August 23, 2010

Why adaptation is tough...

Ok, let's start with the sad, honest truth.

The Girl and I now own the six books of Scott Pilgrim.  For an investment of about $44, we have all six volumes of the Scott Pilgrim series.  No, you can't borrow them because they're already on loan.

We own the books because the Scott Pilgrim film was set to come out last weekend, and book three hadn't yet come in from the library.  We'd both read books one and two and had four through six waiting on the table.

With less patience than me even, The Girl put in the simple order to Amazon and waited for the package to show up.  They arrived early last week, just a day after she brought book three back from the Clifton library.

And the books waited...sitting on the table, taunting us until the end of the week when we could sit on opposite ends of the couch from each other and devour the remaining four books in one sitting Friday night, she reading the new copies from Amazon, me taking in the library's lightly used versions.  Well, I went in one sitting as I kinda read a little more quickly (my four books were finished while she cruised through two and had to finish up the next morning.)

First off, the books are outstanding.  The promise shown by the first two that I reviewed a little while back was totally seen through to the end.  In fact, the third and fourth books are far more impressive than the first two.  The levels of background that O'Malley works into both Scott and Ramona are phenomenal, making some of the more well-rounded post-college aged character that I've read in a while.  These are characters who are looking to define themselves - Ramona, in particular - and trying to shed their baggage along the way.

Plus they're hilarious and fully willing to make the occasional meta-joke as when Scott comments that fighting the evil exes is tiring and that he wished this (I won't tell you which) book could be the last one or when Scott refuses to catch a character up on what's been going on, instead stating simply that they should go back and read book one.  This is really funny stuff that never devolves into rote "meet ex-boyfriend, fight ex-boyfriend, repeat" as would've been so easy for O'Malley's series to slide into.  Every evil ex is a unique character who must be dealt with in unique ways.  This is the good stuff, folks: hilarious, rounded, well done from tip to tail.

Do yourself a favor and spend the three or four hours needed to read this series from start to finish.  With volume six having come out this summer, it's available in its entirety for dirt cheap.

Once you're done with it, check out O'Malley's interview over on Comics Alliance.  Don't read it until you're all through, though as it contains some serious spoilers.  Great interview that lent a lot of depth to my reading of the final volume.

Now, about the Scott Pilgrim vs the World movie adaptation.

It's good.  It's fun.  It's a solid adaptation.  It has pretty much all the entertaining scenes that you'd mark as necessary if you went through the books and asked for those kinds of scenes.  It's just, well, lacking the heart.

This isn't the first two Harry Potter flicks.  It's not like the director missed the point and sucked all the life out of the film.  It's also not Watchmen where the ending had to be changed which necessitated eliminating almost all the subtext along the way and the core premise of the entire book - that superheros don't exist and the non-super heroes would be helpless once they did - was intentionally changed for the movie.

No, this is a very fun film that absolutely nails the spirit, language, moves of the books in every way.  The fight scenes are phenomenally well adapted with most of the evil exes stealing the fight scenes in every way.  Their on screen representations are note perfect from Todd's Vegan powers to Lucas Lee's stunt doubles and through every other ex we see (with the slight exception of Kyle & Ken Katayanagi who are fairly well under-used).

And the fight scenes are awesome.  The sight of Scott levitating away on vegan psychic waves, Romana moving Scott as a puppet, the first fight/dance battle - they're all excellently well adapted as are all of the exciting scenes that would 'just have to be in' this movie.

It's actually the scenes that aren't in the movie, however, that I missed the most.  By necessity - and as #3 warned us - the movie is drastically compressed.  The comic series takes just over a year (we know from Knives's almost bookending birthday celebrations), and the movie shrinks this time frame into just more than a week.  Yes, the fact that all the fights come one on top of each other makes Michael Cera's increasingly haggard reactions all the more reasonable, but it also means that - as #4 warned us - we lose a ton of characterization in the process.

Out the window goes the sixth book's discussion between Ramona and Scott in subspace.  Eliminated is the side plot of Todd's dalliance with the drummer.  Gone entirely is Scott's reaction to Ramona's departure at the beginning of book six.  Poof goes the torture of Steven Stills and his recording process.  Away with Scott's whole backstory with Kim Pine.  Reduced is Envy from most significant, sympathetic supporting character to one-note villain.  Plus there's the fact that she's a blond in the movie but a red-head in the books - a sad change for me to have seen.

Yes, some of these are subplots and side trails that are simply victims of sadly necessary for adaptation streamlining, but they aren't all subplots.  Some of the content lost is actually the meat of the story.  Yes, if you had to describe the books to someone, you might shorthand things as "a boy has to fight his girlfriend's evil exes in a real-world version of her baggage", but a description of the books as such would leave out entirely the true meaning and heart of the story, that of Scott's growth and realization that no one's memories - most importantly his own - ever match the memories of the people in his past.  He - and Ramona and the evil exes, Young Neil, Knives and even we - have fashioned our memories into stories that sell us just slightly better, make us a little more handsome or beautiful, and let us be the hero in our own drama, and in the end, Scott realizes this.

The books are a story of growth.  The movie mentions this growth almost in passing in the final act.  Where the written story took the time necessary to reveal this growth bit by bit and to point it out in the final chapter, the movie simply doesn't have the ability to let that growth develop organically.  Instead, the writers include this growth largely as a surprise in the final battle.  No, I don't necessarily fault them for this.  Their hands were somewhat tied by virtue of the nature of their medium.  The film is a week.  We don't grow in a week's time.  We grow over much longer time frames than a film like this can allow.

This wasn't Watchmen where I thought the change for filmic adaptation was foolish and arbitrary, taken for the name of making the action scenes that much more exciting and over the top.  This is a change necessitated by the mere process of adaptation.  In that it is imminently more forgivable.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World is a very good, fun movie.  Scott Pilgrim the book series is excellent.

Check out some other reviews of the film if you wanna...

There's also the Robot Chicken animation of Scott's past with Kim Pine...

I'm absolutely tempted to go right out and ebay the Scott Pilgrim & Ramona plushes and the action figures once they're out.


Slug said...

I wish the movie hadn't been so compressed, but like you said it was fun. Ben and I had gone to the midnight release and left mildly disappointed. We have both read the books and I thoroughly enjoyed them. Like it has been said; it was too short to me.

I really want the action figures.

DanEcht said...

I have to say, I accepted the movie as a slight disappointment. I knew going in that everything that I loved about the books (which I'd read two weeks previously) would not make the film. And there were parts that I wish had made it. The whole part about Scott finding himself after Ramona leaves? Huge character development; didn't make the cut. And Kim is just the sassy drummer, not a significant part of Scott's history.

For its flaws, though, it was a decent movie. Michael Cera only slipped into his Michael Cera-typecast self a couple times. The girl playing Ramona...Winstead? was excellent. And now I want the plushies. And a Sex Bob-omb tee...has anyone made that yet?

PHSChemGuy said...

Slug - Sounds like we're in agreement. Books great. Movie okay, fun but not great.

DanEcht - Haven't seen a sex bob-omb shirt anywhere. Lemme go looking.