- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 14, 2010

The comic book permeates all levels of popular culture. This sporadic feature reviews some recent examples from the world of digital video discs (compatible with DVD-ROM and Blu-ray-enabled computers and home entertainment centers) and also includes a recommended sequential-art reading list to extend the multimedia adventures.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, $39.98)  Cartoonist Bryan Lee O’Malley’s award-winning black-and-white graphic-novel series came to brilliant live-action life this summer in the hands of “Shaun of the Dead” director Edgar Wright.

Now available in the Blu-ray format, the movie stuffs viewers with a pop-culture-reference buffet that dares to mash up live action with video game under the guidance of the comic book’s story.

The simple tale of an underachieving 23-year-old Canadian bass player named Scott Pilgrim in hot pursuit of his dream girl, Ramona Flowers, gets infinitely more complicated. He must defeat seven of her powerful ex-boyfriends to win her hand and indifference.

Michael Cera — who plays Pilgrim to a T — delivers his trademark disenfranchised-young-adult performance as he goes from dork to martial-arts expert while under attack by Ramona’s superpowered former beaus.

Each boss battle brings on the oddest of foes, including a psychic vegan, a lesbian ninja, a skateboarding action-movie star and a band manager, and goes the way of a Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat skirmish.

With each defeat, the enemies explode into coins in front of viewers’ oversaturated eyes before we’re returned to Pilgrim’s normal world.

Mr. Wright’s multitasking visual style removes nearly all of cinema’s traditional walls as text balloons pop up, scenes are skewered by comic-book panels, pixilated moments tap into the 16-bit era of gaming, on-screen countdowns signal the end of a fight (continue?) and an occasional O’Malley illustration keep the viewer guessing.

No one older than 40 should be admitted to “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” unless accompanied by a 20-something, as this clever absurdist comedy might float over an older dude’s noggin.

Best extras: A generous and welcome supply of bonus materials, including four optional commentary tracks, helped this elderly coot completely understand the frenetic on-screen visuals.

Start with an optional commentary track with Mr. O’Malley, screenplay co-writer Michael Bacall and Mr. Wright bantering about the world of Scott Pilgrim.

The enthusiasm of the trio is infectious, with plenty of ribbing (Mr. Wright at one point refers to Mr. O’Malley as the anti-Alan Moore in relation to his deep involvement in the project) and they deliver a continuous stream of fact nuggets and behind-the-scenes memories.

Next, a bottom-of-the-screen trivia track points out pop-culture and original-source-material references, not limited to drinking Molson Canadian beer, Scott wearing an X-Men patch, a quote from “My Super Ex-Girlfriend,” Scott wearing a Tetsuwan Atomu era “Astro Boy” T-shirt, and a Sonic the Hedgehog 2 sound effect that’s played during Scott’s epiphany about Ramona’s bicurious phase.

Blu-ray-specific fun includes a U-Control option for a picture-in-picture storyboard track mirroring the film and featuring an art style mixing Mr. O’Malley’s original finished work with sketches.

Read all about it: Six black-and-white digest-size volumes from Oni Press average 180 pages ($11.99 each) and relay the adventures of our hero under titles such as Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life and Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness.

Predators, (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, rated R, $39.98)  If anyone could pull off a great Predator movie, I thought for sure Robert Rodriguez had a solid shot. As producer of the latest entry to the franchise, he found a talented director in Nimrod Antal and some spiffy-looking alien upgrades to try to deliver the goods.

Alas, it was not to be, as this homage to the first “Predator” film (now available on DVD and Blu-ray) does little to enlighten viewers on the mysterious species, instead featuring another round of human victims ripe for slaughter.

Academy Award-winner Adrien Brody does his best Christian Bale-as-John Connor impression while leading eight other killers (among them Danny “Machete” Trejo and Alice Braga) around an unknown planet used as a hunting ground by the superugly species.

Maybe I’m just bored with the human drama of it all, but I wanted to know much more about the Predators than any of this cast of misfits.

I almost wonder if we needed a “Planet Terror” level of B-movie outrageousness here, where maybe these human killers go into hiding, bide their time and eventually amass into an army to try to match their crab-faced opponents, leading to a gory, interplanetary war.

Best extras: Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Antal offer a very insightful optional commentary track. They obviously like each other, like buddies having a beer, and both love talking about making the movie. They banter throughout the action and never bore.

A 40-minute, six-part documentary on the making of the film offers plenty of information but spends too much time with key production personnel gushing about one another’s work. I could have used much more on the Predator mythos and less marketing.

Read all about it: The best extra is a selection of motion comics on the Blu-ray that take place before the movie’s story. “Moments of Extraction” covers the background of four of the human characters before they are pulled to the hunting planet and includes the voices of the actors. “Crucifixion” offers a glimpse into a brutal ritual of the Predators. Overall, it’s about 10 minutes’ worth of comic-book panels coming to life and starring some wonderful illustrations by unnamed artists. 

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