Reading reports of Pacific Rim‘s Jaeger-sized stumble at the U.S. box office as I was returning home from San Diego Comic-Con made me think about a movie that, like Pacific Rim, rode a tsunami of good will amongst the nerd cognoscenti only to disappear once it hit mainstream audiences. I’m talking about, of course, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World — one of the best movies about being young that most people never saw.
On paper, Scott Pilgrim certainly seemed like a future hit: Adapted from a best-selling (and critically-adored) series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley by the equally-critically-adored Edgar (Shawn of The Dead) Wright, it was that rare comic-book franchise that appealed to non-geeks. Instead of requiring audiences to buy into the costumes and codenames of most superhero comics, all that was required to believe in for Scott was the idea that a guy could fall in love with a girl and be willing to fight her seven “evil exes” in order to win her heart (There were, of course, super-powers, but that’s neither here nor there).
In execution, the movie delivered on that promise. While it lacked the comic books’ depth and heart — what started as a slacker comedy in the first book, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, developed into something much more profound by the final installment, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour — Scott the movie was funny and fast-moving. And it was an inventive visual feast that combined spectacle and storytelling.
And the music…! Scott felt as if it had more in common with movies like Beyond The Valley of The Dolls, Head or A Hard Days Night than Spider-Man, Iron Man or any of the Batman movies. The titular character played in a band, which, in the movie, translated into music written by Beck — with other bands playing material by Metric and Cornelius, and additional music by Plumtree, the Bluetones, and Nigel Godrich. It was a rock-and-roll movie, a musical without the staginess or self-consciousness that that genre has unfortunately acquired; it was just something that looked, and sounded, amazing.
For those seeking to make themselves feel better about Pacific Rim‘s opening weekend, you only have to look at Scott Pilgrim vs. The World‘s performance to make yourself feel better. For its entire U.S. theater run, it grossed just $31.5 million, with its worldwide take just $47.6 million. For a movie that cost $60 million to produce, that’s pretty much the dictionary definition of “flop.”
As you’d expected, there were a lot of people offering up suggestions of just why the movie had died such a disastrous, expensive death with audiences, with those running from “It was over-promoted at Comic-Con” to poor marketing and promotion (Admittedly, the original trailer made the movie look a lot more generic than it actually was; I always wished that they’d used the “Prepare” remix teaser, embedded below) and the possibility that, just maybe, people didn’t know what a “Scott Pilgrim” actually was when it came down to it.
I’m unsure what, exactly, was behind the failure of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but the more distance I get from the oddly heartbreaking realization that a movie I loved so much — a movie that was I admired for its writing, visual and music styles — was so roundly ignored, the more it doesn’t seem to matter. People didn’t go and see Scott Pilgrim, but that’s their loss; despite that, it remains a wonderful film that perfectly illustrates what it’s like to be young and in love. It’s up to everyone else in the future to discover it and appreciate it after the fact.