Comic books, now a prolific source for film adaptations, have inspired some of the most successful movies of the past decade. Expanding on the phenomenon, graphic novel adaptations like “Sin City, “Watchmen” and “300” differentiate themselves by maintaining their source medium’s distinct visual styles in their translations to film.
“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” in theaters Aug. 13, intends to further this trend. Adapted from the “Scott Pilgrim” graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the story finds Toronto youth Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera, “Superbad”) pining for the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, “Live Free or Die Hard”). In wooing her, Scott discovers one huge obstacle — or rather seven of them. Ramona’s “seven evil exes” — her boyfriends from childhood on — stand in Scott’s way, and he must defeat each of them on the way to claiming his girl.
One of Ramona’s evil exes is Todd Ingram, a super-powered vegan bass player played by Brandon Routh (“Superman Returns”). In a roundtable interview, Routh and Winstead spoke about the film and the trip from novel to the screen.
“I met with (director) Edgar (Wright) like three years ago and he gave me the first three books,” Winstead said. “I read the books and completely loved them and completely loved the characters and was really excited to see what he was going to do with it.”
“I’m just amazed at the range in the comic book world,” Routh added.
After turns as the title characters in comic book films like 2006’s “Superman Returns” and the upcoming “Dylan Dog: Dead of Night,” the actor is no stranger to such adaptations.
“I read more (comic books) than I did before, being a part of – now – three different comic book films,” he said. “I had never read anything like ‘Scott Pilgrim’ before. I don’t think a lot of people know that comics like this exist. It’s kind of a breath of fresh air in that respect … It doesn’t feel like your normal, typical comic book movie.”
Infusing pop culture references and video-game imitation into its narrative backbone, the film is heavily entrenched in O’Malley’s source novel.
“As far as the spirit of the books and the spirit of the characters, I think we all focused a lot on making that really true to the books,” Winstead said. “That was really important to me — just to try and be really faithful to what I envisioned Ramona to be in the books.”
“I loved the little asides and the power-ups,” Routh said, recalling the video-game narrative style of the book. “There was just another layer of awesomeness and nostalgia … It made it very unique.”
In addition to the full set of influences from which the film chooses to draw, music plays a vital role in the story. The title character is the bassist for his band “Sex Bob-Omb,” and the band battles with others along Scott’s journey.
The production worked hard to make the band performances believable, and many of the actors learned to play new instruments specifically for their roles.
“That was a big part of the comic,” said Routh, who learned to play bass for his role. “(Wright) made a big effort to make sure that it was really in the movie and a really driving force that moves the movie forward and propels the characters too.”
Beyond the allusions and pop culture showcase of the film, “Scott Pilgrim” is an oddball romantic comedy. In his directing career, Wright has shown a clever handle of the comedically off-kilter in his films “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” and continues with “Scott Pilgrim.”
And, with actors like Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin (“Paper Man”), Anna Kendrick (“Up In the Air”) and Alison Pill (“Milk”) filling out the cast, Wright has an impressive young ensemble to work with.
Routh commented on how such a cast affected the atmosphere on set.
“It was very lighthearted … Everybody really believed in the movie, and that came straight down from (Wright), who we could all see was very passionate and excited and ready to go,” he said.
“It was great having so many funny, charming, smart people around all the time,” Winstead said. “There was never a dull moment. But at the same time, it was also really hard work and really challenging and really long hours … So it wasn’t all fun and games.”
“Scott Pilgrim” promises in its tagline to be “an epic of epic epicness,” and its background certainly seems to fit the bill — mixing film, comics, video games and music into a single distinctive work.