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 Marc Kandel
As a member in good standing of the third most intelligent species on the planet, I’ve a few thoughts on the subject of this film… But the mice retain final editing privileges.So it’s not the book. Let’s get that little tidbit out of the way. It’s a tidy, neatly encapsulated story with a beginning, middle, and, unlike the book, a resolved ending with just enough references squeezed in to leave the remote possibility of a sequel to narrowly avoid a rabid Douglas Adams Fan riot. It’s an adaptation that gives the impression of a very clinical discussion around a studio conference table by writers and producers desperate to find a way to illustrate yet restrain Adams’ delicious, unpredictable narrative style and breakout tangents in a way that adequately brings a story across to viewers both new and old to the “Hitchhiker’s” world.
"I’m of two heads on this one."
The finished product won’t be a hardcore fan pleaser, but as a standalone film it’s good enough for government work. Its also important to note that prior to his death, Adams was involved with this screenplay, so some changes were obviously approved by him for purposes of book to film adaptation- something for die-hards (and myself) to take note of.
Plot- a refugee from a destroyed earth joins a madcap band of adventurers in the search for the question of Life the Universe and Everything. Hilarity ensues.
I consider myself something of a Douglas Adams fan. Okay, perhaps a “Hitchhiker’s” fan as the “Dirk Gently” novels didn’t leave as large an impression with me. Despite more than a few exceptions taken with this cinematic adaptation overall, we have a pretty entertaining, funny film that I find, well, sweet, a word I have prior to now, never utilized in a review to describe my reaction to a film. So let me clarify: I mean sweet in a good, Douglas Adams, life is a horrifically bitched up exercise in random Hobbesian unpleasantness and more than occasional futility but hey, there’s sandwiches and puppies—and that’s something, isn’t it? kind of way.
Think of the film as a Readers Digest Douglas Adams. No. No don’t do that. How ‘bout, “The Compleat and Unabridged Hitchhiker’s Guide Cliff Notes 2005 Edition?” No? Ok. Ok. Then let’s stick with “We thought we’d have a go at making this movie about this book, but the prose, imagery, and non-traditional point of view will forever prove itself beyond our limited two- to three-dimensional perception so here’s an amalgamation of the aforementioned items we hope you’ll like, and aren’t all these pretty flashing lights and rubber aliens with large protuberant lips something?”
And because they stick with the latter proposition, in addition to assembling a very fun, talented cast, the film does manage to offer a glimpse of Adams’ world view and humor, if not his actual story. For new audiences, its pretty original, intelligent material to be found at your atypical theater with some great visuals and vaguely Monty Pythonesque humor and for the novel’s fans, well, for the more open-minded, it can be a mixed bag of fun and disappointment weighing more heavily on the fun side. For stiff-necked die-hards, well, sorry, it’s probably going to lead to hours of blogging vitriol. For me, it’s just enough to get by with a wide grin, and it’s not even close to what I would consider a bad movie. In fact, I felt quite good by its conclusion. Folks that can live with this assessment need read no further.
So for the nitpickers, let’s take a look at a few of what could be considered some of the more egregious wrongdoings amongst a great host of changes:
The film changes the whole tone of the book by making the tale about Arthur Dent’s personal journey and individual growth rather than using Arthur Dent as the everyman perspective in an abnormal situation, observing, but never really becoming an effectual character in and of himself. Here, Arthur is transformed into the active protagonist with lessons to learn and changes to be made in his life by the end credits in classic screenplay 101 mode.
Because of the aforementioned change of focus, a heretofore nonexistent love story has been included, ostensibly for the bean counters and audiences that for some reason need to know the main character will fuck, or have the opportunity to fuck something off-screen in the future, resulting in a big fuck you to adherents to the original source material, where no such love story exists, and indeed, is not really essential to the overall plot.
A major character possessing two heads has this particular physical attribute toned down (the heads are positioned vertically rather than horizontally, resulting in the character looking pretty much like everyone else most of the time). Why? The end justification is shaky, and removing the weird apparition immediately ruins the observational comedy of the English tendency to nonchalantly accept the bizarre with nary a raised eyebrow in the interests of maintaining proper gentlemanly composure. It is a wasted opportunity and a real irritating break from the original idea. Plus, I liked the old television mini-series where Zaphod’s other head was a barely functional puppet that looked like an exhumed Neanderthal with a mullet poorly stapled to the actor’s shoulder and came alive only to mutter some slow witticism, then returning to inert matter for the rest of the shot. But that’s me.
A major event at the beginning of the movie is book ended with a restoration of status quo at the end of the movie- that this event is shown to have never actually happened in later books in the series is incidental- here, its classic circular storytelling.
Why the problems are forgivable if not forgettable:
The subtle tinkering with the Arthur Dent character from our identifiable fly-on-the-wall to space opera hero is probably necessary for the more limiting medium, and an excellent turn by Martin Freeman as the generally hapless, clueless Arthur Dent helps greatly, never making him more capable than he actually is, but allowing him to deal with situations as best as possible while still being, well…Arthur Dent.
The cast as a whole make many of these changes work by giving us honest, energetic performances that made me believe in the actions and motivations of the characters. Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, and Zooey Deschanel all make these characters step right out of the book. Of the three, I was most concerned with Mos Def, as I have never seen him in a film role and only vaguely know him as some hip-hop celebrity, but he won me over immediately when his character, Ford Prefect attempts to shake hands with an oncoming vehicle. Winner. Sam Rockwell of course gives us yet another memorable character performance as Zaphod Beeblebrox, coming off as a mildly retarded Elvis impersonator who has gotten by in life with tremendous charisma and ambition that outweighs his attention span. Zooey Deschanel brings a likeable quality to the character I found least likable in the books. Her Trillian is clever, adventurous, adept, sexy, and a better heroine than most despite the film’s obvious fallback tactic of making her the damsel in distress- another divergence some may take issue with.
Said changes are threaded into the storyline competently, if not satisfactorily with acceptable rationales for the goings-on; there is even a perfectly intelligent… um… perfectly justifiable…let’s just say there is a reason for the alteration with Zaphod’s head(s) that I can live with, if not totally sanction.
I hardly see a studio greenlighting “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” sequel without having tested the waters of how your average audience will enjoy this first offering. It’s a well-known story, but doesn’t really pack the historical clout of a “Lord of the Rings”, or the overt flashiness of a “Matrix” trilogy (though decidedly more innovative and intelligent than the latter- but in the case of “Hitchhiker’s”, that may ironically be the problem).So if you can’t abide the heretical tinkering with the source, go back to the TV series, or even better, the radio show, or better than that and most obviously, the book itself. But you’ll miss the fabulous musical number… I still hum it on occasion...
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11932&reviewer=358
originally posted: 11/11/05 09:56:30