While some would say Comic-Con International in San Diego is the easiest audience for a film like Universal Studios’ “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” director Edgar Wright would disagree. “If they don’t like something, they will eat you alive. If anything, you’ve got your hardest critics in the room because they know the books inside-out and obviously we had to take some liberties with the books to make it into one film,” he explained. “If they didn’t like it, we would have also heard that as well. I was personally very pleased that everybody liked it so much. ”
For Wright, the release of the film is the culmination of a very long process to bring Bryan Lee O’Malley’s characters to the screen. “I’ve been working on this script, in conjunction with Brian Lee O’Malley and Michael Bacall, for five years, at least. I’ve been working on the film, solidly, for two years. So that’s like two solid years of work up on screen and like the paint is only just drying,” he reflected. The first screening of the film on the Thursday of Comic-Con was only the second time he had watched it from beginning to end. “I’m very happy with it. It was incredibly ambitious, but I’m very pleased with the finished thing,” he said of his work.
Asked if he connected the books copious references to video games, animation and other markers of pop culture, Wright replied. “I think, really, what sold me about it was I loved the central message for the books. I loved the idea of somebody literally fighting for love. I’ve dealt with it before in the TV show ‘Spaced;’ the idea of characters’ lives being governed by the pop culture they consume.
“I liked the idea of going further with that. There were dream sequences [in ‘Spaced’] and people wake up. ‘Scott Pilgrim’ is like a dream sequence where the character never wakes up. You could even see the film – if you want to put some ‘Inception’ theory into it – you could even see ‘Scott Pilgrim’ as a film where the lead character never wakes up from his daydream,” the director offered, somewhat jokingly. “There’s a point where he walks into the bathroom and then walks out into the school corridor and it’s never clear, from that point on, whether we’re in the real world or not anymore.
“I say not,” Wright smiled.
Despite the frantic pace of the film and its constant barrage of pop-culture signposts, the director believes the film has a strong core from which everything else hangs. “It’s really about young love and the ups-and-downs, the immaturity and insecurities of love at that age. Scott Pilgrim is adolescent and the way that he thinks about a new relationship is it’s the best thing ever and the way that he feel about a break up is it’s the worst thing ever. At that age, you don’t know any better. You don’t have any life experience,” he explained. “Ramona is different because she’s had seven relationships and seven relationships [so] she probably cares to do things a lot differently. So, you have two characters who meet and they want different things. Scott wants the fairy-tale sort of dream girl and Ramona wants just a nice guy and something kind of casual.
“I like that idea that within the film, there are kind of grey areas. It wasn’t completely a fairy-tale thing,” Wright continued. “Even the quest that is set up – can you defeat these seven exes for the fair hand of this princess? At a point in the film, Scott Pilgrim isn’t even sure if he wants to fight anymore. Then when he is fighting it, is he fighting it for the wrong reasons? Is it less about the girl and more that he’s jealous of the other guy and wants to defeat Gideon out of pure jealousy? If Scott Pilgrim gets dumped, will he become one of the evil exes?”
It is that grounding in real human experience that makes Wright’s films both wild and relatable all at once. The director used the problem of the ‘Star Wars’ prequels to explain his beliefs about filmmaking. “Ewan McGregor certainly said out loud that it was kind of boring not having any sets. If you were there in the 1970s ones, the Millennium Falcon is something that’s there and you can touch it. It adds so much to the performances.” Relating it back to “Scott Pilgrim,” he continued, “Even though there are crazy fight scenes and fantastical things happening, we had real sets and people were in locations and could literally have their feet on the ground. But I think it’s hopefully clear that there is an emotional through-line to the film. It’s always about the love story, even the kind of wildest fight scenes are all big, fantastical outpourings of how Scott Pilgrim is feeling at that time. Essentially what you’re watching is an exaggerated version of events.”
Being a fan of DVD features, Wright revealed many of those planned for the film’s eventual home video release have already been produced. “These days, you have to finish the extras by the time the film comes out, which is – on one hand, it’s crazy. On the other hand, it’s kinda nice because when the film is out, it’s finished. God, there’s so much stuff,” he said. The package will include the obligatory “Making Of” documentary and commentaries. “I just watched the Making Of the other day, which is like an hour long and it’s amazing. Although, the worst thing of the Making Of is that I did the fight training with [the actors] at the start, so at the start of the Making Of, I’m in such good shape! Then during the Making Of, I put on thirty pounds on camera! I was watching this Making Of going, ‘Oh my God! This is like watching fucking ‘Raging Bull’! It’s so fucking depressing watching this Making Of!'” he laughed.
Like the “Hot Fuzz” DVD and Blu-ray, the “Scott Pilgrim” set will feature multiple commentaries. “I did one with Bill Pope already – the [Director of Photography] – which was really fun. I’m going to do one with Brian Lee O’Malley and Michael Bacall and then the cast are doing the two cast commentaries,” he revealed. There will also be, besides outtakes and the like, a somewhat unusual extra. “We asked Universal to give us a small amount of money for a test and we shot a test in July 2008, where we shot part of the Matthew Patel/Scott Pilgrim fight with two stunt men,” he explained. “Now what’s funny about that is, the guy thinks Scott Pilgrim is super ripped.” The test fight will be included on the home video set.