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One of the best video-game-themed movies just turned two years old. To celebrate, a couple hundred fans of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (a film adaptation of a comic book) came out to watch a midnight screening with series creator Bryan Lee O’Malley. I decided to brave the warm Southern California night to see the eponymous main character fight his girlfriend’s seven evil exes. When I arrived at the theater, one thing was immediately clear: This motion picture is undeniably a cult classic.
The festivities took place at the historic New Beverly Cinema (owned by Kill Bill director Quentin Tarantino) in Los Angeles. A line of eager moviegoers lined up and wrapped around the block waiting for the doors to open.
Once inside, they were treated to the 8-bit-rock sounds of the Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game soundtrack that played over the theater’s speaker system. I listened in as I waited in the concessions line. The music brought me back to the good times I had mashing buttons with that beat-em-up. Then, I was thrilled to learn that at the New Beverly, a “small popcorn” is only two bucks. At this point, I was pretty pumped.
I saw O’Malley hanging out in the lobby. He looked like he was waiting for someone. With my popcorn bag in hand, I shot the shit with him for a couple of minutes and told of the time we spoke for roughly 15 seconds last year at the independent games festival IndieCade. O’Malley paused our conversation for a moment to admire a young woman passing by who sported a spot-on costume of Scott Pilgrim’s love interest, Ramona Flowers, even down to the dyed pink hair.
Nearby, another gal dressed as Ramona’s ex-girlfriend, the ninja Roxie Richter, walked with a couple of friends to go find seats. I could feel the excitement and anticipation in the air for the film to start.
Before the screening began, Julia, one of the organizers for the New Beverly came out to briefly talk to the audience. “How many of you have never seen this movie?” she asked. Various patrons peppered throughout the room raised their hands. Some jackass with unfocused energy began to boo them, but he was quickly drowned out by all of the people who began to cheer. “Always envy the ‘virgins,’” she said. “They get to experience it all for the first time.”
She then brought out O’Malley to introduce the film and field a couple of questions. In response to the first one, he seemed a little reluctant to choose a favorite video game. “Mega Man 2,” he answered with a slight shrug. The crowd went wild. Then someone asked if he made a cameo in the movie. O’Malley explained that he and his wife, fellow illustrator and cartoonist Hope Larson, were indeed in one of the crowd scenes.
After the brief Q&A, the projectionist began to roll Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in glorious 35mm. The charm of watching a movie on film and not in a digital format accentuates the organic, loving atmosphere of the crowd. The collective energy was finally able to release as we laughed and giggled at all of the quirky movements and lines from the Scott Pilgrim character, played by the perpetually goofy Michael Cera. The cue marks — little dots on the image that tell the projectionist when to switch reels — give the flick a nostalgic feel despite it only being the second anniversary.
This is the film experience. We didn’t need a high-definition screen and digital copy of the movie that played off of a hard drive. That isn’t how they do things at the New Beverly Cinema, a theater that regularly shows double features — classic, independent, and cult movies — all on 35mm. Though the audience was perhaps a bit too giddy at first, they soon found a good rhythm of genuinely laughing and cheering whenever it made sense to.
The abundance of energy and excitement made sense, though. Here’s a movie that’s hip and pays homage to the past few decades of video game culture. Both the audience and the film understand each other. And the man who created this beloved fictional world and story is in the audience watching alongside all the fans.
The warmth from the screen and the crowd created quite an endearing experience that’s unobtainable at those ubiquitous multiplexes. Most folks even stayed until the end of the credits where a cartoony, pixelated Scott Pilgrim runs on screen to beat up the “The End” sign. They then closed out the night with one last hearty round of applause.
When I first saw this film, the graphic-novel version of the story was still fresh in my mind, and the discrepancies were too distracting. This time, however, I was able to take it in at face value in the context of a cult-classic midnight screening, and it was awesome. Happy second birthday, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.