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Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

The Scott Pilgrim Universal Logo.

Scott Pilgrim has done something new and interesting. Who knows how many people will feel this way? After all, it didn’t perform as well as its creators were no-doubt hoping for, having not yet paid for itself. But that’s a sad discussion that I will try to aid only by recommending that one at least give this film a shot. The young and vibrant energy that is literally exploding almost every minute of the film is enough to make me almost as warm as the childish joy I felt after seeing Speed Racer, a film whose climaxes culminate similarly. But where Speed Racer fails, Scott Pilgrim is ready to succeed over and over again, until it’s finally over and everyone who’s seen it will have been forced to intake at least some of its positive spirit.

Scott Pilgrim's band plays to a stretched-out room.

Like Toy Story 3, Pilgrim is ready to delve into the memories of the latest generations and extract the most charming and bittersweet moments for further perusal. Not only do we re-live them in emotion, but they are presented to us in a style that may have existed before, but never has been utilized to the effect that Scott Pilgrim manages.

It’s a hyper-active audio-visual-metaphoric trip that is not just used for pleasing aesthetic - the film takes it a few steps further, creating an entire world in which characters accept it as part of their lives. It can be seen as many things - the application of culture as a lens into the things we experience from it, its own point of view; an environment in which every character contributes his or her own imagination to a collective environment that they all seem to be able to experience, regardless of whether or not they do; a guided style of storytelling that brings to light only what is important, at times abandoning sight or sound to accentuate the focus of Scott’s attention; the list goes on. Or perhaps it’s just the way Scott lives his life. All these ideas are true at one point or another, and there are many more. Scott Pilgrim is a collection of these sorts of concepts - it lays down its ground rules and expands upon them until we are entirely thrust into his world.

Scott's sister on the left side of the screen on the phone, and Scott on the phone on the right.

All of these techniques are used to bring us in closer to the narrator, until we feel as though we’re right there with him, living in the environment he has become used to.

Scott and an enemy charge toward each other.

Scott Pilgrim punches a girl above him.

Is it the way he sees things, the way he sees things in retrospect, or the way they are? His mind has clearly been twisted into a shape familiar to those who have grown up constantly experiencing various media every day, which is the one way that most of us are able to relate to Scott and his experiences - perhaps not the way he lives through them, but the way he perceives them - changed due to media and environment. This suggests that Scott Pilrim is most likely full of references to that very fabric, and indeed it is. While Scott Pilgrim’s music aesthetic seems as though it might be lacking in substance, the soundtrack has no problem contributing to the environment. Its video game aesthetic is far more realized from what I can tell, having video games as a more primary field of reference. However, while there are blatant nods to some games, what is most interesting are some of the underlying “video game concept” references, which allude not to any game in particular but to concepts like “secret passageways” and other such ideas, as well as the rules that govern how such concepts are usually executed in a game. Ways of thinking, ways of perceiving.

Ramona Flowers reaches for a door in darkness.

It’s nearly hard to realize that the references are there, because of how naturally some of them are understood by anyone whose experienced such concepts before. And for viewers who are not able to participate in the same level of understanding, the next gag or plot point will have hit only seconds later due to the amazingly quick pacing that the film maintains throughout.

Ramona looks up at Scott.

Scott Pilgrim crushes a cup on the left side of the screen, while Ramona gazes at the audience on the right.

Ramona Flowers kisses Scott.

The pacing is absolutely brilliantly executed, which is one of the film’s strongest points_. It’s not exactly the pacing itself; it’s the fact that the special effects, confused, awkward and slightly abstract dialog, and absolute charm are sustained throughout the length of the film, with the pacing sometimes used as a part of these things itself. Cuts vary in meaning and tone because of the various effects to which they are used, becoming one of the central pieces of the narrative. Michael Cera fits in like he was meant to live there - his familiar _Arrested Development style has been changed and refined for this latest picture; instead of a passive nature, the ultimate realization of his one-sided career might have finally reached its strongest point, though that might not be saying quite as much as it sounds. His supporting early-20s friends are all nicely cast, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the gorgeous Ramona Flowers gives Scott a sexual object to pursue, while giving the audience little other reason to like her. But it’s not our job to care; it’s Scott’s job to have a true relationship that might pull him out of his adolescence into a new person, and our job to enjoy watching it. And a joy it is.

Three animals generated from the energy of music begin to fight.

Pilgrim’s plot is easily summarized in a sentence - it might be how it’s described to someone who doesn’t remember what the film’s about - and the narrative’s semi-related intricacies are where all of the compelling storytelling comes forth. There are some action sequences as Scott takes on Ramona’s seven evil exes, but their special effects are not much more special than the effects that are utilized to describe the more standard situations and events that Scott takes part in, which is part of the reason that the overall environment becomes so prevalent. Recurring dream sequences and dreamlike transitions easily move from one scene to the next, a lucidity that is almost unsettling in its realism or relatability from time to time. I felt particularly close to the events on-screen when the way in which they were presented mirrored some of my own thought patterns and methods of experience, and I think that the film will probably hold similar presentations for others, which is a very strong and intimate quality to have.

The combination of these traits results in a more pure form of entertainment than most are used to. It’s obvious from every line and sequence that it’s all about the energy, about the fun and experience, creating a charm that’s nearly irresistible.

Jason Schwartzman looks at Scott.

Scott Pilgrim and friends walk down a sidewalk with winter clothing.

Who’s going to be able to participate? Who’s going to be able to enjoy? I don’t always feel lucky about being a part of the generation that I’m a part of, but this is a time in which I am very glad to have been able to enjoy a piece of art born directly out of my time period to such an extent. I doubt we’ll see anything quite like Scott Pilgrim, so energetic and polished in such a fully-realized world, for some time.

From Scott Pilgrim’s Facebook page:

From award winning director Guillermo Del Toro, Egyptian Theatre, Nov 1st, 2010. “I think we all can go out to the world after this screening and tell every motherfucker out there to watch the movie. Why? Because anyone that didn’t watch it is a motherfucker. We can tell them when they ask why does Hollywood make such shitty movies because when they do great ones, you don’t fucking show up.”

Scott stands against a black background.

Rating: Excellent

Notes

I was fortunate enough to see this film in theaters. The Blu-ray release looks absolutely fantastic; the colors of Scott Pilgrim alone make an HD viewing worthwhile, but the effects are also very high-quality. The screen captures present are from the Blu-ray release. The film also has an amazing credit sequence. For more, see Art of the Title, which has an excellent interview on the title sequence as well as the first five or so minutes of the movie.