Why do the same concepts get recycled and reinterpreted in so many different media, and what does that do to storytelling? Filmmaker Drew Morton poses that question in his video essay “From the Panel to the Frame: Style and Scott Pilgrim.” The piece, which was originally produced as a part of a doctoral dissertation, uses the 2010 Edgar Wright film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as a springboard to talk about how videogames, movies and comic books influence each other—and how you can often see the aesthetic roots of one medium represented in another, in a way that feels increasingly relaxed and organic. (Press Play contributor Matthias Stork has also dealt with this issue in this piece.)
Morton isn’t talking about adaptation here—turning a book into a movie, for instance, or a movie into a TV series. This is something else. As he puts it in his video essay, it’s more about reproducing or reimagining one medium’s aesthetic within the context of another medium: not just adapting Bryan Lee O’Malley’s original Scott Pilgrim comics, but making the film look and move and somehow feel like those books, to the point of quoting specific panels.
There’s a specific academic term for this phenomenon: “transmediation.” Morton explores that, too. He uses examples from Scott Pilgrim, the Matrix universe, Sin City, and other stories, or “properties,” that unfold across different media to prove that the boundaries that supposedly separate those media are more porous than we may have thought. The “bullet time” scene in the original Matrix movie, for instance, was a great cinematic moment, but it wouldn’t have existed without the aesthetic of mid-‘90s videogames that tried, in their ostentatious yet primitive way, to look three-dimensional. And when Time-Warner, the company that released The Matrix, decided it had another Star Wars on its hands, it commissioned videogames that fans found disappointing because they wanted something that felt like the movies, only game-like, and the games didn’t deliver.
These are slippery subjects to analyze, but Morton never loses his grip here, and the final section—a detailed analysis of the style of Wright’s film—is dazzling. He talks about how Wright folds representations of comics, videogames and music into a movie based on a comic book that was itself strongly inspired by videogames, and in so doing, creates a “re-remediation.” If you tried to represent that on a page, it might look like a bunch of parentheses inside one big parenthetical, or maybe a line drawing of a Russian nesting doll, animated, with each layer’s shell cracking to reveal the layer beneath, each pop commemorated by a point value materializing in space and hanging there. Fifty points! A hundred! Next level!
Click and watch.
—Matt Zoller Seitz
Drew Morton is a Ph.D. student in Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA. He has written about film and television for such publications as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, UWM Post, and Flow. He is currently researching the aesthetic convergence between comics and film.
Matt Zoller Seitz is the co-founder of Press Play.