So when the tale was written, SCOTT PILGRIM Vs THE WORLD ended up #5 at the box office with a disappointing $10.5 mil. This simple fact has caused ethnic wars everywhere on the internet. People ask, double rainbow-like, “What does it mean?” and argue over who is a fanboy, what is a fanboy, what is a comic book and whether star Michael Cera should be allowed to live.
We’d hinted earlier that it was looking more and more likely that SPvTW would fall to the “Comic-Con curse” and also the “Serenity Plague” — basically, all those free screenings to the already converted did nothing to improve word of mouth, and it also seems that everyone who wanted to see the movie had already seen it by the time it rolled out — sometimes two or three times!
But, amazingly, when normal people actually go see Bryan Lee O’Malley’s SCOTT PILGRIM, they perceive it as the charming, warm-hearted, innovative genre-bending forward-looking film for our times that it is. And even half of the movie critics seem to “get it” — while the other half seem to think there is a joke they were left out of and know it. A.O. Scott in the NYT had a very positive review that straddled the lines:
But Mr. Wright’s deeper ingenuity (and Mr. O’Malley’s) is to collapse the distance between gamer and avatar not by throwing the player into the world of the game, but rather by bringing it to him. (If you want to reverse this process there is now a Scott Pilgrim video game.) As a result, the line between fantasy and reality is not so much blurred as erased, because the filmmakers create an entirely coherent, perpetually surprising universe that builds on Mr. O’Malley’s bold and unpretentious graphic style without slavishly duplicating it.
We wouldn’t advise wading into the near 400 post comment thread on Deadline but one poster did sum up the way we feel about SCOTT PILGRIM: “Napoleon Dynamite with kung fu.” If SPvTW had been marketed as a $30 million quirky comedy with indie rock/video game sensibilities, it could have been a sleeper hit that cemented Edgar Wright as the next Danny Boyle.
Instead, inexplicably, Universal spent some $60 million (after Canadian tax rebates) and it was marketed as some kind of tentpole action flick with universal awareness and appeal. Which it never was. Some people have unfavorably compared the film to SPEED RACER, which to us sounds like a compliment, another example of forward-looking filmmaking that didn’t cross the goal line first.
A lot of people are blaming Universal’s travails for the PILGRIM mystery — it’s in the middle of a government-mandated investigation into its looming acquisition by Comcast — and the fact that they have just greenlit a $200 million movie based on the board game Battleship would tend to support that hypothesis. “I just sank your P&L!”
The frustrating thing about all of this is that had the SP movie done well, it would have opened the door for Hollywood to see interesting non-superhero material as fodder for development. Now, along with the underperformance this year of THE LOSERS, KICK-ASS and JONAH HEX, many are wondering if the era of the comic book movie is over. No less a booster than Whitney Matheson tackles the question:
Finally, I don’t think the comic-book movie is dead by any means — I just think audiences may not be ready for the indie comic-book movie. And that’s a shame, because blockbuster comic flicks are getting pretty boring. They could learn a lot from Edgar Wright’s enthusiasm and inventiveness.
We don’t want to make too much of message board posters, but once again the Deadline crew displays a lot of ignorance that some could take as gospel over the Comic-Con generation. One HUGE point of contention: was KICK-ASS a bomb? Our answer: No, it was not. It was marketed as a mainstream movie, and it was not, but has been — as we correctly predicted last week — a huge hit on DVD and Blu-ray.
There’s also a lot of misunderstanding over just what is a fanboy in the wake of SCOTT PILGRIM’s debut. Haters are dissing the “fanboys” when the truth is that most middle-aged comics fans were already ambivalent or hostile to the comics indie vibe. SCOTT PILGRIM was never for superhero geeks. Video game geeks, yes, but that’s a far less outwardly nerdy demo than the original Comic-Con founders.
We asked a few of our Hollywood pals for some insights and they pointed out that the simple fact is that SCOTT PILGRIM should never have opened up against the ’80s icons Depends-fest THE EXPENDABLES. In fact, we could have told you that after San Diego. Given a golden ticket to the SP panel, we got in early enough to see the tail end of the EXPENDABLES. After these grizzled tough guys — most of them legitimately still able to kick your ass — limped off the stage like warriors who have seen multiple campaigns, the SCOTT PILGRIM cast flitted onto the stage like tiny, adorable fairies, led by their very own Oberon, Edgar Wright. And with Bryan Lee O’Malley as Puck. It was Simon Bisley vs Charles Vess.
In the end, nothing can take away the magic — the giant posters over San Diego, the theme park, the flip books, the garlic bread. Even if perplexing in hindsight, it was special and memorable. And it has sold lots and lots and lots of graphic novels.
Most important, nothing can take away Bryan Lee O’Malley’s charming, thrilling, hilarious generation-defining graphic novels and the wonderful movie they inspired. When all this business talk is over we can all just go back to enjoying them as God intended.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.