Worth A Look: 34.24%
Pretty Bad: 12.5%
Total Crap: 21.2%
13 reviews, 106 user ratings
|Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The
by Scott Weinberg
I was excited and skeptical, optimistic and cautious. Here it was, after so many years of waiting and wondering: the "Hitchhiker's Guide" movie and all its wild and wacky widescreen glory. Was there stuff missing? (Yes.) Were there augmentations and alterations that didn't sit entirely well? (Again, yep.) But, after all was said and done, was the cinematic version of Douglas Adams' wonderful world brought to life in fine and funny form? Actually ... yeah! Warts and all, here it was, and while I can't accurately opine that this version is an excellent film from stem to stern ... it was certainly good enough for this fan to have a giddy good time.Full disclosure: I’m a true-blue Hitchhiker’s GEEK. I’ve read the five-book “trilogy” at least thrice, at each time I sat down to enjoy the otherworldly weirdness of Douglas Adams’ creations, I found myself creating the movie version in my head. I’d seen the BBC television version, which I found both very kitschy and quite appealing … but that’s not exactly Hitchhiker’s getting the full-blown Hollywood treatment, now is it?
"Doesn't exactly measure up to the book ... but what does, really?"
For years I wondered who would play Ford, what would Zaphod look like, how adorable would Trillian be, and what would Marvin’s voice sound like? I wanted to see the massive showroom in Magrathea, the shape and size of the sleazy Vogons, and the ill-fated whale who was born only to plummet to an instantaneous death. So now, after all those years of hopeful optimism and geeky wonderment, here comes this swanky new movie version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and guess what? It’s actually pretty darn good!
Let’s get one thing straight right at the outset: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is about as “unfilmable” as a book can be. The entire series is laden with high-concept strangeness and outer space insanity that absolutely defy a physical interpretation. Plus it’s not like the books are your typical A to B to C plot narratives, and that really is an impediment to any filmmaker looking to deliver a linear plot as the backbone of their film.
Although the basic plot is fairly simple (an unassuming British bloke and his alien friend escape from Earth a few seconds before it goes kerplooey, thereby leading them on a series of truly improbable adventures across the cosmos), Adams would often digress into chapters about flower pots, sperm whales, mega-computers, and mattresses. How would a filmmaker be able to include all the sundry stuff while still maintaining a cohesive plot for the uninitiated? Bottom line: it’s a tough assignment.
So when a pair of British filmmakers, known only for music videos and TV commercials, earned the gig, I thought “Sure, why not? Let some young, hungry filmmakers take a whack at the beloved source material and see what they come up with.” Aside from perhaps Terry Gilliam, I cannot think of any director who’d be “perfect” for this assignment. Working from a screenplay by the late Mr. Adams, with the assistance of Chicken Run screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick, producer Nick Goldsmith and director Garth Jennings set to creating a Hitchhiker’s adaptation that would (hopefully) thrill the millions of fans while keeping the newcomers happy as well.
And while I cannot speak for the newcomers in the audience, this longtime Adams fan had a darn good time with the big-screen adaptation. And while it’s certainly nowhere near a flawless film, I found myself wondering how this book could have made it to the movie screens in a better form than this. And I came up with nothing.
Barring the fairly atrocious inclusion of a new subplot involving a missionary named Humma Kuvala (as played by John Malkovich), I have to say that this is just about the best adaptation that the Hitchhiker’s fans could have hoped for. Jennings’ film is a scattershot and episodic affair, but then again so were Adams’ novels, so that’s hardly a fair complaint. The plot is almost secondary to the tone and attitude of the movie, but here it is:
Arthur Dent is a schlub. He wakes up one morning to find that his house is about to be demolished to make way for a new highway bypass. Just as Arthur lies down in the mud to prevent a bulldozer from doing its thing, up pops Dent’s old pal Ford. Only Ford is not, as Arthur had always assumed, a human being. Ford is an alien who’s been spending time on Earth doing research for “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which is an electronic encyclopedia that’s trusted all over the universe. Arthur and Ford “hitch” a ride upon a massive Vogon spaceship just seconds before our planet is destroyed, and the duo quickly meet up with Zaphod Beeblebrox (president of the galaxy!), human cutie Tricia “Trillian” McMillan, and Marvin the Paranoid Android. And the crew spends the next 2 hours jaunting from planet to planet while hunting for the answer to “Life, the Universe, and Everything.”
Perhaps best described as Monty Python meets Star Wars by way of something else particularly goofy, the books have enjoyed a long and healthy life as cult classics extraordinaire, which means that the movie will be dissected by millions of passionate fans who really WANT to like the movie, but realize that they probably won’t. And while I could easily point to a half-dozen missteps and moviemaking blunders, the simple truth is that I had a darn good time with this particular incarnation of the Guide.
The casting choices are nothing short of fantastic. Martin Freeman (best known from the BBC version of The Office) is the perfect Arthur Dent: drab and unassuming, but still effortlessly likable through and through. Mos Def, an actor I’ve always liked, kicks back and gets a bit silly with his portrayal of Ford Prefect. He’s not exactly the Ford I expected to see, but the guy’s having a lot of fun here, and it shows. Sam Rockwell, as the two-headed and perpetually arrogant President Zaphod, gets most of the flick’s biggest laughs, and Zooey Deschanel, that blue-eyed sweetheart, lends the adventure a much-needed dose of sweet-natured humanity. And in a third-act supporting role, Bill Nighy steals a few scenes as the meek and mild planet engineer who takes his orders from a pair of white mice.
As I mentioned earlier, the only true misstep is the one involving John Malkovich. Not only is his performance oddly dull, but the character serves no real purpose aside from setting up an admittedly flimsy plot structure. Delivering the voice of Marvin the perpetually depressed robot, Alan Rickman is perfectly dry and droll – although he’s never actually funny. And in the books, Marvin was pretty darn funny.
I fully expect this film to split the hardcore fans right down the middle, while leaving lots of the newcomers scratching their collective head in confusion. Unfortunately for most, this is a movie that works best if you’re already very familiar with the source material – and, in the world of big box office, that’s not exactly a good thing.
As a stand-alone movie, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy works as a crazed and colorful concoction, and one that I think lots of sci-fi fans will grow to appreciate ... especially when we get the three-hour DVD director's cut that I just bet is on the way.Those who come in expecting a sci-fi comedy full of high-end action and daring escapes may walk out disappointed, but those of us who welcome a worthwhile combination of strong British wit and interstellar insanity should absolutely have a real hoopy time.
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originally posted: 04/29/05 18:13:21