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April 30, 2005

Majikthise reviews The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

I'll admit, Garth Jennings' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was much more entertaining than I expected.

Martin Freeman's Arthur Dent is actually a more likable protagonist than his literary counterpart. Mos Def plays a charismatic but bland version of Ford Prefect. In the novel Ford is a jaded, slightly psychopathic hedonist. Whereas, in the movie, Ford is primarily Arthur's cool buddy. Sam Rockwell's Zaphod Beeblebrox is an embarrassing cross between Jeff Lebowski and Maj. T.J. Kong* from Dr. Strangelove. Douglas Adams wrote Trillian as a brilliant mathematician/astrophysicist who was bored and kinky enough to run off with a two-headed alien. Basically, Zooey Deschanel's Trillian is pretty. The romantic subplot is so bad that I prefer to read it as posthumous "fuck you" from Douglas Adams. (I need a romantic subplot? Right, then, we'll give it three scenes.)

Bill Nighy gives HHG's best performance as Slartibartfast. His Magrathean planet-construction sequence is the highlight of the film.

The art direction and set design are hit and miss. The good guys' technology has a satisfyingly bulbous look. The design is timelessly nifty--retro, yet futuristic. (That's no mean feat. To look futuristic in 2005, you can't just recycle what people envisioned the future to be like in the late 1970's.) The marshmallowy Heart of Gold spaceship, the fire engine red explorer pod, and Marvin the depressive robot resemble Murakami's Superflat sculptures.

At this writing, everyone is raving about those Vogons. Agreed that Jim Henson's Creature Shop executed the Vogons beautifully, but I wasn't quite as impressed with them as Wyld Card, et al. Too much evil, not enough banality of evil, if you ask me. I hate to say it, but the Vogons' environment looks way too much like sets from Fraggle Rock. No disrespect to Jim's FR, but the Vogons' digs are just too squalid for a race of faceless corporate bureaucrats. (And call me a fangirl, but I had my heart set on a yellow Vogon constructor fleet.)

I applaud Jennings' decision to use animated "entries" from the Hitchhikers Guide to explain some of the more obscure plot points, including the Infinite Improbability Drive. The HHG novels are less emphatic on this point, but the central conceit of the radio play is that the listener is hearing the story from the Guide itself. Happily, the same actor supplies the voice of the Guide in the movie as in the original radio drama. (Turns out I was mistaken about the identity of the Guide. Thanks, Johnny.)

Unfortunately, most of the actual animation sequences look pretty stupid. The animators were obviously going for a retro vibe, but the end product was an artless grab bag of the worst graphic design cliches from the 1950's to the present.

It's hard for me to judge the movie except as an adaptation of the book, but I get the feeling that it wouldn't be very satisfying to anyone who wasn't already a fan. In the novel, the plot serves primarily as a structure for witty digressions, riffs on philosophy and physics, a huge cast of minor characters, and wordplay. The movie omits most of that, not to mention the clever non-linear storytelling devices. It also adds a lot of slapstick.

HGG was obviously not an easy story to adapt. Making a movie about Adams' universe is like trying to project a globe onto a two-dimensional map. Considerable distortion is inevitable. The movie is remarkably successful at suggesting the eccentric charm of the source material without actually showing very much of it.

*Historical note: Slim Pickins' beloved nuclear cowboy is also thought to have been a major influence on G.W. Bush's "43rd President of the United States" character in Dick Cheney's America.

Update: David Edelstein has an interesting review in Slate.

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Comments

Ya know, I thought the vector-style graphics used in the television series were a good way of handling entries from the Guide, narration, etc. It's so primitive, yet always looks "computery."

That said, your review, "more entertaining than I expected," and the two-and-a-half-star review from the Boston Globe, just aren't stirring me to rush to the theater this instant (Well, I don't think there's any showings this late around here, anyway). I mean, come on. Make the fargin' Vogon fleet yellow. Plus, I love a Ford Prefect who could suppress an evil giggle, then realize there was no need, and laugh out loud---a long, wicked laugh.

It was a fun way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon, but I'm glad I didn't stand in line on opening night.

Did you take a towel along? ^..^

The voice of the Guide in the original radio series was Peter Jones. Stephen Fry did the Guide voiceovers for the film.

I have to admit I decided to see the Enron documentary instead, but sounds like it will be worth checking out, the excision of Majikthise notwithstanding...

Johnny, I http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000410/>stand corrected. Thanks for mentioning. That's what I get for citing Thad without doing my own fact checking. (Not that Thad isn't generally reliable, but still...)

Scott, I'm probably going to see the Enron movie tomorrow. Was it good?

i wasnt expecting much from this movie, considering it was made by the anti-midas, Disney but it surprised even a jaded young punk like me.

i thought the movie got off to a great start, even though it started off with a guide entry from a plot?series?book? further down the line and after 45 minutes of lip serivece, became its own little story(which i am fine with).

this is my main gripe...call me a glutton for punishment, but i wanted some new freakin vogon poetry. what was that 3-4 mumbled lines all about?
where is the pain??

The problems adapting a book to a movie are unavoidable--you simply cannot duplicate people's imaginative leaps on screen and they will fault you for it.

That said, "Lord of the Rings" was a turning point, when nerds realized that you cannot get every detail on screen or realize their individual vision perfectly. I hope that realization carried to reviews of this movie.

Just hold a second there gal.

Major "King" Kong was competent in Dr. Strangelove. That was one of the jokes. He got the job done. It just happened to mean the end of the world.

Where has Bush got the job done? His screwing up may have brought us closer to the end, but, not his competence.

And Slim Pickens is Californ-I-A born and bred. Texas is just another southeastern state.

Lindsay--yes, it was very good if you're interested in the subject. A little lacking in detail in places, but lots of interesting stuff overall.

Unrelated: the annual ignorant/offensive B.C. Easter Sunday comic is up. It's about Darwin this time. Fun stuff.

http://www.comics.com/creators/bc/archive/bc-20050501.html

Lindsay,

Shouldn't the whole headline on your post be "Majikthise reviews Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy even though they perversely and foolishly and to the general detriment of the whole enterprise left her character out of the damn thing?"

Amanda: The problems adapting a book to a movie are unavoidable--you simply cannot duplicate people's imaginative leaps on screen and they will fault you for it.

True enough ... but remember that this film isn't an adaptation of any book. This film, like the books, are adaptations of a series of radioplays.

The GUN and TRATEOTU!!!

SEQUEL! SEQUEL!

Vogons: I would have liked to have heard the conversation between Arthur and Ford and the guard Vogon who pushes them into the airlock and repeats "resistance is useless!" Funny stuff from the book/show that was jetisoned for time.

Poetry: I appreciated the fact that while Ford writhed in agony and other prisoners were clearly killed by it's wretchedness, Arthur just sort of looks bewildered by it. It's as if Earthlings are already so used to wretchedly bad poetry that they are not as adversly affected by it as other species.

Thanks for the link.

-Bill

Once the dolphins left the planet the movie imploded. The last half of the picture was simply horrible. The romantic sub plot was so bad and so out of character. Zaphod signing the order and the point of view ray just blew. I will admit marvin was handled well but it made me long for the BBC Dr.Who graphics. Zaphod and Ford are two of the best characters in any story and they were just non existent in the movie. what is with the lemon helmut and no shades. From the linear plot to the love story to the very disney ending with Earth coming back to life, this was a disaster. Sorry for the venting.

My experience of the movie was as a fan of the original radio show. The thing that struck me was that all the jokes had been surgically removed from the movie. I remember, as a schoolboy, listening to BBC radio back in 1978 and being sent into paroxysms of laughter by the neverending string of one-liners. I would have thought that would have translated well to the cinema, but it wasn't even attempted. Where did the jokes go?

Of course, the directors didn't make a movie version of the radio show. They adapted the book, and therein lies the problem. If the radio was a string of zingers, the books were just a series of prolix shaggy dog stories. They were never as entertaining as the performance. So the movie gave us the story but no jokes, and so it failed.

A shame, because I wanted to like it and I though the cast were great and the visuals stunning. But the lack of 'ha ha hee hee' left me cold.

My wife -- a complete neophyte to the H2G2 world -- liked it a lot. For me, that outweighed any reservations. (And I have many.) It's worth noting that continuity in narrative, or across media, wasn't Adams' strong point, or even his concern.

My biggest disappointment, like Lee, was that there were bits of the film that were silhouettes of great jokes or sequences from the radio/books/TV. Jennings is a music video director, and it shows: he still hasn't quite got . (Had Jay Roach directed, as was once planned...)

And the painstakingly-drawn, acetate-animated Guide segments from the TV series definitely felt more in keeping with the spirit of the Book than the Flash animated stuff.

New radio episodes on the BBC, by the way, with almost all the original cast (Peter Jones, RIP). It's great that they've finished that particular strand of the H2G2 multiverse.

Finally: even though it started off with a guide entry from a plot?series?book? further down the line

Ah, here's the thing: that's the very first bit of the very first radio episode. I listened to them again last night, and it surprised me how closely they followed Fit the First. The book does something different; but you can't fault the film-makers for leading off with that entry.

If they were going to cast someone black as Zaphod, they'd have been better off with Lenny Henry.

ash
['Yes.']

The best part of the Vogons was the monocles on chains and the british-legal-system wigs.

It has to be admitted that the new radio episodes suck so bad they are an embarrassment. Desperately unfunny.

I'm going to go to this one with the same attitude I took the LOTR flicks; that it's simply impossible to do justice to the book (or in this case the radio play, which is my favourite version of the Guide), and the film must be judged on its own merits, not on how it compares to the other form of the story. Sometimes trying too hard to be "true to the original" is what ruins the whole thing.

You all have decided me. I'll see the movie, but I'll be listening to the radio show on headphones.

Aww, I see a lot of Douglas Adams fans still in denial about the movie, that's kind of touching. We all wanted to see a good interpretation of our favorite story but we have been cheated from achieving that goal. I wouldn't place to much trust on several alluring but fake reviews I have read so far. Let me tell you, save your money and your soul, for during the first few minutes of this fiasco of a movie, I thought I was watching a badly edited student movie, put together in a rush with left over footage from SeaWorld turists. It was a musical but not a single shot matched the song beat. And it went down hill from there on, the rest of the movie was like watching a train wreck in slow motion, it was extremely painful to watch yet I couldn't take my eyes off of it. What a bloody mess. There was absolutely nothing done correctly, anything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. Except for Magrathea's FX which stood out like a diamond in a pile of crap. Incidentally, there were only two people in the theatre on that opening night. I am not a fanatic but I wished I had brought my towel, I would have used it to cover my eyes and weep. One more towel use that not even Adams envisioned in his wild and marvelous stories. All I want to know is who is responsible for this fiasco and were are they, so I can send the firing squad. I am really pissed about this. Poor Mr. Adams. I am going to have to give that amazing original radio show another listen just to alleviate my heart ache.

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