As you havel heard by now, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World failed to ignite the box office. It didn’t bomb, mind you. It didn’t even under-perform, seeing as its roughly $11 million opening weekend is within the range of how much money it was expected to rake in. Yet still there is this growing tide of sentiment from the film’s detractors that it was a failure. Who exactly did it fail, though?
Obviously Universal Pictures would have liked the film to have an opening weekend triple the size of the one they got, but I actually don’t think they’re the most wounded party here. Director Edgar Wright now has a movie that opened in the top 5 in the US, which is plenty of reason to celebrate. Everyone involved with the film is getting rave reviews for what they delivered, so they’re not hurting too much, either. No, it’s the geeks who took the biggest beating this past weekend. Not because Scott Pilgrim ended up being a bad film (on the contrary, it’s quite good), but because they, particularly film bloggers, blew the call. The reaction out of Comic-Con was so huge that those who had seen it became instantly so passionate about it that they assumed it would galvanize others like them to see the film.
It didn’t. And now the geek community has taken up a defensive stance that reminds me of the recent Bush administration and how those who were opposed to his Presidential policies shrugged everything off with a, “Hey, I didn’t vote for him!” attitude that implied they did everything correctly and it was everyone else who was at fault. Everyone has glazed over with this general malaise that says, “Look, don’t be stubborn. You’re going to eventually love this movie, you might as well go love it now instead of regretting discovering it later.” And I agree with that last part, that Pilgrim will have a long and happy life as an “I can’t believe I’m just now seeing this!” movie, but I don’t think the public at large are being stubborn.
I’m further reminded of Serenity, another niche geek film from Universal. The studio did a tremendous job of building buzz around the TV-show-turned-movie by providing free screenings of it weeks ahead of time in various cities around the world. The reaction to Joss Whedon’s film was remarkably strong and it was heralded as the next great and original sci-fi movie that people would fall head over heels for. Trouble was that Universal did a poor job of selling the film beyond the walls of the geek churches already telling their congregations that they must turn out to see it lest they’ll never see an original sci-fi film come out of Hollywood again. Everyone supporting it was preaching to the choir.
As with Serenity, I don’t blame general audiences for not turning out for Scott Pilgrim. The trailers just aren’t that accessible. Michael Cera doesn’t have the broad appeal he may have immediately after, say, Superbad, and since the entire film is built around him, people were immediately disinterested. Then there’s the problem of what kind of movie it actually is. Is it a superhero movie? Are they living in the Internet? Is Scott Pilgrim crazy and dreaming all of this? These are all valid questions, each of which went unanswered in the trailer.
So I don’t blame people for not being interested. If I wasn’t a movie geek, if I didn’t know all about the creative talent behind the film, if I didn’t know how rabid a reaction people were having, I too would take up an “I’ll wait for the DVD” attitude. The reality is that going to the movies is expensive these days. People aren’t going to blindly commit their time and money unless it’s something they want to see. And the further truth is that geeks, myself included, just aren’t the best barometers of what’s going to be instantly popular and what’s going to take some time to catch on.
So if you didn’t see Scott Pilgrim this weekend, don’t feel bad. You haven’t failed anyone. In fact, you’ve behaved as expected. And I don’t mean that to sound condescending, not in the least. You behaved rationally. You saw all the marketing to the film (How could you not? It was inescapable.) and you decided that you’d wade in instead of diving in. That’s just not how geeks behave. We do dive in. We latch onto things so quickly and so furiously that we develop blinders. We forget that not everyone has an appreciation for the weird and the wonderful the way we do. That’s the reason geeks are, well, geeks.