The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

 hitchhickers-guide-to-the-galaxy“I think you ought to know, I’m feeling very depressed.”

The Scoop: PG 2005, directed by Garth Jennings and starring Martin Freeman, Alan Rickman and Sam Rockwell.

Tagline: Don’t Panic.

Summary Capsule: When earth is demolished, an earth man and an earth woman are saved separately by two men from space and proceed to have wacky adventures therein concerning the Ultimate Answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything.

Rich’s Rating: Don’t Panic – just move calmly towards the exits.

Rich’s Review: You know, you have to give credit to people who, in spite of all the odds, attempt the impossible. There’s something quite noble in spirit and intent in those who say “Damn the odds, I’m doing it anyway.” For this reason alone, the makers of HGTTG (Yes, that’s what I’m calling it from now on) are to be applauded. Those of you who have read the original book (and I am guessing that accounts for a large proportion of the people reading this review) will be aware that the novel itself is somewhat lacking in that most essential of Hollywood ingredients “a structure”. Sure, there are some vague nods in the direction of a plot, but mostly what it consists of are hundreds of very funny jokes which just happen to be obliquely related to what is going on. Like the experience of Hitch-hiking itself, the journey is much more important than the destination.

But how, you may ask, can this possibly be made into a film which will appeal to a “mainstream audience”, the target demographic of all evil Hollywood producers everywhere, without the basic elements of a plot — danger, romance, betrayal, excitement. How can you possibly make a film about this quirky and much adored book without those vital elements which appear exactly nowhere, in any recognisable form, in the novel itself?

The answer is beyond simplicity. Hollywood scriptwriters will completely write in whole new swathes of action and dialogue, building around the existing plot structure while bending it to their malign purpose. And since adding that much plot would make the film far too long, we need to make some space for it all. Well, there are a lot of those “joke” things in there. We can lose 60% of those to make way for our exciting Hollywood insert.

And so, that’s exactly what you will get when you walk into HGTTG and sit down. It’s Hitch-hikers’ Lite, and like any diet product, it only has half the content and tastes far worse than the original product. Now, as someone who has read and enjoyed the books (sorry, I am biased but I will make an effort to restore my integrity slightly in the following paragraphs), I hated what they took out, hated what they wrote in, and despised what they had done to some of the characters (gone are the cool and incredibly laid back Ford and Zaphod I know, instead replaced by a pair of prancing morons who act like children when they’ve eaten 230 packets of Jolly Ranchers).

The plot of the film goes something like this: field researcher for the Hitch-hikers’ Guide Ford Prefect saves his friend Arthur Dent, a 5′ 8″ ape descendant from the planet Earth, from the destruction of his home planet. They subsequently hook up with on-the-run Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox and another Earth refugee, Tricia McMillan, and the four run from a race of bureaucratic aliens and some space commander woman whose presence isn’t really explained, and proceed to the dead planet of Magrathea to attempt to find the answer to the Ultimate Question. Its really much more stupid than I made it sound there.

When I walked out of the film, and I was talking to my girlfriend, we both turned to each other and said “fans of the book are going to hate that.” So if you are one of those aforementioned fans, take that as my firm position on the film.

However, I’m not just here to tear down the movie version of HGTTG just in the name of people who have read the books. After all, there may be people out there who, and who knows why, but regardless people who would like my opinion on the film for people who haven’t read the books at all.

Well…

It’s probably still annoying. It will be funny in places — after all, some of the material is taken straight from the book, and that is still as good as ever. But despite the best efforts of the screenwriters, the plot is still an incoherent mess that seems to veer all over the place in search of something to latch onto. Zaphod and Ford in particular are completely annoyingly over the top, reminiscent of Jim Carrey from The Mask, and utterly ruined the film for me in any way. Casual viewers will certainly get a lot more out of it than book fans, but might still come away from it slightly confused and not having had a very good time.

However, to avoid coming over as a complete downer on this film, there is a positive in it’s execution that I feel I have to comment on. It looks amazing. Every single effects shot, from the Vogons to the use of the Infinite Improbability Drive, are a visual feast. The little animations that accompany entries from the Guide itself are also brilliant and well done, adding an important visual element to what would have been hard to execute otherwise.

But in the words of the big Z himself, Hitch-hikers guide gets 10 out of 10 for style, but minus several million for good thinking.

Kyle’s Rating: My advice to you is “don’t ever read”

Kyle’s Review: I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in fifth or sixth grade. I mostly hated it. I didn’t get the humor, the character were lame, Probability What?!?!, and the later discoveries were completely over my head. I did like bits and pieces, though. Mostly little humorous asides and concepts; I remember thinking that whole “the best drink in the galaxy is like having your brain smashed out by a brick with a lemon wrapped around it” (I’m paraphrasing) was really, really funny. I don’t think I did anything more than flip through the series at bookstores once I grew up and appreciated British humor, and Douglas Adams’ humor (mostly via Doctor Who), a lot more than I did as a bratty child.

All of which is to say that I didn’t care if they did or did not make The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and once I heard they were, I figured I’d see it, and when I read a whole bunch of bad reviews I decided I’d just rent it, and when a couple friends said it was good after all and I was in Huntington Beach and felt like either napping or seeing a movie, I went and bought a ticket. Even though seeing the 5:00 p.m. showing meant that from the point I decided I wanted to see it (4:48 p.m.) I’d have to run six blocks to the car, change from sandals to shoes, grab a shirt and my glasses, and then run the six blocks back to the theaters. By the time I sat down in my seat (5:02 p.m.) I was slightly winded and seriously sweaty. Ah. Combined with a group of freaks a couple rows in front of me (more on them later) and the slow realization that 15 minutes of movie trailers meant I could have walked slowly to the car, gotten an ice cream on the way back, and sprung for popcorn and still managed to see the trailer for Lindsay Lohan’s Herbie: Fully Loaded before THGTTG started, I was somewhat steamed (literally and figuratively). I was all prepared to tear Hitchhiker’s Guide a new you-know-what if it let me down in the slightest.

But you know what? I liked it! Woo hoo!

It wasn’t the best, to be sure. In fact, I’d say in terms of overall quality of story, cast, and the all-important “good times” factor, it’s far above “Sci-Fi original movie” but still nowhere near Star Wars or even Galaxy Quest. But it was entertaining, had a fair share of impressive and imaginative special effects, and (mostly) managed to maintain a tone that I assume is somewhere close to Adams’ pithy wit. Or maybe not, considering how this adaptation is getting slagged all over the internet and print media. Yikes.

If you just want some fun sci-fi times, though, with a good-natured feel and no real prerequisite of scientific knowledge or even intense imagination on your part, check out this movie. It’ll certainly help if you’re inclined to find British-isms humorous, and you’ll be a lot better off if you have a healthy appreciation for science fiction and “zaniness.” I also think the less hands-on knowledge of Adams’ book, the better (strange but true). That way, you’ll just want a funny and witty film and not some end-all-be-all “put in every little bit of genius dialogue and observation!” Adams adaptation. *Whew!*

I will say this movie isn’t perfect, though. You have to pay close attention to get a lot of the jokes, and the performances are pretty good, but sort of uneven across the entirety of the film. I’m a big Zooey Deschanel fan (and way to recruit her boyfriend for a split-second cameo!) and her initial appearance (when Arthur meets her at the costume party) set her character, and later Zaphod’s, to be really cool, quirky, and heart-breaking for Arthur and for all of us, too. But she never managed to live up to those scenes again, and even her watery-eyed attempt late in the movie to be a tragically-conflicted-and-tortured soul didn’t resonate properly.

Oh well! This isn’t as bad as you’ve heard, but don’t get too excited. Although that row of freaks (who occasionally spoke to the screen, and laughed loudly and inappropriately at things which were neither funny or anything at all [a ****in’ whiteout!]) had obviously read the books, and they seemed to love it, from their during-the-film discussions. Very nice, people; thankfully, it’s a loud movie. Stick around through the credits for one last little bit of Guide entry that’s funny, if you can. Or wait for it to hit the rental shelf: it’s worth a look!

Justin’s Rating: Do robots take prozac?

Justin’s Review: For me — and probably a lot of book lovers everywhere — reading is a far more personal and emotional experience than movies can usually attain.  Sure, people might be looking at me funny when I’m giggling nonstop at something hilarious in a novel that’s taken a hundred pages to build up to, or my wife might be questioning my sanity when I called her up, depressed and a bit teary that one of my favorite characters in the seven-book Dark Tower series was killed.  I love getting that involved with a book, and the best books for me are easy to remember, because just the memory of reading them is clear enough to bring back details of where I was the first time I was flipping through those pages.

My first foray into The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (the book) came during lunch periods in high school.  I’d love to sit out at the picnic tables outside, alone or with friends, and laugh myself silly over the course of weeks that it took to drink in all five books.  Douglas Adams wrote a masterpiece of not only comedy, but of imagination, envisioning a science fiction world that doesn’t have to play by all the stereotypical rules as long as it’s amusing.  His everyman Arthur Dent was the perfect straight man to bounce off metric tons of wackiness, as this unequipped Earthman got pulled along by alien friend Ford Prefect through a series of increasingly bizarre adventures.  No matter what I might say about the film, I have to make this perfectly clear: if you die without reading these novels, your life has been wasted.  Period.

I knew I had about a fifty-fifty chance of liking the movie version once I started to catch wind of the reactions of iffy critics and devotees of Adams’ books.  After experiencing the film, I ended up falling just this much on the negative side of the spectrum.  So I must report this: like so many book adaptations that have failed before it, Hitchhiker’s Guide ultimately contains the ingredients of the book but not in the proper amount, nor baked with the proper spirit.

Maybe it was an impossible task, as Rich speculated.  They’re very surreal books, and to try to make sense of a book that eschews logic as a real bring-down is an exercise in futility.  Futile exercise is what I call stair-stepping where all you’re doing is walking down the stairs, toward a pit of hungry yet adorable crocodiles that speak in squeaky voices of doom.  Personally I think the makers of this film should’ve thanked their lucky stars to have studio approval of such nonsense, and then proceeded to go all-out nuts without being concerned whether the average audience could follow it or not.

In part, they did do that.  Arthur Dent’s adventures throughout the galaxy with friend Ford, Galactic President and bi-polar idiot Zaphod, the very depressed android Marvin, love interest Trillian, an incredibly cheerful spaceship and two mischievous mice are sufficiently wacky to amuse in fits and starts.  It just should’ve been more consistent with the weird laughs instead of jerking us around by forcing a dull plot to underlie everything.  For every minute that I was really enjoying the animated guide or Eddie’s (the ship’s computer) happy sighs when people used his doors, there were a few minutes where I could recognize that the filmmakers wanted me to laugh, but there’s a limit to how much I can force out canned laughter before rupturing internal organs.  Some of the best jokes were nearly muttered or done incomprehensibly, the book was slaughtered and reassembled in a manner that would probably please neither the book fans or the non-book readers who were trying to just understand a movie that has a sperm whale falling through the sky.

Visually, Hitchhiker’s Guide was tremendously groovy, especially the bizarre alien effects (thank you, Jim Henson’s Workshop!) and the way the improbability drive of the Heart of Gold (the spaceship) would strangely propel its crew throughout the cosmos.  Comedy-wise, the director just didn’t have the chops to do Adams justice; for example, I liked Marvin well enough here, but in the books he’s absolutely one of the most hysterical presences to ever grace the innards of any novel.  I was pleased as lime green punch whenever the guide would narrate scenes, but it didn’t happen often enough to hold the film together as it should’ve.

By the time we’ve reached The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe, the best thing to come from this movie is the Monty Python-worthy ditty, “So Long And Thanks For All The Fish”.  So catchy, I’m still singing it a day later!

When Captain Picard's away, the unruly ensigns will play...

When Captain Picard’s away, the unruly ensigns will play…

Intermission!

  • Use of the original title music from the TV and radio shows in the opening made me smile.
  • The 2 second cameo from the original Marvin the Paranoid Android from the BBC TV series in the Vogsphere Prisoner Processing office.
  • Simon Jones, who played Arthur Dent in all prior audio/video versions appears in a cameo. Jones was also a lifelong friend of creator Douglas Adams.
  • In a chaotic scene shot in London, you can spot Douglas Adams’s brother James Thrift, sister Jane Garnier and daughter Polly rushing about in the general panic, as the earth is destroyed by the Vogons.
  • Douglas Adams’ face appears as a planet during Slartibartfast’s tour of the galaxy, and during one of the transformations of the Heart of Gold when it uses Improbability Drive.
  • It is absolutely worth staying through the credits! There’s a Guide entry after the first song ends with the story of the alien fleet hearing Arthur’s words through a freak wormhole and subsequently cruising to Earth to wipe us all out. It ends exactly as Guide veterans remember, and is a nifty surprise to the newcomer.
  • Douglas Adams was born in 1952 and died in 2001. It’s reported that many things happened to him in the years between. After working on the radio version of Dr. Who in the late 70’s, Adams penned the BBC Radio series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This was shortly after turned into a best-selling novel, which couldn’t be stopped as it started reproducing as books cannot use birth control effectively. A sequel (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe) came out in 1980, as well as a second sequel, Life, The Universe and Everything (1982). This formed the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy, which then expanded to include the fourth and fifth books, So Long and Thanks for all the Fish (1984), and Mostly Harmless (1992). A British 6-part TV series of Hitchhiker’s came out in 1982, and the Guide has seen numerous incarnations, including an old (and highly popular) text adventure computer game.
  • The movie was first optioned in 1982 by producers Ivan Reitman, Joe Medjuck and Michael C. Gross. Douglas Adams wrote three drafts for them per his contract. During this time, Medjuck and Gross were considering Bill Murray or Dan Aykroyd to play Ford Prefect, but then Aykroyd sent them his idea for GhostBusters and they did that movie instead.
  • This film has been in “Development Hell” for over twenty years. At one point, Douglas Adams insisted it would be made “sometime before the last Trump”. Just prior to his death, a deal was almost in place with Jay Roach directing and staring Hugh Laurie (Arthur), Jim Carrey (Zaphod Beeblebrox) and the late Nigel Hawthorne (Slartibartfast).
  • This is the ninth version of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide”. It previously appeared as a radio series, a record album, a novel, a television series, a computer game, a stage show, a comic book and a towel.
  • The producers have stated that this film is not a literal translation of the books (just as the books were not a literal translation of the original radio show), but all of the new ideas and characters came from Douglas Adams himself. The hired writer simply came aboard to improve structure and make the screenplay more coherent.
  • Marvin was played vocally by Alan Rickman, but physically by Warwick Davis. Warwick Davis was set to give the character his voice as well, until the producers decided to use Alan.

Groovy Quotes

Vogon Kwaltz: Attention, people of Earth. I regret to inform you that in order to make way for the new hyperspace express route, your planet has been scheduled for demolition. Have a nice day.

The Book: [from the internet trailer] Trailers also normally employ a deep voice that sounds like a seven-foot-tall man who has been smoking cigarettes since childhood.

Marvin the Paranoid Android: I’m feeling very depressed.

Ford Prefect: You’ve got to know where your towel is.

If you enjoyed this movie, try:

  • Galaxy Quest
  • Spaceballs
  • The books or radio series.
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6 Comments

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