott Pilgrim game is blissfully low tech, with pixelated sprites and chiptune music. Oh my god, the music. So catchy, so good. Or at least it is to my nostalgic ear. There was one tune that started to grate on me, but that's because the loop was too short and the level was too hard. But overall the audio experience is delightfully old school.

Generally the point of tying two media releases is to motivate you to get into one if you're initially only into the other. The expectation I'm guessing is that if you're excited about the movie you'll get the game, not as much the other way around given that movie license games are usually terrible. In this case I guess I did it backwards - as that I picked up the game because I heard it was good. I didn't form plans to see the movie until I heard that it was also good, although I guess the game did get me a bit more excited for it. Not that I helped - the movie had already been declared a box office failure in the short weeks before I got out to see it. It's sad how immediately things are judged. It's the same logic that gets an amazing show like Firefly canceled. Oh well, I still heartily recommend both Scott Pilgrim the game and Scott Pilgrim the movie to anyone who fits in that demographic (and if you're in it, you probably already know).