Scott Pilgrim vs. The Textual Triad
Bryan Lee O’Malley’s successful comic series, Scott Pilgrim, represents the pinnacle of adaptation. Already the character has been featured in video games, movies and cartoons and there is no indication that Scott is going away anytime soon. This is a perfect example of a series that has been adapted well, and has thrived with the freshness that comes from new medium. The two most successful forms that Scott Pilgrim has taken (besides the comic) have been the 2010 live-action movie and game. All three forms effectively tell the story of Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flower’s evil ex-boyfriends The movie is a wonderful summary of the comic, highlighting all the best moments of the comics, while the game focuses in on the fighting elements, effectively expanding them into a meaningful experience. The Scott Pilgrim comic owes much of its success to the multitude of references to videogames, music and pop-culture in general. This is carried through in both the videogame and the movie. Using many of the same references and jokes from the comic, the movie is able to more effectively connect with the audience by using sound and fast-moving visuals to its advantage, but in the process loses a sense of characterization found in the game and comic.
The movie is a brilliant summary of the comic, removing extraneous details that do not add to the enjoyment of the series. The editing in the movie is unlike any that has preceded it. The cuts are fast and furious, moving quickly between scenes that take pages to explore in the comic. The comics implement these same sorts of cuts, but in a less effective way that tends to leave the reader more confused. The cuts in the movie work better because director Edgar Wright does a brilliant job of understanding the spatial inner workings of the comic’s world, and in fact, expands on them to make them clearer. For example, Ramona uses an interstellar highway through Scott’s head to deliver packages for Amazon in both the movie and the book. O’Malley illustrates these sequences in nearly all black, which leads to confusion as to where the characters are. The medium of film, however, has the ability to literally show us that Ramona is entering a pathway into Scott’s head, and through the use of modern CGI it is clearer than in the comic. O’Malley uses the technique of moving quickly between scenes and locations in the comic in order to deliver a punch line, using a cold cut to the next image, which reveals some sort of startling conclusion. Ironically In attempting to recreate the feel of the comic, Edgar Wright does this as well, and again, it works better in the film. This is because film allows the viewer to be wholly surprised by the punch line. Even if we expect the joke, the punch line is still funny because the medium of film does not allow the readers to “cheat” themselves out it. The problem with the jokes in the Scott Pilgrim comic is the cold cuts can always be seen coming. Literally. In the medium of a comic book you can always look to the next image and read ahead, ruining the punch line.
The movie does not treat its characters as kindly as the comic and the videogame. When thinking about really strong female characters in the Scott Pilgrim comic, one will find that there are many: Kim Pine, Ramona Flowers and even Knives Chau. While these personalities come off as funny in the movie they pale in comparison to the way Bryan Lee O’Malley so kindly treats them in the comic. As Jen Patton points out in her reaction piece to the movie: “Ramona is, from the very beginning, portrayed as an object; literally she is the girl of Scott’s dreams which he has to get.” This statement, while moderately true for both the movie and the comic, is justifiable only in relation to the movie. The writers of the movie’s attempts to caste Ramona as aloof and uncaring end up making her seem like a flat, emotionless character. The comic is able to see past this with so many subtle reminders in the art and dialogue of her profound character traits and flaws. Ramona’s distance becomes part of her character, and we begin to understand why she feels the way she does about relationships. The movie attempts to do this as well, but Ramona’s descriptions of her past relationship end up seeming cold and calculating, rather than justifiable. The game ironically treats its female characters better than the movie. This is achieved simply by placing all the characters on an even playing field. Since the game is a classic side-scrolling brawler, all the characters have special stats, moves, and special abilities. This leaves all the characters with a unique feel. Each one is fresh and new, and feels like they need to be played to experience their story. By making all the characters fighters, it becomes less about Scott’s journey, and more about the journey of the whole group. This is simply a limitation of the genre, as having some characters simply be non-fighters just wouldn’t work. This actually brings the game closer to the world of the comic than of the movie, which is more grounded in reality. In the movie Ramona only fights once, but in the comic she is constantly fighting all kinds of different enemies. The game is able to effectively capture this feeling without it seeming silly, as it would in the movie.
The references to the pop-culture are more effectively conveyed in the movie. The movie version of Scott Pilgrim begins with the classic Universal symbol painting its way across the screen to an 8-bit rendition of the classic Universal theme. This immediately sets the tone of the movie before anyone even says a word. Sound bytes such as this one make the jokes funnier, and the references more potent, simply because the medium of film can so easily utilize both visuals and sound. The best example of this is being able to truly hear Scott’s band, Sex-bob-omb. In the comic, O’Malley writes chords and lyrics in the margine of the pages of the comic, but this is not an adequate substitute for actually hearing the music.
The game is a very meta experience, as the source material is so filled with video game references. Making the characters 8-bit versions of themselves was brilliant decision by the developers. It perfectly captures the feeling of both old style fighters, and the world of Scott Pilgrim. When the characters are drawn out in pixelized form, it is a very interesting experience. Fans of Scott Pilgrim will be familiar with O’Malley’s constant references to SNES and NES games, so to see the characters painted in the fashion is a perfect fit. Even better, the developers, and in turn the characters stay true to the series, and the moves of the characters are very reminiscent of other popular fighters.
The Scott Pilgrim series is a prime example of adaptation done right. Each version discussed brings something different and unique to the table due to the medium in which it was created. The comic is best at characterization, the game is best at creating a wholly unique experience, and the movie is the best overall, due to its ability to truly show us the world of Scott Pilgrim. Even though the comic spawned the movie, and much of its dialogue, the movie so effectively portrayed, with each joke hitting just the right mark that it is the undeniable king of Scott Pilgrim canon.
Patton, Jen. “Re/action – SCOTT PILGRIM Vs THE WORLD.” Reactionblog. 09 Oct. 2010. Web. 03 May 2012. <http://reactionblog.tumblr.com/post/1097035191/scottpilgrim>.
White, Cindy. “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World Review.” IGN. 12 Aug. 2010. Web. 03 May 2012. <http://movies.ign.com/articles/110/1108240p1.html>.