With our dissection of the final book’s plot out of the way, in the final part of Comics Daily’s epic discussion of epic Scott Pilgrim epicness we get back onto the subject of the film, and how well – or otherwise – it translated our precious comics to the screen.
Part Three – The Adaptation
Seb: First off, there’s just one point I’d like to make – which is that, reading back over part two, it comes off a little like we were both fairly negative about Finest Hour, since we were largely picking apart the issues we had with Gideon and the plot. I’d just like to state for the record, therefore, that even with those issues, it’s still an astonishingly brilliant piece of work. It doesn’t quite match my favourite of the six – Gets It Together – but it’s easily up there with the other best ones (I’d put 3, 5 and 6 on about an even footing). It’s still tremendously funny, and full of great moments. Saying goodbye to those characters did make me a little weepy, the first time a comic’s done that since… well, alright, since issue #8 of Daytripper if I’m being honest, but that was the first time since probably We3. And O’Malley has developed from being a solid artist with an engagingly cartoony style and knack for amusing character expression in book one, to an absolute master storyteller in book six. So, yeah. It’s Quite Good, Really.
James: Well… to be honest, Book 6 didn’t quite live up to my hopes for it. I enjoyed it more the second and third time around, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little underwhelmed. Obviously, I love the little jokes and asides (as the panel above illustrates, that aspect of the books stayed strong all the way through) and on a technical level, I was impressed by the art and storytelling techniques – but the big arcs and plot resolutions let me down, so I didn’t get the emotional hit I thought I would. Or indeed, that book 5 gave me. Perhaps my high expectations weren’t ever going to be met, but I always think the best endings leave you with an ache where the story was, and Book 6 didn’t do that. It took me weeks to get over Genshiken Vol. 9, by comparison.
Seb: Let’s go back to the film, then. It’s interesting the way it went from an almost entirely straight (and largely perfect) adaptation of book one, but then from book two onwards gradually shifting onto its own way of doing things (and, indeed, its own primary arc) – there’s a risk it could have seemed quite disjointed. As it is, it’s weird, but I think it managed to come off well in its own right despite sitting there, as a fan of the book, and knowing how it was deviating more and more as it went on. As discussed, there’s loads I wish they’d kept in (although at the same time, certain things surprised me when they were kept – I really didn’t expect the Vegan Police to be the resolution to the Todd fight, though I’m glad they were as it was one of the moments that really got the audience going; and I’d love to know the process behind getting the scenes at the Chaos Theatre, e.g. the elevator shot, so similar in book and film considering they weren’t done at the same time), but they did a much better job of cohesively rounding it out their own way than, say, Watchmen did.
James: I agree that there wasn’t anything in the film that outraged my nerdier sensibilities. Between Iron Man and Kick Ass, it’s been a good year for respectful comic adaptations. Michael Cera was the one thing I was worried about, and I went from thinking he could do it, to worried (after the first trailer) to completely won over again mere seconds into this film. Most of my favourite moments made it into the book, although there were a lot of things I was disappointed got lost – the Xavier’s line, the repetition of “Knives Chau, 17 Years Old”, and the loss of Scott’s “I was thinking we should break up, or whatever” line – my favourite moment from book 1!
S: Losing the X-Men line was a massive disappointment (especially seeing as they used the patch and made something else out of it!), but I can’t be too disappointed when pretty much all of my favourite Wallace bits from book one (the amazon.ca line, arguing with Crash and the Boys, and – most surprisingly/pleasingly – the “Guess who’s drunk!” scene) were in there.
The exes generally came off well, though. Going into it I had concerns about how the Roxy one was going to end, given that I’d read a review that described it (and guessed, correctly, that they were nicking the “weak spot is the back of the knees” thing from Envy in book three), but it wasn’t as terrible as said description made it sound, and was instead quite funny (given that, all things considered, you couldn’t really have Scott punching or headbutting a girl to death onscreen, and you couldn’t do the sword bit because he hadn’t earned it yet). Patel was pretty much spot on, even though I wish they’d had Scott and co singing their bits of the song. The Lucas stuff was strong, but I thought the stunt guys bit was a bit of a pointless addition considering they still had him win the fight the same way. Todd was great, with Routh probably giving the best of the performances (although Schwartzmann was spot on as well) – and as mentioned, the Vegan Police just rounded it off brilliantly. The twins were a letdown, though. I mean, they were the weakest exes (quite deliberately, really) in the books, and I did like the idea of the music-based monster fight, which looked terrific; but for them not to have a line of dialogue between them, and to not even get the explanation of why they were teaming up, made them feel a bit rushed and hollow.
J: Roxy and the Katayanagis definitely suffered most. Although I loved the actual fight with the Katayanagis, it suffered massively from being nothing more than a fight scene. I suppose the idea was that the emotional investment came from the fact that we wanted them to win the recording contract, but that plot never really got enough time to make it the centrepiece of an entire fight. I actually prefer the draft script version, which has Wallace set the pair against one another after gossiping with Ramona.
I think the adaptation was fine, I’d have cut all the same stuff, and I can appreciate that if you leave out the Book 4 Lisa plot and Book 5 break-up stuff, there’s not much left to them so you have to come up with new bits (although Roxy’s fight still felt a bit perfunctory). I was disappointed they lost the stuff about Todd’s affair, but since it didn’t affect the fight’s outcome it’s not such a problem. I can see why the fight stuff was necessary with Lucas, TBH. In the book, there’s no fight, he just dares him to skateboard, and as a film trying to get its premise across, I think it needed to have an actual fight beforehand. Patel’s was the one that got cloest to being flawless, though!
S: I suppose we could go on all day about how underused Kim was – but that’s just personal preference based on how she’s a favourite character from the books, and how well-cast Pine turned out to be (despite my initial misgivings). I know there was simply no time to do all the supporting characters’ background stories (Stephen and Julie/Joseph, the Lisa stuff, etc.), but losing the glimpses at her life were a major shame.
J: I was pleased that they got all the characters in there, regardless of how thin some of them were. Since you mentioned the Adult Swim animation [in part one], I’m kind of tempted to say that there’s a potential series in animating the stuff that didn’t make it into the film alone. Only a small portion of my two favourite plot threads – Lisa and Envy’s – made it into the film at all! I’m not sure how it could be done without doing a straight, alternative adaptation, but the existing short makes me believe it’d be worth doing.
Oh, actually, one nerdrage moment, now that I think about it: “Scott, if your life had a face I’d punch it in the balls” (book) Vs. “Scott, if your life had a face, I’d punch it.” (movie) That change almost stoked a fire in me like the loss of the “Beware of Leopard” moment in H2G2. You cut a joke, or you keep it. You do not CUT THE PUNCHLINE ALONE.
But yeah, that’s literally it, and no individual who takes themselves seriously would actually get upset about that!
S: Ah. Ahaha. BUT. The initial line, as said by Kim, is indeed “Scott, if your life had a face I’d punch it”. Then, later on (I think it’s after Scott gets his job back), Stephen says it with the “punch it in the balls” addition. True, only using the first one does defeat the point a little by losing the punchline of Stephen’s altered repetition, but there’s nowhere really that a second utterance would have fitted.
Actually, in terms of fanboy disappointment, perhaps the only major one was that the credits sequence wasn’t how I imagined it – I was disappointed that the song Scott’s named after was relegated to a short appearance shortly after the titles, instead. Booo!
J: Ah, I actually loved the credits sequence, the way it let you focus on the music, with only the barest hints of what was to come (I noticed Gideon’s triforce-style logo) then revealed itself as being essentially what was going on in Knives’ mind while the song was playing. Good stuff! And I know we owe some debt to Plumtree, but let’s be realistic, they’re really not very good ;-)
S: Speaking of the music, that’s another thing worth discussing – just how bloody spectacular the soundtrack is. I’ve been listening to it pretty much constantly since seeing the film, and am also glad that I didn’t do so beforehand. The tone of the stuff Beck does for Sex Bob-Omb is spot on, the Crash and the Boys ludicrously-short-songs idea is actually translated surprisingly effectively (the performance of “I’m Sad, So Very Very Sad” got one of the biggest laughs at the screening we were at), and as for Clash at Demonhead… well, I’ve watched this more times than is probably healthy, now – it’s an astoundingly great scene and choice of music. And Brie Larson is so Envy it’s scary.
It also surprised me just how much of the music heard in the trailers was stuff that had been composed for the film – i.e. pretty much all of it.
James: Funnily enough, Brie was the one person in the cast who I didn’t immediately think was perfect as their character – until she started singing, then I realised that yes, she was. I mean, I already love Metric, so I was looking forward to hearing Black Sheep anyway, but that was a fantastic moment. As I said before, Envy’s thread is one of my favourites, from the books, so I’m a bit gutted they didn’t make more of it. I was quite worried about actually hearing Sex Bob-omb – obviously, every reader’s going to have their own sound in their head – but it worked.
I think we probably agree that the film was about as good as it could have been, under the circumstances. It seems to be getting a fair amount of 4-star reviews, most of which criticise the pacing, so it makes me wonder how things might have turned out if they’d done two or three movies instead – although given the box office numbers, maybe they wouldn’t have gotten the chance. Part of me does wonder if there isn’t a way to turn some of the cut material from the books into a sequel – the stuff about Scott and Ramona moving in together, the stuff about Sex Bob-omb breaking up, Lisa and Envy’s plots… I can almost see it working, and there’s so much story to draw on that I don’t think it’d really be sacrilege to try.
S: Yeah, it’s weird – as someone who’s been into the books for a few years – that there’s suddenly all this explosion of talk about Scott Pilgrim (I’ve been threatened with unfollowing on Twitter from friends who are sick of it!), and due to the fact that there’s only one film (although as strange as it may initially seem, your sequel idea doesn’t sound too far-fetched! I could almost see it working in an odd way… but no, it has to just be one, really. I’ll take a Kim Pine spinoff comic, though), in six months or so it’ll all be forgotten. But for us fans, the film’s going to last well on DVD as an entertaining alternative way of re-experiencing the story, and as a reminder of a time when O’Malley’s little indie comic became The Biggest Thing In The World for a few weeks. And of course, the comics are already one of the most endlessly re-readable out there.
It’s been fun. And it’s very strange to think that it’s all now pretty much over and done with.