Scott Pilgrim is a tough movie for me to review. I’m not sure if I liked it. I did like it better than the comic. I read the first issue and flipped through the second. There were some good things. I chuckled a couple times. However, there was a lot I didn’t like — a lot of things that were also in the film. The number one thing I hated was the art. I’ve been a comic book fan since before I could read and while art is subjective I find little redeeming about this art. There were times I couldn’t even tell the characters apart. But I’m writing about the movie not the comic…
I’ve seen Scott Pilgrim compared to films like Napoleon Dynamite (a film that I turned off after about 20 minutes), and Juno (a film I’ve avoided seeing because the clips I’ve seen make me want to run away). So basically movies for hipsters. Scott Pilgrim is pretty much a movie for hipsters too. Now I don’t mean that if you like the film you are a hipster. I may be judgmental but I’m not that judgmental.
Now of course there is the question of “what is a hipster?” Different people may mean different things but when I think of hipsters I think of style over substance. I think of superficial appropriation of things without any depth of knowledge about them. And fixed gear bikes. What is the deal with those?
And Scott Pilgrim is about style and not substance. Sure the whole message is about Scott confronting his past blaa blaa blaa. However, saying that in the last ten minutes doesn’t really make the rest of the superficial stuff ok. I liked the style of the fights. Those were fun. Those were in my opinion a good use of style. What wasn’t were the videogame references. Those were the most superficial thing in the film.
So many people have said and written that this is a film for gamers. But they are wrong. There is no depth to the videogame references. They are all references made by a someone who seems to have had a NES as a kid and hasn’t had any contact with gaming outside of Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero since then. The most obscure reference was to Clash at Demonhead. There are tons of references to Zelda and Final Fantasy but they aren’t that subtle or obscure that they would be known to gamers.
This does make me wonder if this is just my own bias or if this is a legitimate criticism. I’m not really that into Zelda and I don’t like Final Fantasy. To be honest I’m not a console gamer and don’t really like many Japanese games — which make up the majority of the videogame references in Scott Pilgrim. If there had been a first person segment in the film maybe I would have liked it more.
However, I still think that the videogame references are shallow even if they are from games I don’t love. Most of the references in the film consist of taking fonts, sounds, or status bars from games. Beyond “hey that’s a reference to X” there’s no much else to them. It doesn’t really even make any specific references to elements of the game beyond what someone would get from looking at them for five minutes. There’s no chickens that attack you, no Phoenix Down, no warp pipes (although I guess you could argue that the way Ramona gets around is similar to that). Heck, can a player get an All Your Base?
Originally I was probably going to end this post with this. I might have talked about how Ramona has no agency in the film, or how creepy it is that Scott is going out with a high school girl, or how there seems to be some fetishization of Asianness going on (and the fact that the author is partially of Asian ancestry doesn’t dismiss that argument). However, I recently ran across a post on NPR about Scott Pilgrim that included some links to reviewers hating the film because of its videogame references.
I think that the fact that one of the quoted reviewers felt the need to start his review with “First of all, I’m not a video gamer. I have discovered more appealing ways to not have a life” or with a definition of fan service (a professional writer thinks it is ok to do that? I tell my students they will fail if they start by defining a word) and by writing, “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is Fan Service: The Movie, an insular, punishingly alienating experience preaching only to the faithful, devoted hearts of arrested 12-year-old boys. It’s singularly fixated on video games and shallow visions of women as one-dimensional objects to be either obtained or discarded and offers no possible point of entry to anybody over the age of 30.” shows just how large a chasm there is between videogame culture and those who don’t know anything at all about games (after all the vast majority of videogame references in the films are from games made in the 80s which means that pretty much the only people who would have a point of entry to it are people near the age of 30).
In these reviews one can see not only an ignorance of videogames but an actual distain for them. It may not hurt that the writer who claimed to have “more appealing ways to not have a life” (apparently trolling on the internet is more appealing to him. Check his responses in that reviews comments from some examples) was born in 1956 but it does show an astounding amount of willful ignorance and outright contempt for videogames. No wonder there are always news stories about “murder simulators” and the Supreme Court is going to hear a case on videogame laws .
I think this explains why Scott Pilgrim didn’t do well at the box office. If it is too hipster to appeal to the hardcore gamers and some non-gamers dismiss anything gaming related then all that leaves are the hipsters. …And they are probably too cool to actually go see any movie that anyone’s heard of any way.