The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (10/10)
IMDB – Well, after having seen the movie multiple times, I feel I can offer my final opinion on the film. For those that don’t know, I’ve been a huge fan of Douglas Adams’ work for more than 20 years, since I was a kid. To say I was looking forward to this movie is an understatement of a massive degree. However, I will emphasize that I was keeping a completely open mind about the film. Let’s face it, one of the last words that I would ever associate with the works of Douglas Adams is “consistency”. He was always the first to admit that nearly everything in the Hitchhiker’s Guide series managed to contradict another form of the series in some way or another. Still, it’s extremely hard for me to do an objective review for something that I know so completely as Hitchhiker’s Guide. Generally speaking, I’m very happy with the movie adaptation. I have a handful of nitpicks here and there, but they are quite minor and didn’t impact my enjoyment of the movie. Frankly, having been able to simply adapt this franchise into film form without screwing it up is cause enough for me to give the film a 10 out of 10, because there are SO many ways they could have screwed things up. What suprised me most is that the new material in the movie works splendidly. They even managed to write an ending that really works, which is something that alluded Adams himself for so many years. I’d be curious to know what all was in Adams’ draft of the script versus what Karey Kirkpatrick added or changed. Most of the cast works well. The only one that didn’t quite work perfectly was Mos Def as Ford Prefect, which I don’t think is a problem with Mos Def being cast or his performance. In changing the dynamic of most of the characters in the film, Ford’s character kind of got back-burnered and never quite developed right. 3 things that completely worked are the great opening musical number, the Magrathean “factory floor” stuff and everything with Marvin. The stuff in the rest of this review is filled with spoilers and meant for those that have seen the movie.
We open with the amazingly fun and wonderful main title sequence, set to the fun “So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish”. Ironically, I think the movie, in its short running time, manages to pay more attention to the dolphins than Adams did in his forms of the story. The music is catchy, the dolphin filming is slick, and the joke of them all flying off into space at the end is great fun. Plus the last bit of the sequence before they fly off, with them jumping out of the moonlit water, is extremely cool looking. We then move on to some of the weirdest stuff to watch as a hard-core fan of the franchise – the stuff before the Earth is destroyed. There’s more consistency in this stuff between the many forms of the franchise than anything else in the story, plus it’s the stuff I’ve listened to & read more than any other just because it’s the beginning and it’s in every form of the franchise. That being said, it’s in this sequence that it’s hardest to adjust to changes. The material is definitely shortened, and it works well enough to get things underway. The hardest thing is having bits of dialog like Arthur having to go to the cellar to find the planning documents that are cut short. Sure, it doesn’t affect the story in the slightest, so it’s just the fanboy in me that’s annoyed. And, honestly, the scene works fine as they did it, so it’s not a problem. We have other changes like Ford bringing beer to the contruction crew to distract them. All things up to this are done to get things moving and shorten the time before Arthur and Ford leave the Earth. One of the things they did right is playing off jokes or ideas visually, like actually showing the patrons at the pub putting paper bags on their heads and laying down. That’s a great bit they added. They were nice enough to keep my single-most-used line of dialog from the franchise in the film, which is Arthur’s “This must be Thursday. I never could quite get the hang of Thursdays.” We are also introduced to the story of the newly introduced romantic story between Arthur & Trillian. One of the best character changes they did for the film is beefing up and improving Trillian’s role, which is a role that Douglas Adams never managed to get a good take on. The party scene is fun, and we get to meet Zaphod for the first time. Sam Rockwell just jumps into the goofiness of the role (and in this version, he’s actually a little bit goofier than in the previous forms of the story – believe it or not). It’s after this that we first catch a glimpse of the Vogons, which are done on a large scale by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. All things being equal, I’m kinda glad they did the creature effects via puppets rather than CGI, primarily because it adds to the charm and gives everything a grounded feel. In such a fantastical world, having these things so simple and obvious helps keep a sense of reality. The visual joke of the size of the Vogon ships, accompanied by an actually funny piece of music score (which is an insanely hard thing to accomplish in music), works perfectly. The actual explosion (implosion?) of the Earth is equally funny, because rather than going big as the massive fleet of huge Vogon ships would imply, it’s playing in directly the other direction, with a quick blinking out of the planet. There’s better comedy when playing against expectations, and comedy is clearly the first goal of this filmed adaptation.
After the destruction of the Earth, we have one of the most unexpected sequences in the film, the slow, dramatic reveal of the Guide itself. It contains one of the coolest bits of franchise continuity for us fans, since it is accompanied by the wonderful “Journey Of The Sorcerer” music cue that has been in every radio and TV version (and even LP recording) of the franchise to date. The Guide entries are done pretty well, with fun animation. But, they do lack some of the amusing levels of detail that the TV series had. This is the one piece that the TV version actually did better at, even though it was much more primitive in production quality. Still, the Guide entries are fun in this film version, too. We now have our first scenes on the Vogon ship, in the Vogon bathroom, which isn’t particularly obvious on screen as a bathroom (that is, I probably wouldn’t have picked up on it had I not read about it). They speed through Arthur & Ford being thrown off the ship, skipping a couple of my favorite pieces of dialog (“I really wish I had listened to what my mother had told me…”), but that’s OK as they need to keep things moving. It is at this point where we have the scene that I most wish they would have adapted, which is the whole “return to normality” sequence when they are picked up by the Heart Of Gold. They do toss in their own version of the joke, with the Ford & Arthur couches, but I wanted to see the whole “Ford, you’re turning into a penguin, stop it” scene. Ah well, so much to see, so little time. We are first introduced to Marvin at this point, and from the start he is great. Some of the first scenes with the gang of main characters on the Heart Of Gold are the scenes that have the biggest problem working. There are some funny bits in them, such as that goofy dance thing that Zaphod & Ford do, but the scenes feel a bit unfocused and not completely cohesive. It doesn’t hurt the film much, but it does mess up the pacing a bit. I have a feeling there are some deleted scenes in this sequence that didn’t make the final cut that would have evened out the timing. Some of my favorite things about this version of Zaphod are introduced in the sequence, such as him and the “buttons are not toys” speeches from Trillian. I like the dynamic of Trillian keeping him under control like a child. There are some nice scenes between Arthur & Trillian mixed into all this, such as the fun kitchen scene with that light saber knife.
At any rate, we eventually make it to Humma Kavula’s plotline, when the gang doesn’t quite make it to Magrathea. This is a fun new plot, with John Malkovich playing a weird character as well as he always does. There’s some funny stuff in the auditorium scene, particularly building up to the almost too obvious “bless you” joke that’s funny because it’s so obvious (and you feel stupid for not seeing it coming – at least I didn’t). I love the little throw away joke that I don’t think many people catch of Arthur realizing that “Humma Kavula” is the name of somebody – “I just thought he was swearing”. From here we have another new main plot element – that of Trillian being taken by the Vogons. It’s a good plot, particularly because it pays off in some excellent material for Zooey Deschanel when she finds out that the Earth had been destroyed and that Zaphod signed the orders (“Love and kisses!?!”). I can’t say I’m surprised that Zooey Deschanel did such an awesome job with Trillian, as I’ve been a fan of hers for years. I was thrilled when they cast her in the role. Martin Freeman also has some great material in rescuing her. When they get to Vogsphere, we have the funny scene of those “fly swatters” hitting them whenever they have an idea, which pays off wonderfully when Arthur goes running back out into the field of swatters. The rescue scene is appropriatelly low key and without any real action (to the point of the big action materail being Arthur quickly filling out forms). I have to admit that I liked them expanding on the brief mention of Vogons and their need for forms and procedure to the point of the rescue being just that – filling out forms. This scene has one of their best in-jokes, with the original TV series version of Marvin appearing in the line at the offices. Oh, and I love the whole stop-animated transition scene of them in knit form after the Improbability Drive jump.
Once they depart Vogsphere, we get back to the familiar parts of the story, with the gang getting to Magrathea. If there were a few unstable moments before this last act of the movie, there are none from here out. I love the last act of the film. I never would have thought that they could have made a solid ending for the film, let alone make all of it so much fun. The energy level ramps way up at this point. The budget really kicks in, with the beautiful “factory floor” sequence. There are tons of great gags in this sequence, from the guys painting the cliffs to the guys filling the oceans. The effects work perfectly all the way through all this stuff. Fantastic work, really. Then we have the fun and totally silly shootout near the end, with some to-die-for hilarious Marvin stuff. I also love Zaphod in this stuff, working under the assumption that Arthur’s camper is a spacecraft (“Fire! Fire!”). This stuff is truly daffy and fun (Ford chasing Vogons around with his towel – as they run in fear). Oh, I’m forgetting all the stuff previous to all this, in which we see Trillian, Zaphod & Ford at Deep Thought, discoving one of the other wonderful inventions for this variation of the franchise – the Point-Of-View Gun. Zooey Deschanel gets some great material in this sequence, and she delivers it spot-on perfectly. That scene of her shooting Zaphod couldn’t have possibly been performed better. It’s dramatically grounded (one of the few scenes in the movie that is) and it manages to work perfectly amidst the silliness of the rest of the film.
A couple nitpicks I would make is that Zaphod’s two heads didn’t completely work. Ford’s character also had minor problems, most likely because he seemed to be an afterthought to most scenes, and isn’t as integral to situations as he is in other forms of the franchise. Ah well, I’ve rambled on enough. Perhaps I’ll update this long diatribe after a couple more viewings with some more details. Suffice it to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was thrilled that they did as well as they did with it. It does a good job at tossing in details for the fans, but altering it enough to make it work as a film. They managed to alter it with a pretty good narrative story from start to end. I’m sure I’ll be seeing it a few more times very soon. I just need a good excuse, like anyone I know going to see it, to tag along again…