I recently watched Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World after hearing many, many good things about it (too many good things if you ask me, hence my skeptical attitude towards viewing it for the first time...)
Well, firstly, I enjoyed it. So that was a good start. It took me quite a while to get into it but I got there in the end.
Anyway, that's enough positivity for this blog. Too much of that and I'll be posting pictures of rainbows and crying about how beautiful everything is in no time.
Onto more familiar territory, and I'm going to tell you what I thought was wrong with it:
Firstly - and this is no fault of the film - the mere mention of it's title is enough to make anyone within earshot start deliriously lavishing praise upon it. This automatically makes me dubious and fills me with suspicion. As a great man once said, "Don't Believe The Hype".
Unfortunately, the vast majority of cinemagoers, and people in general, are complete fucking morons. And when a moron is telling me how great something is, it takes me appoximately 0.0004 seconds to switch off and start daydreaming about hand grenades.
Secondly, I didn't think it was particularly well written. I am aware that it was originally a serialised comic book series. I am also aware that work on the film started before the books were even finished.
Unfortunately, it also feels like this was the case. I lost count of how many times I felt like the story was wandering off it's projected story arc. And similarly, there seemed to be several moments when events seemed inconsequential or worse, a little bit Deus Ex Machina...
*SPOILER AL- You know what? Fuck it. This isn't IMDb...
The scene at the end, after he's defeated the seventh Evil Ex and just before he finally gets together with Ramona, really grated against me as a writer.
His previous girlfriend, "Knives Chau" - who not five minutes previous to this scene was trying to kill Ramona for stealing her boyfriend - Suddenly has a change of heart and decides she'll be fine if Scott goes off with her. Completely out of the blue.
Maybe, having not read the books, I'm missing something about her character. but in that case, then it's a failing on behalf of the screenplay writer. There was nothing about her character that implied she'd have a sudden change of heart, nor was there any particular event that would cause her to. In summation, I think it's just bad writing. Which is a surprise, coming from Edgar Wright.
And similarly, I found it very hard to sympathise with any of the characters because I felt their personalities were all so completely one dimensional.
The sarcastic one. The gay one. The angry one. That was it, the whole way through.
And even Scott himself, the main character, was very hard to root for. He fucks his current girlfriend off to chase this girl he's never even spoken to, and you're meant to be on his side. Similarly he comes across as being kind of ignorant to everything the whole way through. I didn't find much to like about him at all.
And also, why the hell can he fight? I've read subsequently that the idea was "guy plays streetfighter his whole life, and finds out he can fight like that", but that really doesn't come across at all in practice.
You only see him playing games twice in the whole film, and both times it looks like he's playing Dance Dance Revolution with ninjas, not Street Fighter. The idea that he might have accidentally learnt how to fight is never alluded to once. Then when he encounters the first Evil Ex, he can suddenly beat the crap out of the guy. Because he's played Dance Dance Revolution?
Thirdly, what the hell is with all the lens flares? It looks like a fucking Linkin Park video. Once or twice in a film is cool. Every ten seconds is distracting.
I watched "Dobermann" again today, and there is one shot with a lens flare in it. And when I saw it I thought "wow, that's really cool. That shot really jumps out at me". BECAUSE THERE WAS ONLY ONE SHOT OF IT IN THE WHOLE FILM. If you do it a lot you totally defeat the purpose of doing it at all.
Finally ,and most importantly, the visual effects.
Ahh yes, the much-hyped, much-touted visual effects.
They're technically superb. No question. The VFX department did a stunning job on them, but I have a few major gripes:
I get that they're meant to give the impression that we're watching a real life comic book. But a lot of the time I find they're distracting and unnecessary. Scott Pilgrim is no more a comic book film than Spiderman is, but they didn't bother with any of that for Spiderman.
Why? Because it's distracting and unnecessary.
In a comic book, using onomatoepeia and "movement lines" is a way of bringing the images to life in lieu of it being a kinetic medium. You don't have to do that with film because A) you can see characters moving so you don't need to exaggerate it, and B) because you have sound.
You can hear the sound someone's head makes when he hits it against a lamp-post for example. You don't also need to see the word "thud" every time he does it.
Another problem I have is that they don't add anything to the film as a piece of entertainment.
Allow me to elaborate.
I am all for stylistics in film. I love seeing new and interesting ways of presenting a story, but the most important thing to remember is that they should help present the story.
So much of the visual effects in Scott Pilgrim are unnecessary, and don't serve the film. They create a stylistic look to the film, granted, but there's a well known saying that I feel applies here, and it's "style over substance".
On the polar opposite of that statement is the film Zombieland, which is the best use of stylistic VFX I've seen in a long while. The opening credits alone are worth the price of admission.
You are allowed to "forget" about the VFX in Zombieland, and consequently the impact of seeing them when they do something which adheres to one of Columbus' rules is much greater. They serve the story very well in this regard because they don't clutter up the screen, aren't distracing as they have their own little part of the movie set aside for them, and work within the way the story is presented (the film's opening revolves around the protagonist discussing the rules you need to adhere to in orer to survive in Zombieland, a running theme throughout. As each rule is explained, there is an example shown on screen, along with a graphic explaining the rule that "sits" in the shot and reacts to being shot, hit by a car, smashed etc...)
Similarly, it's funny when you see the rules suddenly pop into the shot, because you'd completely forgotten about them as a storytelling device, because they blend so well into the film. There is an independent entertainment value to them that adds to the enjoyment of the film overall.
The point I'm trying to make is that post production, in all it's forms, has long been referred to as "the invisible art". If you notice it, you're doing something wrong.
Whilst there is obviously some leeway in this regard when talking about highly stylistic films, if any aspect of Post Production detracts from the film itself you can probably go ahead and call that a failure. If a film is purely there to provide a backbone to impressive visuals, you might as well just watch someones showreel.
My final, and arguably most major gripe with this film is the impact it has had on film and television regarding it's visual style.
I work in a college, and I can think of at least 5 seperate incidents since this film came out where I have heard people reference the visual style of Scott Pilgrim, and how it is something they want to emulate for their own work.
Exactly the same thing happened with the Matrix when that came out. And like the Matrix, it's just as obvious when someone is copying from it because it's so immediately identifiable.
It's just a matter of time until BBC3 commissions a programme that uses this exact visual style in an attempt to seem cool and down with the kids. And for that, I hate it.
Every time a visually interesting film or programme comes out, every industry twat without an imagination or an original idea tries to copy it wholesale. It happened to the Matrix, it happened to 24, it happened to A Scanner Darkly (still feeling the effects of that one), it happened to 300 (and that one) and now it's happening to Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World...
Ultimately though, and with all perceived flaws aside, it is genuinely funny in places and I would say it's worth watching. If only to know exactly what NOT to do with your visuals for the next 12 months...