Tag: scott pilgrim vs the world

Level Up

by on Jul.13, 2011, under Comics

Any author who uses video game tropes in his graphic novel has to anticipate comparisons to Scott Pilgrim, which used them most popularly and best. Especially for a book like Gene Luen Yang’s Level Up that’s completely built around those tropes. Scott Pilgrim has to fight a series of evil bosses; Level Up‘s hero Dennis Ouyang progresses from phase to phase in his life and loses “lives” as he goes—presumably as he gives up opportunities to start over.

And on that basic plane, the comparison is not kind to Level Up. Brian Lee O’Malley uses the video game metaphor decisively: when video game reality intrudes into the “real” world it’s always clear how we’re supposed to understand it. Scott says “I understand you, man,” and the video-game caption reads “SCOTT EARNED THE POWER OF UNDERSTANDING! NEW T-SHIRT UNLOCKED!”

In Level Up it’s murkier. Dennis loses the first of his three lives and moves to Level 2 when he throws away his beloved game tokens and prepares to go to medical school as his dead father wanted. He loses the second life and moves to Level 3 when he drops out of med school and becomes a video game tester. I got all confused by that dual metaphor: he’s advancing a level, which I guess means growing more mature, but he’s also losing a life? Is that bad?

Past the surface-level confusion with the metaphor, though, Level Up pays off its video-game premise well. At the book’s climax Dennis realizes the angels that have been bossing him to follow his father’s wishes are really the ghosts of his father’s failed intentions, and in video-game world there’s only one thing to do with ghosts. Eat them.

Thien Pham’s art does a good job of evoking the simple graphics of early Nintendo games, even though they’re done in a watercolor-and-ink style I wouldn’t have expected to fit well. I think it has to do with his complete abandonment of depth, with simple figures interacting entirely in one plane, no foreground or background at all. The compositions don’t actually look anything like video games, but they do have the same stripped-down feel, if that makes sense.

I’m describing this as if it were a nice, tight structure, but the truth is the story is pleasantly shaggy. In fact, if it were tighter it probably wouldn’t work. At base this is a small-scale family drama that depends on good characterization, which takes time. So it doesn’t make me laugh and empathize as much as Scott Pilgrim. It’s still pretty charming.

Review of Gene Luen Yang’s previous book, The Eternal Smile, which on the whole I liked better, here.

Preview here.

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Walter Mitty (1UP)

by on Aug.16, 2010, under Comics, Movies

Scott Pilgrim vs The World would have been the best video game movie if it was, in fact, based on a video game instead of on a comic book informed by video games. As it is, it’s a brisk and hilarious mishmash of comic book tropes, which work poorly, video game tropes, which work really well, and dreadful gender politics.

The comic book (which I haven’t read — maybe Big Josh will weigh in) introduced a video-game world that the movie faithfully reproduces. Chyrons spring up around characters and props, placing them in context and giving the viewer vital information as if about an opponent. When Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) fights each of his girlfriend Ramona’s evil exes, the fights are riffs on Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter and other arcade games from the period just following Q*bert and the collapse of my own interest (I will whup you at Ms. Pac-Man, but little else).

In addition to the video game stylistics, the movie also employs comic book stylistics, which suffer in comparison to the former. No movie has played with comic book aesthetics better than American Splendor. Ang Lee’s Hulk gave it a try, but Harvey Pekar’s story benefited from having the form address the content — it is the story of a man who tells his own life in comics. In Scott Pilgrim, the form and experience of video games is native to the original story, which (like The Hulk) happened to be told in comic book form. So effects like having visible ‘D-D-D-D-D’s come out of Scott’s bass, or animating the exit wound when drummer Kim pantomimes shooting herself, add nothing but clutter.

The style of the film is exciting in other, more light-handed ways. Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) hopscotches through the first act, jumping from setting to setting while remaining in one linear conversation. I’ve seen it done before, but never so deftly or without care for suspension of disbelief, and it allows Scott’s world to be introduced visually without any expositional slowing.

Spoilers and gender politics-grumbling below the fold.

(continue reading…)

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