Is Scott Pilgrim the New Lebowski?

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This weekend Seattle, WA will be invaded by a large group of “Achievers” when the Lebowski Fest makes its annual trek to the Pacific Northwest. On Friday night there will be a screening of the now classic Coen Brothers’ film The Big Lebowski in a large rock and roll venue, followed by a first come first serve bowling party on Saturday night, October 16.

If you don’t know about the Lebowski Fest, you should. This is the eighth year of the Festival. It started out as a party in Lexington, Kentucky then grew into a traveling road show that includes stops in numerous cities including New York (this year’s fest features a performance by the band Diamondhead featuring Moby), Philadelphia, DC, Boston, Orlando, the UK and Los Angeles where the Lebowski Fest annually sells out Wiltern Theater and it’s 2,300 seats for a raucous screening of the film.

For those of you, who think this phenomenon is limited to a few thousand people who like to get dressed up and go bowling each year, think again. College towns like Athens, GA screen The Big Lebowski every week at midnight for those people who just can’t get enough of “The Dude“, while many other theaters around the country keep Lebowski in a regular rotation of midnight movies along with Spinal Tap and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Pretty impressive for a film that opened number six at the box office in 1998 with under $6 million and was out of theaters in four weeks.

But this article isn’t about Lebowski. It’s about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I think Pilgrim has the potential to become the next Lebowski and I’ll tell you why. I’ve seen Scott Pilgrim four times and each time it plays better than the last. Edgar Wright created a visual masterpiece that stays fresh with repeated viewings, the acting and editing are top notch and Michael Bacall‘s script is peppered with so many wonderful lines that it’s easy to miss some of the best dialogue the first time you see the film.

But what really makes the film special is the reaction audiences give the movie when they see it. The first time I saw Scott Pilgrim was at a packed midnight screening back in August with a bunch of kids from the neighborhood. From the opening Zelda gag right up until the end credits after Scott wins his last battle against the evil exes the crowd was totally into it. The second time I saw Pilgrim was two weeks later with a friend I dragged to see the film. The crowd was considerably smaller but the reaction was just as positive.

But it was the last two viewings that sold me on the possibility of Scott Pilgrim having a longer shelf life than a film with its rather puny box office would indicate. The last two times I saw the flick was at my local two-dollar theater in Pasadena where Scott Pilgrim is once again playing to packed crowds of twenty-somethings. These screenings might not do much for the box office numbers but they will certainly build word of mouth. This film has a future. Like… with jetpacks.

If Scott Pilgrim has a drawback it may be that the film is unlike any film you’ve seen before which makes it hard to explain to friends and acquaintances why it’s so darn good. Like The Big Lebowski before it, Scott Pilgrim defies description. I’ve been telling people it’s a superhero film disguised as an indie flick. But that’s not really accurate. Scott Pilgrim isn’t Spider-Man, it isn’t Juno and it isn’t really a combination of the two. It’s one of those films you have to see for yourself.

Earlier this week I contacted Scott Pilgrim scribe, Michael Bacall, to ask him about the reaction to the film and it’s future prospects. This is what he had to say.

Bill Cody (BC): Is it hard to see your film not really open when it is as good as this one?

Michael Bacall (MB): I expected to be completely consumed by how the film did at the box office, but found that I had very little anxiety opening weekend. A few things probably mitigated that anxiety. First, the reception at the World Premiere at Comic Con was deafening. I always compare Edgar’s films to riding a rollercoaster, and that experience was in full effect. Second, I popped into a couple theaters the week it opened to observe the public response and it was vocal and raucous. Finally, before the film opened I was told by friends not to read the reviews, but I completely ignored that advice and was pleased to see how positive they were. It’s hard to be devastated by box office when the people who have seen the film genuinely love it. That said, I would have been ecstatic if it opened huge because I am extremely appreciative of the support the studio gave the film and I want them to make a shit ton of money so they make cool films in the future.

BC: Are there plans for broadening Scott Pilgrim‘s audience when it goes to DVD and VOD?

MB: I was watching The Last Mogul recently, Richard Zanuck tells a story about Lew Wasserman ordering the head of distribution to REDUCE the amount of screens they had lined up for Jaws in order to create demand and foment rabid word of mouth. Those days are long gone, but in an iTunes world audiences can build rapidly after theatrical distribution. I don’t know if that will happen with Scott Pilgrim, but I’m very excited for the DVD/Blu-ray release. Especially for those who have Blu-ray players and widescreen televisions or projectors. High-def projectors are getting cheaper every day, cheaper than televisions even. Edgar packs the screen with so much eye-candy and layers the soundscape with so much detail; Scott Pilgrim will fully realize the benefits of high definition formats. Needless to say, I’m a home theater nerd, but I expect it will also be a great experience wearing headphones and leaning closer and closer to a glowing laptop screen.

BC: Do you think like I do that some of the layers of the film will be discovered as time goes on? (I just picked up on the Uma Thurman joke the third time I saw it.

MB: Pausing and reading the text that goes by too fast in a theater viewing, frame-advancing fights to realize that yes, that is Michael Cera doing his own stunts, and just soaking in the beautiful compositions are some of the aspects I think people will really dig as they watch and re-watch the film. Edgar and I always talked about the re-watchability of Coen brothers’ movies and how fun it is to have those “way homer” moments where a gag that may have slipped by finally reveals itself and drops you. I think people will have that experience with Scott Pilgrim. I’ve watched Shaun and Fuzz a million times and they never get old.

BC: Do you think it could be another Big Lebowski, Office Space, Spinal Tap etc.?

MB: Hope, hope.

Ironic he would mention the Coen brothers before I even asked if he thought it could be another Lebowski isn’t it?

FYI – I must not be the only one who sees a future for this film. As I was preparing the article it was announced that Guillermo Del Toro would be hosting a special screening of Scott Pilgrim with Edgar Wright and comic writer Bryan Lee at the Egyptian Theater here in Hollywood on November 1st. Has Pilgrim Fest already started?

It doesn’t end there either as Edgar Wright will be hosting two midnight screenings at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles on November 12th and 13th. Someone has made custom Scott Pilgrim Blu-ray cases (made by a “dude” with a Lebowski-inspired online name) and it’s even inspired a Scott Pilgrim Fans vs. the World short film.

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Weekend: Aug. 22, 2019, Aug. 25, 2019

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