Edgar Wright and his 'Scott Pilgrim' cast touch down in Austin
Prediction: You're going to start seeing a whole lot of handmade T-shirts with the words "Sex Bob-omb" hastily stenciled or silk-screened on them. That's the name of the fictional band in Edgar Wright's brilliantly rollicking adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's six-volume series of Scott Pilgrim graphic novels, which, like Wright's film, crackle with life, love, rock & roll, and the potentially deadly perils of dating in the postmodern, hyper-pop-cultural world.
Wright's adaptation is, in a word, flawless, not because it mirrors O'Malley's original so much but because it creates and sustains the books' emotional essence and narrative overdrive. It's also a generational high-water mark, the first true comic-book movie that doesn't feel as though it's been bastardized or diluted by a committee of writers and rewriters. It's true to its hero's scarred and somewhat jerky heart in a way that even Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films – or for that matter Tim Burton's Batmans – never quite nail, and, like Sex Bob-omb (Beck Hansen wrote the band's songs, although the actors, including Michael Cera, performed them), it rocks your socks off and then heads for your underwear. Oh, l'amour.
Following the film's official Alamo Drafthouse premiere last Friday, the Chronicle sat down with Wright and co-stars Cera and Jason Schwartzman and talked about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, comic culture in general, and how to explode a 13-year-old's head.
Austin Chronicle: It feels as if with this film you've raised the bar on the comic-book-/manga-/graphic-novel-based film in a similar way to what James Cameron recently did for 3-D CGI with Avatar, and I mean that in a very complimentary way
Edgar Wright: What was the bar before, in your opinion?
AC: That's tough, but I've always had a soft spot – as has the Alamo – for Josie and the Pussycats. Which also revolves around a band and their adventures.
Wright: I've never seen that, actually. But you know what's weird? We have one of the same producers on Scott Pilgrim, Mark Platt.
AC: So how many preview screenings have you done for this film? Because with Austin, you know, you're pretty much preaching to the choir.
Wright: True, but I somehow take the most pleasure in people watching it completely cold. Because the people who haven't read the books and don't know what's coming, talking to those people is always just so much fun because they're the ones that seem to be completely blown away by what they've just seen. I've said I want this film to be like a 13-year-old's brain exploding. Which is good, right? That's a good thing to aim for. It's not going to get us any Academy Award nominations, but if we can get a 13-year-old's brain to explode, then we've done our job well.
AC: Here's a geek question that no one asked at the screening Q&A: Were the Katayanagi twins' dragons based on King Ghidorah from the Godzilla films? Because it sure looked like it.
Wright: Good guess, but no. It's really a reference to the game Double Dragon. There's actually a moment where Michael is walking around the limo and you see their tour bus in the background with the twin dragons logo on the side. The sonic yeti that Sex Bob-omb have is a nod to the id monster from Forbidden Planet.
Michael Cera: That always reminds me of Ghostbusters. That moment when it gets sucked back into the guitar? It's like when Slimer gets sucked into the Ghostbusters' machine.
Wright: With some of those effects we were definitely going for a look that approximated a lot of those Eighties effects movies, like Raiders and Ghostbusters in particular. They have a really hand-drawn quality to them that I find really endearing. You know when you see CGI effects in, say, the X-Men or Fantastic Four films, they really have a digital feel to them? I wanted our effects to look as though they had been drawn. So in some way it's kind of like sophisticated lo-fi. Do you know what I mean? The monsters that get created in that battle look in no way realistic, but they still look cool.
Cera: What's that Harrison Ford movie?
Cera: No, the one where he's in the future.
AC: Blade Runner?
Wright: There's three different versions of that one.
Cera: Right, but the director's cut is shorter than the original version, right?
Wright: Right. Same thing with Alien. What I love about the Alien director's cut is the pace is slower, and it's just amazing. So Ridley Scott actually went back into the Avid and started nipping bits out and actually slowing the action down. I prefer it.
AC: Back to Scott Pilgrim: How closely did you and co-screenwriter Michael Bacall work with Bryan Lee O'Malley in adapting his six-volume graphic novel to the screen? Obviously the series hadn't even been finished by the time you started working on the adaptation.
Wright: It worked organically over a period of five years. The first draft we did was in 2006, just before I did Hot Fuzz. In some respects that was a placeholder draft so that the studio wouldn't forget about the project. Things kind of go away in Hollywood, very frequently, so we wrote a script, handed it in to the studio, and said: "This is what we want to make. We haven't forgotten about it. Please give us the second half of our advance. We promise we'll be back in 18 months to do the second draft." Which is what we did.
Jason Schwartzman: And we had his notes.
Wright: Right. Some of the things that are in the film but not in the books come from his notes. Ultimately I wanted the books to be the books and the film to be the film. I feel that a literal panel-for-panel, bubble-for-bubble adaptation can make a film too slavish to the source material. Adapting from a comic is often a situation that you just can't really win, so I felt we just had to make the best Scott Pilgrim movie we could make.
AC: Were all three of you huge comic-book fans growing up?
Cera: I've never been a huge comic reader. This is one of the first ones I really got into.
AC: Really? What were you reading as a kid? Books?
Cera: Closed captioning. At bars.
Wright: The first comic I used to read was 2000 A.D., which is the British sci-fi anthology comic.
AC: Judge Dredd!
Wright: Right. And that was huge for a generation. It was a really big deal and so many great writers and artists came out of it, like Alan Moore, Simon Bisley. When I was 11, I got into a massive Marvel phase. I read all three Spider-Mans – Web of Spider-Man; Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man; The Amazing Spider-Man – along with The Incredible Hulk and some of The X-Men. I was never much of a DC guy, but I did read Watchmen, Batman Returns, and Killing Joke.
Schwartzman: Like Michael, I wasn't into comics and graphic novels when I was growing up. I do remember reading [Art Spiegelman's] Maus, which was amazing. When I read Scott Pilgrim, before I knew I was going to be in the movie, I thought to myself: "Why don't I read more graphic novels? Because this is amazing." And you can finish them so much more quickly than you can a normal novel, and I'm such a slow reader that it gave me a feeling of productivity. But growing up, I was much more into music and tracking down albums as opposed to comics. I think whether it's a love of comics or films or music or games, really, beneath it all is the same thing, and that is an enthusiasm to go beyond the things that are just presented to you. It's a desire to seek out the new. An enthusiasm and energy to pursue the things that aren't obvious. I think that's something Michael and Edgar and I share with anyone who is passionate about anything, whatever that may be.