I’ve been a bit of a book snob, I’ll admit it. I mean, I got a classical education and was reading Sophocles in 7th grade. My favorite book in 8th grade was Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. Despite loving Lord of the Rings, I only saw Return of the King in theaters because I needed to finish the trilogy first and didn’t do that in time to see the Two Towers. All this to say, in the circles in which I’ve run for most of my life, Reading is Important and you Always Read the Book First and the Book is Always Better.
Or is it?
To my knowledge, I’ve only seen the movie before I read the books twice, and the second of these was Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I saw the 2010 film adaptation with a group in a friend’s dorm after it came out on DVD and really enjoyed it. Thanks to Thad, I finally got the books this Christmas and just finished them last week. So how do they stack up?
Since Scott Pilgrim is a series of graphic novels, I think it’s fair to compare the books and movie on a visual basis and each medium has its own particular advantage. The obvious advantage the novels have is Bryan Lee O’Malley’s illustrations. I found his art to be just a delight and I often worked to slow myself down in my haste to see the next page. The film’s advantage is color. It almost seems to be trying to make up for the color that the books lack with an abundance of rich, saturated jewel tones (my weakness!) While the movie is so visually and colorfully fun, nothing it does can top the straightforward and dynamic illustrations of the book, however, so the point goes to the original series.
Scott has an interesting assortment of friends, including his gay roommate Wallace and his trio of love interests, Ramona, Envy, and Knives. Any of these or the many supporting characters could have their own book of interesting exploits I would be happy to read. I felt like the movie and the books both give the characters similar amounts of development and attention, but the movie does it in less time. I suppose you could say that this makes the book more realistic but it also slows it down. Some characters may only pop up once per volume, seeming radically different than when they last appeared. I also think, after having read the books, that the casting for the movie is just perfect and that the actors on the whole look and portray the books characters extremely well. I feel like Michael Cera fits Scott Pilgrim the least out of any of the characters, but I can see why he was cast and certainly don’t think he did a bad job with it. Finally, I thought the movie made some improvements to some minor characters like Lucas and Todd. Because it gave me the same information and development in less time, was so well cast, and improved a few characters, I give this point to the movie.
Just like Scott’s life plans, the plot of the novels is a bit fuzzy and meandering. Scott fights roughly one of Ramona’s ex’s per book, but the rest of the plot is a mix of Scott trying to get his life together and other characters just kind of doing their own things, working jobs, or taking time off to go disappear into the wilderness. In the movie, the characters all more centrally relate to Scott’s mission and his and Ramona’s relationship. While this fleshes out the world, it also slows down the narrative and at times made me wonder if the small details were going to turn out to be important later or were just there to be interesting. The movie condenses things quite a bit, but in doing so cuts out some of the superfluous episodes that I felt weighed down some of the later volumes, especially Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together. The movie also makes some things clearer, like not having the final battle take place in Ramona/Gideon/Whoever’s head. It feels disloyal to say this, when obviously the books came first, but the movie, although it lacks some of the original depth, tells a story that is clearer and more straightforward.
So, if we tally up the points, the movie wins by having a clearer plot and because I like what it did with the characters. But there’s also something about the books that made me enjoy them even more than the movie, so really, take your pick. Having seen the movie first helped me understand the books
better, however, I do believe the books are better from an artistic standpoint. Basically I’m just being a bad reviewer by not having a definite answer for you. But! The books and the movie are both really fun and I’d say it’s worth investing your time in both. You definitely won
‘t be as disappointed in them, as by, say, this review.