Ready to rock: 'Scott Pilgrim' has Michael Cera. Music?
Michael Cera is in. Now what about the rock 'n' roll?
Inspired equally by music and video games, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s “Scott Pilgrim” series is a “High Fidelity” for those weaned equally on Nintendo and record stores. The six-part comic series -- Parts 1-4 are out now, and O’Malley hopes to have Book 5 in stores by the end of 2008 -- is being turned into a film by Universal Pictures, with shooting pegged to begin later this year.
Nearly every page of O’Malley’s books is loaded with some sort of a musical reference. Some are obvious -- Stephen Stills is the name of a principal character -- and some are more for the in crowd, such as a magazine headline that’s ripped direct from a lyric from power-pop band the New Pornographers.
The books may not come with a soundtrack, but music has a starring role. For instance, the title in Book 3, “Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness,” is a nod to a certain Smashing Pumpkins album, and the main character himself is named after a song from little-known defunct indie rock band Plumtree.
"I loved the band, and they're long broken up," O'Malley said. "I mean, one of the best things about the books is that I've gotten to speak to the girls in the band, who were my idols in high school"
But "Scott Pilgrim" is not simply another book for the dating inept written by a dude with a deep music collection. O'Malley's characters aren't just obsessed with pop-culture -- they're pop-culture creations themselves, living even the most mundane moments of their lives as if they are levels in a giant video game.
A power-up -- or a life-damaging blow -- can be just a successful pickup line or a bad haircut away, turning even a quick stop at the library into the ultimate reality show. "Scott Pilgrim," essentially, is what life would be like if everyone alive warranted an action figure.
The hero of the story is a 20-something Canadian indie rocker who battles his insecurities in the same way Mario & Luigi tackle giant lizards -- with a jump and a kick and a prize of gold coins at the end. In O’Malley’s world, characters fret before talking to an old flame, but life, as in a video game, comes with “save points,” just in case things don’t go according to plan.
“Juno’s” Cera has been cast as the young Scott Pilgrim, a character who tempers his self-proclaimed awesomeness with a bevy of neurotic ticks. The bassist in a band called Sex Bob-omb, Pilgrim will approach the cute girl at a rock club, but immediately profess his obsession for her, and then freak out about the caloric content of garlic bread on the date.
While it looks the part of kid stuff -- O’Malley’s round drawings and big-eyed characters draw influence from Japanese manga –- the four Scott Pilgrim books deal with the transition from teenage to adult relationships, and all the baggage that comes with them.
The crux of the series: Pilgrim is smitten with the roller-blade punk rocker Ramona Flowers, but to date her, he must grow up and conquer his fears. This is done by defeating Ramona’s ex-boyfriends in all-out, Ninja-styled battles -- scenes that come complete with “demon hipster chicks” and vegan-eating bass players.
Here, O’Malley breaks down the influence of music on the books. And does he offer a hint as to what one may hear in the movie? Scroll on.
ON MUSIC AND SUPERPOWERS:
For a slacker in a rock band sharing a studio apartment, Pilgrim is an odd man for women to fight over. But that’s exactly what happens, as Flowers, to be played by Mary Elizabth Winstead (“Live Free or Die Hard”) in the film, faces attacks from Pilgrim’s exes.
And take this only-in-the-comics/movies scene: Flowers works as delivery girl for Amazon.ca, and Pilgrim orders CDs just to see her. When she arrives at his door, Pilgrim proceeds to tell her how he’s had dreams about her, despite this only being the second time they’ve met. And yet somehow by the end of the conversation, he’s won her over.
So how much, if any, of Pilgrim’s mystique comes from being in a rock band?
“None,” said O’Malley. “Zero percent. The girl doesn’t care about the band. I had one girlfriend who was obsessed with the fact that I wrote and recorded songs, which, of course, is great for the ego. But to the woman who became my wife, my musicality is just little bonus on the side, if that, which is probably better in the long run.”
Early in the first book, readers catch a glimpse of a Sex Bob-omb rehearsal.
For those who want to play along at home, O'Malley writes out lyric and chord changes, and it's easy to picture a bratty, Screeching Weasel-influenced pop-punk song. Sample lyric: "You've been out partying with guys I've never met / Drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, killing brain cells and killing me."
But while the song is only three chords, and O'Malley writes that it's "kind of crappy," there's more than punk rock to Sex Bob-omb. Just look to name of the band's lead singer, Stephen Stills. Did O'Malley hear the band as more Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young than Mr. T Experience?
"Yeah, and nobody seems to notice that [Stills] is banging on an acoustic guitar and singing about his tortured relationship. I think they're a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll. He'd be like Gram Parsons, but the rest of the band won't let him slow down.
"I thought of early Uncle Tupelo, when they were really smushing punk and country into one weird arrhythmic monstrosity," O'Malley continued.
Alt-country rockers Uncle Tupelo split up in the early '90s, with the two principal members going in divergent directions. The band's Jeff Tweedy went on to form adventurous pop act Wilco, while Jay Farrar, who voiced most of Uncle Tupelo's songs, started Son Volt.
One of Uncle Tupelo's early songs, "I Got Drunk," is below, but it probably doesn't provide a full picture of the sound of Sex Bob-omb. O'Malley is quick to add that Bob-omb is "not nearly as good, and 10 years too late, and with Scott and [drummer] Kim singing along and adding ba-ba-bas to everything."
Edgar Wright, who helmed the zombie comedy "Shaun of the Dead" and the action/satire "Hot Fuzz," will direct the adaptation, which has been given the title of the second book in the series, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World."
For a comic series in which rock 'n' roll is instrumental, the film would appear to be in good hands. Wright's last two films have featured a range of quality tunes. "Hot Fuzz," in particular, included selections from British psychedelic rockers the Move, garage rockers the Troggs, pop band Supergrass and classic rockers the Kinks, creating a nice mix of the traditional and the unexpected.
O'Malley has had conversations with Wright concerning the film's music, and is getting comfortable with the fact that the decisions ultimately won't be his. "I think that element is going to be really interesting," O'Malley said, "I guess they'll probably be doing a lot of the music in advance because I'm already hearing rumblings of who's doing what, and it's pretty exciting.
"You know, I'm drawing a black-and-white comic book," O'Malley continued. "It's dead silent. I honestly don't hear music in my head that much for the individual bands, and in terms of 'mood music,' I've been trading mix CDs with Edgar Wright ever since we were first introduced, and I know we're pretty much on the same page."
Plumtree's "Scott Pilgrim" certainly seems to be a safe bet to be
heard at some point in the film. "I've been pushing it," O'Malley said.
"As far as I know it's in the cards."
SO WHAT MUSIC MIGHT PEOPLE EXPECT IN THE FILM?
O'Malley clams up when it comes to the topic of who he wants to hear in the film, even if being asked to name hypothetical dream bands. "It's already a little too late in the process for me to speculate about this."
Fair enough. But O'Malley was willing to share some of his favorite albums of the past year, and he cites selections from indie rockers Spoon, rap superstar Kanye West and Canadian singer/songwriter Joel Plaskett. He also mentions a pair of electronic acts in Daft Punk and Cut Copy.
And while O'Malley said he may not hear that much music for the individual bands in "Scott Pilgrim" -- there are five main acts in the series -- he still mapped out the feel of the series in song.
"I've got a whole disc of songs for each book," O'Malley said. "But the first disc, which was put together in the early planning stages of the series, traces the general idea of the overall story arc. I mean, things have changed a lot since those early days -- it was going to be one book, originally, for one thing -- but that disc really sets the tone."
1. Plumtree, "Scott Pilgrim"
2. Joel Plaskett, "When I Have My Vision"
3. The Flying Burrito Brothers, "To Ramona"
4. Thrush Hermit, "Oh Man! (What to Do?)
5. Wilco, "Someday Soon"
6. Big Star, "O My Soul"
7. Sloan, "Can't Face Up"
8. Guster, "Ramona"
9. Old 97s, "Stoned"
10. Super Friendz, "10 lbs"
11. Beachwood Sparks, "By Your Side"
12. Cuff the Duke, "Long Winter"
13. David Bowie, "Let's Spend the Night Together"
14. Mamas and the Papas, "Dedicated to the One I Love"
For those interested in seeing the track lists of the first three "Scott Pilgrim" inspired mix tapes, O'Malley posted them back in 2005 on his blog here.
And for those who would just rather hear some tunes, here's a playlist of some of the songs and artists mentioned in this piece, as well as those mentioned on O'Malley's blog and in the books.
Photos: "Scott Pilgrim" artwork is all courtesy Bryan Lee O'Malley, and more can be found on the official "Scott Pilgrim" Web site, as well as O'Malley's Flickr page.
The picture of Michael Cera holding the second volume of "Scott Pilgrim" is lifted from O'Malley's Flickr page, and is credited to a fan.