Hey folks, Harry here with the very first film review of HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY - now both Moriarty and Quint were going to attempt to break into this screening all undercover style, and I've yet to hear if they've succeeded or not. On other news - CHUD has images of the toys we'll all be getting soon enough!
Note: the following review will try in every way possible to avoid making cliche jokes using references such as "Don't Panic," "42," or "Pangalactic Gargle Blaster." Please ignore the previous self-aware occurrences of these terms.
Hello folks. I just returned home after an evening in Pasadena, where I had the privilege to see a screening of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I must admit that as a slightly-more-than-casual fan of the original works -- I read the first three books of the trilogy years ago and have listened to the radio serial -- I expected the worst. I mean, when was the last time Hollywood took a beloved property and turned it into something just as special? Oh, right, that fruity dwarf and wizard movie. I never cared much for those books in the first place. Rings aside, I'm happy to report that at least 75% of the things I liked about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy were preserved in this movie.
I won't bore you with a rehashing of the story of The Hitchhiker's Guide, as everyone reading this knows "the answer" by now. Rather than beginning with the imminent demolition of one Arthur Dent's flat (a la the book), the movie starts with a musical number (hold your groans) recounting the dolphins' escape from the planet Earth. It rather nicely sets the tone for those who go into the movie not knowing what to expect. Still, the fact that the film immediately deviated from the book had me a bit uneasy.
However, after the destruction of the Earth (oops, did I spoil something?) the credits began to roll with some odd, spacey banjo picking. When the title appeared along with a remixed version of the amazingly ridiculous Eagles song from the radio series, most of my concern was alleviated. It was obvious that the filmmaker's intent was to preserve all of the quirky appeal that has made the series so enduring.
Visually, the movie was absolutely perfect. The entire scene of Earth's destruction felt like it came straight out of my imagination. And oh what a joy it was to see The Guide itself unfurl. While it was really no more than a glorified Flash animation on a laptop, the animation was executed with great wit and respect for Adams' sense of humor. Narratives from The Guide were interjected throughout the movie, just as in the book/radio series, and always drew a big laugh. The Heart of Gold, and its shift into improbability (by transforming into various improbable objects) was also well conceived. I really have a hard time finding anything not to appreciate about the visual design of the film, except perhaps for the previously reported liberties taken with Zaphod's two heads.
Unfortunately that was not the only fault I found with Zaphod and some of the other characters. Most of the aforementioned 25% disappointment with this adaptation comes from the downright painful portrayals of some of the characters. Not surprisingly, most of the British actors were spot on (especially Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent). However, I had huge issues with Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel, and to a lesser extent, Sam Rockwell. I don't know if there is an intrinsically wry sense of humor that comes with hailing from England (must have something to do with the weather), but a lot of the lines from the American actors just fell flat. Mos Def really lacked the requisite wit and charisma that defined Ford Prefect. I also found Deschanel's Trillian simply uninteresting. Speaking of Trillian, needless to say, the arc of her and Arthur falling for each other felt really out of place and was entirely gratuitous. The ending also felt slightly rushed and, if I recall correctly, largely departed from the book. But really, these tamperings ought to be expected from a big budget movie. Overall I found the film's tone to be incredibly faithful to the book.
Don't allow the uneven acting and minor inconsistencies to detract
from your anticipation of this movie. The Heart of Gold was great.
Arthur's tour of Earth v2.0 with Slartibartfast was great. The Vogons
(and their planet) were great. Deep Thought was great. The sperm
whale's existential crisis via free-fall was great. To paraphrase The
Guide itself, this film was Mostly Terrific.
Hey folks - Harry here again -- since I posted the above I've talked with a good deal of AICN spies that got into the screening - including Moriarty and Quint. Director Garth Jennings was at the screening along with producer Jay Roach. The whole point about this screening was to get feedback to see what was working so far and where they have to go on this. Roach loves to test screen and tinker, and there's evidently a lot more work everyone wants to do to make this thing great. Remember - these folks have seen a film minus 20 minutes or so, minus a finished score, final editing (which is king on comedy timing). Moriarty loved the test print I hear, Quint mostly loved it and others at the screening liked it but were concerned how it would play with others. Here's one of those folks...
If a far flung and spatially displaced copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy were to have the good fortune to fall through a time warp and land at your feet, it might have the following to say about the forthcoming Disney adaptation of Douglas Adams’ celebrated novel with the same title…..WARNING: THIS MOVIE IS MOSTLY HARMLESS. That’s right’s folks: PANIC.
Out of some oblique sense of honor to the market research firm who conducted the test screening I attended this evening, I’ll leave the most of the spoilers out of the review (most) and focus my thoughts on the big picture. And when it comes to the story of Arthur Dent and company, it’s a really, really, big picture.
The main problem plaguing the film is that it can’t seem to settle on a tone, both in terms of the physical look of the film and of the story it’s trying to convey. At times a Hensonian creature-shop fantasy, at times a flashy, computer-generated adventure and at times a mod-looking, retro, sci-fi romp, it wants to be all things to all people. It wants to be popular and accessible by Hollywood standards and yet somehow faithful to the idiosyncratic and whimsical stylings of Douglas Adams and by extension the readers who love him.
The problem is the end result is ineffectual and structurally confusing. We spend a few hours careening around the galaxy but we’re never really sure who to root for or whether it even matters. The film establishes little in the way of point of view and though the spirit of Adams’ universe seems to be present, the soul is nowhere to be found.
Also, the film looks oppressively cheap. It has similar looking effects budget to Disney’s “Around the World in Eighty Days,” which, as many of you may know caused the corpse of Jules Verne to spin with enough velocity to power The Nautilus submarine for a month. In other words, cheap.
How cheap? Cheap enough that the filmmakers use every trick in the book to NOT show Zaphod’s two heads and third arm. They even go so far as to create an elaborate plot device which removes said head and arm for the entire second half of the film in what has to be the most latent attempt to save a buck I’ve ever seen on the big screen.
The Vogans are something out of The Dark Crystal but once the camera backs away from the expressive and wholly creative faces of these nasty beings, we see a group of lumbering puppets with little range of motion.
Marvin on the other hard is splendid with his depressed bobble-head stature and sad, glowing eyes. The droll voicing by Alan Rickman is spot-on and is one of the highlights of the film.
Other creatures don’t fare as well though and we see slipshod aliens in the periphery throughout as well as a scene in a bar with a cast of extras who make the aliens in the Star Wars Cantina look cutting edge. Some might argue that these design elements look bad on purpose, that the film isn’t taking itself too seriously. The problem though is that blending these bargain-basement physical effects with expensive scenery here-and-there make the context of the world of the film hard to digest.
It is perhaps worth noting that this film has been in development for almost two decades and it’s possible and, in this reviewers opinion, likely that Adam’s vast and flip universe is genius best left on the page. And perhaps it’s unfair to be so hard on the filmmakers since adapting a book which is so incidental in its attitude to all manner of mind-bending catastrophes, can’t be easy, but then again I’m not sure these are the right folks for the job. Another glance at that indispensable compendium of bohemian-interstellar travel lying at your feet would offer up the following resume of the film’s director, Garth Jennings: EARTHMAN. APE -DESENDANT. ONLY PREVIOUS DIRECTORIAL EXPERIENCE WAS ON MUSIC VIDEOS AND AS A TITLE DESIGNER ON DA ALI G SHOW. APPEARED AS A ZOMBIE IN SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Enough said?
The other human-units who appear in the film are as strange a cast as one could imagine. Martin Freeman seems up to the challenge of Arthur Dent with his dry, British sensibilities and humane yet bewildered style. Mos Def is something of a disaster as Ford Prefect since watching someone try so hard to be naturally cavalier gets tiring after the first act. You’ll either adore or loathe Sam Rockwell as Zaphod since he’s channeling President Bush, Elvis and half the cast of Dazed and Confused all at once. I for one thought he was sort of spectacular and he at least took my eyes away from some of the sets. Zooey Deschanel revives her role as the sort-of-likeable / sort-of-creepy / sort-of-not-appropriate-but-maybe-she-is girl which she also played in Elf. She’s steely and distant like much of the film and it’s difficult to really pull for her and Arthur since we’re too busy wondering whether or not anyone is going to bother to explain some of the major plot points and why Martin Freeman is the only English person in England.
It’s not all bad news. In addition to Rockwell, Marvin and a few purely Adams touches and geeks-only jokes which will have you smilingly with glee, Magrathea is astonishingly rendered and Bill Nighy breathes a heartbeat into the film with his touching portrayal of Slartibartfast. The Heart of Gold also looks magnificent but nobody takes the time to tell us much about it. Sadly, Zaphod’s integral back-story is also glossed over and there is an additional and barely sensible scene with John Malkovich (penned by Adams himself) which will have you checking into a sanatorium. As for The Hitchhiker’s Guide appearing in the film, don’t hold your breath. The Intergalactic Fodors pops up from time to time to provide a quick laugh or deliver some badly needed exposition but isn’t really given its due as the coolest book never written.
Speaking of which, The Guide describes humans as the THIRD most intelligent species on the planet which must be true since I can’t think of a dolphin or a mouse that would shell out $10 to see this Galaxy. Marvin’s repeated insistence that “this will all end in tears,” is side-splittingly funny though ultimately ironic since by the end of the film we find that tears would at least mean we’d been engaged. In point of fact, it all just sort of ends, tearless and meandering. Incidentally, The Guide also describes humans as so primitive that we still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea and I can confirm that fact since I glanced at mine repeatedly during the film.
Call me J