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Scott Pilgrim vs. the world of video games


I saw the upcoming Scott Pilgrim vs. The World movie at Comic-Con last weekend, and while our purview is still just interactive entertainment, the film is an indication of just how prevalent video games have become in popular culture. Just like the popular indie comics on which it's based, the film is chock full of video game references and even has some big plot points that invoke old-school video game clichés. Gaming is woven into the language of this story and this movie.

I got a chance earlier this week to sit down with director Edgar Wright, Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O'Malley, and the movie's cast to talk about the flick, video games in general and how mainstream audiences will react to seeing games used onscreen in this way. We also got some new insight on the retro-style Scott Pilgrim vs. The World game.

Gallery: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Comic Con) | 6 Photos

With the exception of O'Malley and Wright, the majority of the cast don't play games. Kieran Culkin (who plays Pilgrim's sarcastic gay roommate, Wallace) is one of the exceptions -- he's an old-school NES fan, and even played a few imports back in the day before declaring The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as his all-time favorite. But it turns out that Brandon Routh (who played Superman, and now plays Todd, evil ex number 3) is the biggest gamer on set. He started with Dragon Warrior, had a mean World of Warcraft addiction, and is now getting his kicks from Heroes of Newerth, rocking Slither and Succubus in the DoTA clone.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who plays Ramona Flowers (but doesn't play games), said that the references in the movie still work for general audiences: "I think that video games are so much a part of our generation now, that even if you don't play them, watching a film like that that has so many video game references, it still plays really well, and I still get it and find it really funny." Every bleep and bloop "takes you back when you played video games when you were young, and when they were kind of new and exciting and fun, like the Zelda, and the Mario Bros., and stuff like that," she said. "And that I can tap into and relate to and it registers with me, and I find it really funny and entertaining."

Screenwriter Michael Bacall said that the crew always worked to tie the gaming references to something emotional. "Somebody gets destroyed and explodes into several thousand coins, and whether or not you understand the specific reference, you get the idea that they just got their ass kicked. We tried to make it punctuation as opposed to prose." Wright added that even in his past work, the geeky stuff was never called on to carry the weight of his creations. "With everything I've done, right back to Spaced, if there are references or allusions to things, the scene isn't about that. The scene is always about something else, and this is kind of just sprinkles on top, really."

All of the video game sounds in the movie had to get cleared for copyright, and Wright said that led to a somewhat surreal Nintendo experience. The Japanese company wanted to approve the individual scenes, so he sent them the relevant footage. "It eventually went right up to Miyamoto, who had to watch the clip and approve it," explained Wright. "I've never met the guy, but it's weird to think that Miyamoto has watched sixty seconds of the film." Miyamoto must have liked it, since you can hear a few Nintendo sounds in the finished film.

"No knock on Michael Cera, we love the guy, but I don't want to play him in a video game right now" - Bryan Lee O'Malley

O'Malley talked about the Ubisoft downloadable game, which Ubisoft said would inhabit its own universe, rather than just being an adaptation of the film or book. "The first thing we said when we sat down was that we didn't want to see the cheap polygon version of Michael Cera fighting bad guys," O'Malley said. "No knock on Michael Cera, we love the guy, but I don't want to play him in a video game right now." That led to Paul Robertson -- whom O'Malley called "one of the most respected pixel artists in the world" -- and the weird idea to have him make a retro beat-em-up mix of River City Ransom and Double Dragon set in Scott Pilgrim's home of Toronto, Canada. "Our goal with the game," O'Malley joked, "was to make it like the idea that a bunch of Japanese developers were sent the books and couldn't understand what was going on."

Fans of the books will find secrets in the game that aren't in the movie. "Lisa Miller from the books is standing in the background," O'Malley said, "and if you punch her she'll duck and she's really cute." He said Robertson is still working hard on the game -- he played a new build at Comic-Con and found even more new tidbits Robertson had crammed into the levels.

Wright says they handed off the script, animatics, and storyboards from the film to Ubisoft to use as inspiration, In an exchange of sorts, little bits of the game appear in the movie. "I saw the game as we were editing, and I sort of heard the sound effects, and I said, 'Oh, can we use some of the sound effects?' So we put some of the sound effects from the game in."

And if you stick around in the theater to the very end of the movie after it opens in mid-August, you'll see a little nod to the video game version of Scott Pilgrim. "That came after the Ubisoft game," said Wright, who saw the game's main character and decided to include it at the very end of the movie. "I thought it was the perfect way to wrap everything up."

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