Scott Pilgrim vs. Total Failure

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Scott Pilgrim Vs. The WorldI must admit I was hesitant to make Scott Pilgrim vs. the World the subject of this week’s Under the Radar. We’re talking about a Universal Studios production that got a wide release back in August. All my friends and I talked about for days afterward was how fantastic Edgar Wright’s (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) new film was, so surely everyone has seen this film, right? Not according to the box office numbers. It then dawned on me that my immediate circle of friends is comprised of almost all film critics and much of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’s praise came from critics but was not reciprocated by the general public.

Technically a movie is considered a flop if it fails to earn more at the box office than it initially cost to make. In this case, Scott Pilgrim’s $45 million total return did not offset its $60 million budget. The margins are slim, but the real disappointment is that Pilgrim was released during a month in which folks were definitely seeing movies. Other August 2010 releases — and their total grosses — include The Expendables ($263 million), Eat Pray Love ($195 million), The Other Guys ($160 million), and Takers ($61 million). So not even a poor economy or disinterest in theatrical releases can be blamed for Pilgrim’s lackluster showing. The flip side of that coin could be that the abundance of choices in August caused Pilgrim to fall by the wayside, but I find it hard to believe that Takers appealed more to audiences than this film. The silver lining here is that at least Scott Pilgrim vs. The World can make its money back in Blu-ray sales, right? This is where I am concerned.

Much of what makes this film so appealing is its unbridled worship of all things geek. If you’re a music geek, the soundtrack provides a punchy pulse to the plot that will slake your emo rock thirst. If you are a martial arts film geek, the fight scenes are way more impressive than they have any right to be, given that the hero is a scrawny dweeb. If you count yourself among the comic book geek set, Scott Pilgrim is based on a popular graphic novel and stays pretty faithful to the source, borrowing the very panel layout at times as its cinematography. Finally, if you are an old-school geek who digs on classic video games and genre film, this movie is awash in homage, often so subtle as to only be noticed by scholars such as yourselves.

I don’t mean to lock Scott Pilgrim’s audience in a box, as it is also a wonderful romantic comedy that requires no prerequisite of geekiness to enjoy. But since so many of the movie’s fans are geeks, such as myself, I worry that our brethren’s propensity for streaming content may end up crippling not only Scott Pilgrim’s bottom line but also the originality of future theatrical fare. Let’s face it, the various streaming content outlets (e.g. Netflix) have grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years. The combination of low price, wide selection and convenience makes these entities a perfect triumph of consumerism. Why go out and buy a movie when you can call up any film you want in an instant and save the precious shelf space? While I appreciate the existence of these outlets, I must urge both fans of the film and Scott Pilgrim novices alike to go out and buy the Blu-ray.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The WorldTo its credit, Universal seems to understand what its new Blu-ray release is up against because the studio has tricked it out with more special features and bonus material than you can shake a Roku box at. The anticipated trailers, commentaries and deleted scenes are present, but there is also a host of documentaries, an Adult Swim animated feature, access to a blog chronicling the entire production, and a completely interactive feature allowing you to choose various picture-in-picture extras. Not to mention that this will be a film demonstrated at electronic retailers as a paradigm of picture/sound quality. This is usually the kind of release for which we have to wait an extra two years before it shows up as a “Deluxe Edition” costing twice as much.

I fear that if Scott Pilgrim doesn’t make up some of the losses of its abysmal theatrical stint, it will provide yet more evidence to the powers that be in Hollywood that audiences are clamoring for drek. When smart, fun, unique films like Scott Pilgrim do so poorly, we can expect the studio to churn out mindless popcorn fluff as an overcompensation for what they perceive as a disconnect from their audience. It’s a great film, a phenomenal Blu-ray release, and if it sells through the roof, maybe more studios will take chances on well-made, unique passion projects instead of robotically greenlighting garbage. Oh, and it’ll be a month before Netflix gets it anyway, so do yourself a favor and buy the Blu. Maybe it’s Edgar Wright’s cross to bear that his films find their fandom on home video, as was certainly the case with Shaun of the Dead, but that only doubles our responsibility as fans to support the film.