The Scott Pilgrim Digression

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is an amazing movie.  A truly unique and fantastic film that should be seen by everyone.  Any movie where our hero headbutts someone so hard that they burst into coins is the definition of awesome.  But Scott Pilgrim is more than just clever sight gags and beautifully executed video game references.  It builds sympathetic and interesting characters, warts and all, and manages to make you care about them.  This movie is great, and it’s just a shame that nostalgia and starring vehicles will crush it at the box office.

Which brings me to my topic: Movies and how I am so glad I am not making them.

Oh, yes, I have a few books optioned for film, and I am excited about that.  It’s a great opportunity, and I’m hopeful, with a little luck, that they might become good films.  I like movies, probably even a little more than books (if I’m honest), and I have tremendous respect for good movies.  Heck, I even respect bad movies because, when you get down to it, even a bad movie is a lot of work by a lot of people.  And when a great movie is made . . . that’s nothing short of a minor miracle.

I’ve dipped my feet in the Hollywood pool, and I’m only too happy to be invited to the party.  But, at the end of the day, I’m glad to be a novelologist, and Scott Pilgrim is a perfect illustration why.

Moviemaking is rough.  Scott Pilgrim is the #5 movie in the USA.  This qualifies it as “a bomb”.  That still astounds me.  If I had the 100th most popular book in the country, I’d be a success.  If I had the 5th most popular movie in America, I’d be a disappointment.

In addition, this is Scott Pilgrim’s one shot at being a successful film.  It doesn’t get a do over.  It might end up being popular on DVD, Blue Ray.  It might even make a modest profit, most likely will be deemed a “cult favorite”.  But to Hollywood, it will always be a failure, and there’s just no way around that.

I can’t imagine that pressure.  I can’t imagine working in an industry where that kind of pressure is commonplace.  Dabbling in Hollywood is fun.  It’s a great opportunity, great money, great chance to gain gobs of exposure.  But make no mistake.  It is brutal.

When people ask me if I’m “excited” about the prospect of one of my books becoming a movie, my reply is “Of course, I am.”  I would love to have a movie come out.  I’d be a fool not to.  But I also know what that entails, that a movie can sink like a stone through no fault of its own, and that in the space of one weekend, 3 days, a film’s ultimate fate is decided.

I’m sure everyone will have a reason for why Scott Pilgrim didn’t do as well as it should’ve.  I’m sure right now people are saying it’s “too smart”, “too niche”, “too silly”, “lacks starpower”, etc., etc.  But these are just guesses.  It seems to me that where a movie ends up has less to do with its quality and more to do with its competition and fickle moments of fate.  And anyone who thinks they understand how it works, how to beat or control the system, is just fooling themselves.  Otherwise, Hollywood would produce nothing but hit films, and that just ain’t happening.

Scott Pilgrim’s fate is sealed.  A wonderful film destined to be mocked for its box office failings, perhaps loved by a few but otherwise cast aside to the cruel gods of film.  You probably didn’t see it (or maybe you did because if you come to this site, you just might have the imagination and proper attitude to enjoy a strange story with a great deal of heart), but you definitely should while you can.  I don’t say this often, but this is a movie that deserves to be seen on the big screen.  It has some lively set pieces that are really cool.  (My favorite might be The Battle of the Band’s sequence, where music is personified as an ape fighting dragons.)

Check it out.  You’ll be glad you did.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. Bradley
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    I get the idea that you’re sticking to a bias but even this seems a bit over dramatic for you. Maybe you’re just that passionate about the movie. Saying stuff like a movie’s fate is sealed by how much money it makes.

    Art is subjective; and using objective arguments like how much money a movie makes to determine its longevity in “time” seems silly. Tron was a financial flop, didn’t stop the studios from learning from the mistakes and putting out what’s looking like an amazing sequel 28 years later.

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted August 18, 2010 at 12:19 am | Permalink

      Great points, Bradley.

      To be clear, I think Scott Pilgrim is a tremendous artistic achievement and an absolutely wonderful film.

      I’m speaking from a purely financial perspective here. And make no mistake. A movie like Scott Pilgrim is made to make money. It isn’t a prestige picture. It’s not going to win awards. While I’m sure the people involved in the film wanted to make a great movie, the studios wanted money.

      And it’s true that Tron became a cult hit, but I can’t imagine that when it failed initially that the execs who greenlit the project all said, “Well, give it 20 years!” with any kind of enthusiasm.

      It’s crass to say this, but financial success is a good thing. An artist should want to be successful because success (of a monetary variety) means that you’ve reached a wider audience. If you can do so without sacrificing artistic integrity, so much the better.

      As for myself, I’d much rather be appreciated as an artist now than 20 years from now. While the latter might be vindicating, the former is just plain better.

  2. Beth Sammons
    Posted August 20, 2010 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    Edgar Wright is one of those directors that will, like Sam Raimi, take years to come into his own in Hollywood. I think the movie will make good money in Europe , where Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are more popular.

  3. Rippley
    Posted August 22, 2010 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    A Lee Martinez,

    In Bradley’s defense, most of people (behind-the-stage artists) involved with Tron have become highly successful money-wise.

    Lev Manovich, one of the computer art designers for Tron, wrote a highly influential book on ‘New Media,’ which was taught at Harvard. In this book he recounts all the famous folks he worked with during the film. And I believe I watched a documentary about folks who got their start on Tron and, later, were offered more gigs for other, more successful, films.

    Just saying!!!

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