Adapting a comic like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World into a major motion picture is an epic feat. This is especially the case when such an adaptation leads to a scenario where co-writers Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright could only work with three of the six books in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series. It’s a situation where through outlines, emails and test screenings, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World had two separate endings to work with, and Edgar Wright still prefers the one that ended up in the film.
I was able to speak with Mr. Wright recently in honor of the upcoming 10th anniversary re-release of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Re-mastered in Dolby Atmos and Vision, the cult favorite is going to hit theaters again, looking and sounding better than ever. But if you go all the way back to when the film first hit theaters and home video, the legacy of two different endings was baked into the tale surrounding the film’s legacy. Before we go too deep into the contents of that ending, here’s why Edgar Wright prefers the final ending to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World:
Oh, I prefer the new version. I prefer the version that we went out. I think the thing, this is what happened: Bryan Lee O’Malley, by the time that me and Michael started working on the screenplay, there were like three books out. I remember me and Michael Bacall, the co-screenwriter, went to Toronto, to hang out with Bryan and sort of pick his brains on what the rest of it was, and he had outline for the other three books.
As fans of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World will know, the film ends with Scott (Michael Cera) and Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) getting back together in the aftermath of fighting her final evil ex, Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman), as well as Nega-Scott. However, that’s not the ending that was originally going to close the film out. Initially, Scott and Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) were the one true pairing, and for a very specific reason.
Originally, Michael Bacall and Edgar Wright were going to put Scott and Knives back together for some very bittersweet reasons. As he explains below, Wright cites two classic romantic comedies that end in a similar way as an inspiration for how Scott Pilgrim vs. The World would have wrapped its story of love at the speed of anime. The initial intention was as follows:
What happened was, as we were making the movie, Bryan is carrying on with the books. And then, his book 6 is different from our film, but is also different from the outlines that we’d worked on. Which is totally fine, and I had no problem with that, because I felt like, this is an adaptation, and these things are kind of going their different way. One thing is the book, and one thing is the film, and that’s totally fine. The thing is the ending that we’d originally done where [Scott] ended up with Knives, we had originally written that to be a little like the endings of The Graduate or The Heartbreak Kid, which have these slightly kind of bittersweet, enigmatic endings. In both films, the hero gets what he wants, but is it what he really needs? And so you’re left with a question mark that’s like, ‘Huh. Maybe I did the wrong thing?’
Admittedly, that ending to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World would have been an absolute bummer; and it might have fit with the intense audition that Robert Pattinson had for the film. However, that version was never shot, as the more that Edgar Wright looked over Ellen Wong's performance, the more he realized that the previously drafted ending was cruel to Knives. It just didn’t feel right to end on that sort of note, which in turn yielded the original, alternate ending you can see on the home video release of Scott Pilgrim.
Even in this first alteration, something didn’t sit right with Edgar Wright when it came to how Scott Pilgrim vs. The World concluded. That feeling only grew when test screenings saw audiences agree with that gut feeling that Knives and Scott weren’t the endgame. While the film tested extremely well, and Universal had no expectations for Edgar Wright to change the ending, the co-writer/director already started to toy with the idea of doing just that.
The last push to create the final ending came from friend/future Scott Pilgrim fan J.J. Abrams, as Edgar Wright expressed his doubts to the man who was at that time working on his big Star Trek universe reboot. Confessing that he thought Scott and Ramona should end up together in the end, Wright got the best piece of advice from Abrams as a reaction to his thoughts: “Why don’t you write it, and see how it feels?” Cue a weekend’s worth of redrafting between Wright, Michael Bacall and Bryan Lee O’Malley, and a last minute email to some Universal Pictures brass, and the current ending was born.
However, there was still one idea that Edgar Wright and his Scott Pilgrim vs. The World crew scrapped that also influenced this wild history lesson. While Wright was working with a pretty sizable budget, especially when compared to his previous films Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, there was one portion that obviously needed to be zapped early on. Here now is the story of how we almost got, but eventually lost, MechaGideon:
So we knew what the outlines were, and there were things that were in there that we wrote into the script, which Bryan didn’t end up doing in the comics. Like, there was one thing that was in there, that was neither in the comics, nor in the finished film, but was in the script and was in the storyboards in one point. There was one point where Gideon was going to turn into MechaGideon. That was the one thing where the budget, there was point where it was like ‘Can we do without the giant robot? Can we get rid of that bit?’ So we came up with the ending that it currently is, which I’m really happy with.
An ending can really affect how a movie is perceived, both in the immediate future and in the long term. Were Scott Pilgrim vs. The World to have treated Knives Chau cruelly, you can be sure that fans would have rioted when it came to how her character ended up. But with a heartfelt line that acted as the key to Knives growing up past her love for Scott, Ellen Wong’s character found her own happy ending, which only made fans, and Edgar Wright, all the happier.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World has been absent from movie theaters after its original ill-fated theatrical release, but now it’s ready to make a triumphant return for one week only. If you have a Dolby Cinema location nearest to you, and you’re interested in seeing Edgar Wright’s much beloved action-musical presented better than ever, it returns in early showings next Thursday. You’d better hurry though, as tickets are already being snapped up faster than it took to ditch the concept of MechaGideon.