U pic tries to please fanboys, yet provide crossover potential

Comicbook writer Bryan Lee O’Malley has a problem most movie studios would kill for: an abundance of highly zealous fans eager to see his work up on the screen.

But in walking the tightrope between appeasing loyal readers of his offbeat indie series “Scott Pilgrim” and trying to draw a wider aud for the Edgar Wright-helmed adaptation coming out this summer, O’Malley suggests that having rabid interest cuts both ways.

“I’m trying to manage fan expectations, but to no avail,” he says. “It’s totally out of my control.”

O’Malley is trying not to worry about the buzz building among teens and twentysomethings addicted to his “Pilgrim” comics as he finishes the final volume. The last book — “Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour” — ships July 20; the film adaptation bows Aug.13 through Universal.

By “expectations,” O’Malley means that when the trailer for the pic hit the Internet on March 25, it crashed the Apple server, topped the trending topics on Twitter and sent the first volume of the comic — “Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life” — into the top 100 sellers list on Amazon.com.

By Internet standards, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is a rousing success before it even opens, and the buzz has driven sales of the graphic novel in the same way that pre-”Watchmen” hype boosted sales of that book before the movie’s 2009 release.

The “Pilgrim” series follows a shiftless Canadian 24-year-old (played by Michael Cera in the film) who falls in love with a girl with seven evil ex-boyfriends. To win her love, he must defeat them all in a series of increasingly difficult vidgame-style melees, all while trying to get a job and land various gigs with his band. All six indier-than-thou books are in Amazon’s top 1,000, with the final volume publishing July 20. It’s been called the ultimate geek movie, but no one knows exactly how many movie tickets awkward comicbook-reading guys with variably haired girlfriends will actually buy.

“(Scott Pilgrim) does what everyone our age has been dreaming about: achieves the first all-encompassing film of the joystick generation,” helmer Jason Reitman tweeted after seeing an early cut of the film.

But can this much Internet chatter be dangerous for a wide-release film?

“The person who already bought a t-shirt and copies of all the books is most likely to show up opening weekend,” predicts “Pilgrim” print publisher Joe Nozemack. But having a fervent fan base waiting in anticipation doesn’t always pay off at the box office.

Take “Watchmen.” Zack Snyder’s $130 million adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ beloved graphic novel had a hefty marketing budget (not to mention the capital Warners invested in a protracted legal battle over the rights to make the movie in the first place), but the pic grossed a somewhat disappointing $107 million domestically.

Fans have been impatient for news on “Pilgrim,” as the project was first announced at Comic-Con 2006, and Wright says he was surprised that fans were seriously upset that they hadn’t seen any footage of the completed film until just recently.

“It bemused me that people were genuinely angry that we held back the trailer until now,” he says.

Universal and comic publisher Oni have to strike a delicate balance. On the one hand, neither wants the movie to be slavishly loyal — one of the knocks against “Watchmen.” But on the other, the studio can’t afford to distance itself from the source material’s rabid fan base.

“I would be happy if the film drives people to the books and vice versa. I think the trailer also seems so far to have expanded beyond both my and Bryan’s core audiences.”

Toward that end, Universal is incorporating O’Malley’s artwork into the film’s marketing and the upcoming videogame (classic Nintendo games feature prominently in the book), but allowed Wright to depart from the source material in the film itself. “A lot of the branding is being done based on Brian’s artwork,” says Nozemack. “And there’s some animation in the movie.”

Having seen the film, O’Malley says he’s happy with the level of input he had on the pic.

“Edgar and I and (screenwriter) Michael Bacall would just sit down and talk back and forth about it,” the Canadian cartoonist says. “There were even times when I’d say, ‘OK, guys, you don’t have to keep everything the same.’ “

That nod of approval should have the comics’ loyal fans lining up at multiplexes on Aug. 13. Whether they’ll have much company from non-fans remains to be seen.

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