Confused Views: Have you heard the news?

With reports that Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is underperforming at the box office, Matt argues that a film’s quality is more important than its box office...

Don’t you just hate it when someone knocks at the door when you’re watching a film? That happened to me recently. I was right in the middle of a really cool film when I heard that ever so troubling rat-a-tat-tat. I considered for a moment how important getting up to deal with it really was. Concerned about a possible emergency, I reluctantly answered, only to find myself confronted by two complete strangers who appeared impossibly happy to see me.

“Hello there. Sorry to disturb you, but we’d like to tell you about the good book,” one of them said, with the bubbling enthusiasm of a puppy with a new chew toy. God, I hate puppies.*

Luckily, the second one spoke just as I was reaching to slam the door in their faces.

“Have you read Scott Pilgrim?” I was asked. Ahh, that good book.

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I told them I was a big Scott Pilgrim fan. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to hear me because they immediately started explaining to me why I should go to see the Scott Pilgrim film. Despite my pleas that I definitely would be seeing it, they wouldn’t stop. They just kept saying that the box office numbers had been lower than they had hoped and that they were encouraging people to see it.

When I finally managed to get a word in, I asked them who they were. Just fans, they explained, who enjoyed the film and are trying to make up for the box office catastrophe that has blighted the film’s release. “If you don’t support films like this then the studios won’t…”

This marks the point when I closed the door. I could hear them still standing outside, so I poked open the letter box and farted through it. They left and I went back to watching Whip It! I’m going to talk about Whip It! a bit now, but we’ll be coming back to this when we wrap up at the end. It’s here for a reason. Well, not the farting through the letterbox bit. That’s just me being silly.

So, who saw Whip It! theatrically? Not me. The cinema I go to had a big cardboard Whip It! stand in their lobby for more than a month. This was obviously done to highlight that they would be screening the film at no time whatsoever. What buggers! This, combined with a personal busy-ness meant that I’ve had to wait for the video release of Whip It! this week to check the film out. (Also throw in a region coded US Blu-ray release. Surely region coding needs to die already. If film distributors were serious about not wanting people illegally downloading, they’d have knocked this bullshit off ages ago.)

It was certainly worth the wait. It’s a really fun film that features an awesome cast. For a film with a feminist slant, I feel terrible singling out one of the only male performers but, man, I loved seeing former wet and sticky bandit Daniel Stern in this film. The guy’s great and was perfectly cast. He’s in good company, though, with other stand-outs being a typically brilliant Ellen Page and the ever-dependable Kristen Wiig. That’s one of the bonuses you often find when seeing a film that’s directed by an actor (this is Drew Barrymore’s feature directing debut). They fill the cast with great actors.

Today I looked up how much money Whip It! made. Its US gross was $13m. Add what it made around the rest of the world (according to Box Office Mojo, which I’m using as a gigantic fact machine, even though I have no idea how accurate it is) and it took a total of $16.6m. That’s considerably less than Scott Pilgrim will end up making. And yet, I’m left shrugging and confused as to why I’m supposed to care.

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The box office charts are not a scoreboard. Filmmaking is not a sport. Who cares what other people are watching? If none of you watch Whip It! it would suck for you, because you’d be missing out but, really, I’m struggling to muster an interest. Hell, some of you would hate it anyway. If you like it, cool. Me too.

Writer/director Kevin Smith has been talking about the same issue on Twitter. Here’s a guy who gets it, and so he should. Smith hasn’t clocked up billions of dollars with his movies. Rather, he’s made the films that he wanted to make, some people have taken a huge amount of pleasure from those films, and he’s dedicated his time to something he can be proud of. What else do you need?

I’ll take this quote from his Twitter page because he manages to articulate in 27 words what I’m flailing at with this entire column:

The ONLY people who should be concerned at all with how much a movies makes are the people financially involved. You? Just enjoy (or don’t) the show.

Look at TV programmes like The X Factor and what chasing chart positions and producing targeted numbers has done to music. The Black Eyed Peas are hugely popular. Stew in that for a minute. The Black Eyed Peas. The group that did the My Humps song have sold millions of records. Popularity means absolutely nothing.

So, to try to pull this whole thing back on track, before I disappear into a nonsense-shaped abyss and completely lose my grip on where I was going, Scott Pilgrim didn’t make so much money this weekend. It must be something of a ball-ache for the accountants that work for Universal, although I’ve no doubt that they’d already seen it coming. For me, I don’t know why I’m supposed to care. All I keep hearing from people who have seen it is that it’s really good.

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Will this have an effect on whether other films like it get made? I don’t know. Neither do you. After Watchmen came out, everyone said there would never be another R-rated superhero movie, and this year Kick-Ass came out. Honestly? I don’t really want to see more films like Scott Pilgrim anyway. I want to see one film like Scott Pilgrim and then I want to see other films that are different.

If we really have to figure money into the Scott Pilgrim analysis, let’s look at what an epic win we’re getting to witness. The director of Hot Fuzz, Shaun Of The Dead and Spaced got $60m from a major movie studio to adapt the Scott Pilgrim comics into a movie. How is that not awesome? Don’t worry if anyone else liked it. You don’t need to go door to door whipping up business for it. Just enjoy it.

Me? I can’t wait for Scott Pilgrim to come out and I don’t care if I’m the only one in the cinema when I get to see it.

* Of all of the things about this fake exchange that are untrue, the bit about me hating puppies is the most untrue. I love puppies.