This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
It’s difficult not to have conflicting feelings about this latest incarnation of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, certainly for the legions of fans the series of novels has garnered. With the movie stuck in devlopment hell for what seems like an eternity, no sooner had things finally started to gather momentum than he rather abruptly and inconvieniently dies. Concerns were raised that without the creator onboard things might wind up being barely recognisable from the source material. Still, what’s done’s done, so how well has what’s been done been done? Woah. Name that tense.
For the uninitiated, and seeing as there’s been a noticeable effort to aim this at kids that’s probably a sizable chunk of the target audience, meet Arthur Dent (Martin “Tim from The Office” Freeman). His home is about to be demolished to make way for a bypass, but on a rather grander scale than the bulldozers parked on his driveway could hope to attain. The Earth is about to be pulverised into teeny pieces to allow a hyperspace bypass, the first hint of a recurring theme of coincidence and synchronicity. Handily, Arthur’s mate Ford Prefect (Mos Def) isn’t quite what he appears to be. An alien visiting this humble rock, he uses his Future Technology Fourteen device to hitch a lift on a Vogon ship.
Breathlessly hitting the rest of the book’s main plot points, events hammer along at such pace and with such scant exposition that there’s a better than evens chance that better than half the audience will struggle to keep up. After being subjected to the famously awful Vogon poetry and ejected into the harsh vacuum of space, Arthur and Ford are staggeringly improbably picked up by The Heart of Gold, currently under the possession of one Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Galaxy, inventor of the pan-galatic gargle blaster and fugitive from the authorities after ‘borrowing sans authorisation’ this fine spaceship. Increasingly improbably, also on board is the only other human to escape earth, Trisha “Trillian” McMillian (Zooey Deschanel, who improbably isn’t a perfume) and an improbably depressed robot Marvin (voice by Alan Rickman, motivation by Wicket the Ewok). There’s a suitably improbable reason for all this improbability, but in all probability it’d be better if you discover it yourselves. Similarly the rest of the stories’ quest to find the Ultimate Question to the Ultimate Answer (which, of course, was 42) hits too many points that go from ‘quirky’ on the screen to ‘insane’ on potted recap, so allow me to recommend anyone wanting more details to read the damn book already.
Kudos on the casting. Martin “not Gordon” Freeman makes a great Arthur Dent, although the script calls for the loss of most of the provincial Englishman schtick that Adams wrote in. The more subdued, although still tea-obsessed version proves to be a likeable presence and one surprisingly not completely upstaged by Rockwell’s showboating. While the mechanics of Zaphod’s second head may prove one of the major bones of contention for the old school fans, Sam Rockwell provides a lovably over the top turn that fits the tone of Zaphod well. As obligatory love interest / damsel in distress Zooey Deschanel is certainly there, the only real disappointment being Ford Prefect. Mos Def again proves to be eminently watchable and surprisingly accomplished, but his character has been defanged and fades into the background after the first quarter hour. Alan Rickman is, as ever, fantastic, and the character design of Marvin is masterful. Poor disheartened robot.
The titular book makes it’s own appearance in the film in the form of several animated entries, narrated by the dulcet tones of Stephen Fry. The slug-like Vogon have more character than any number of entirely CG entities. The effects work, particularly on the factory floor of the planet builders of Magrathea is more impressive than the modest budget would typically warrant. I mention these fractured observations as a stalling tactic, because the important explanation regarding wether it’s worth your local monetary unit is tricky to formulate.
Cards on table – I loved it. Maintaining the off kilter sense of the absurd that Adams used to such devastating effect, there’s more than enough genuinely hilarious moments included to forgive it any perceived sins. At least as I perceived them. Much as I liked the book, I’m no obsessive fan of it, indeed I don’t even own a copy of it. This broad familiarity with the source meant I ‘got’ all of the little in-jokes that aren’t crystal clear for the first-timers, and indeed meant I could keep a handle on what’s going on.
If you are a first-timer, and over the age of thirteen, you might not have as much fun. There’s a definite slant towards pleasing the kiddies, who will be pleased. Silly names, ugly creatures, well-executed slapstick, associated weird bits and some pretty eye-candy ought to be enough to keep even the most demanding of mini-human satisfied for the duration. Any uninitiated elders hoping to include a cohesive narrative into the above list may find this film wanting. Working out what’s going on isn’t too demanding, but the precise reasons for why they’re happening aren’t explained too clearly. This may prove irritating.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the hardest of the hardcore Hiker fans may have a tougher time accepting this film. While it broadly follows the novel, a few of the changes will prove controversial at best, and just not as good as the original intentions. Adams wrote classic dialogue, much of it doesn’t end up in the film. Many of the amusing side trips into other aspects of satiric galactic culture that the book provided are excised. There are perfectly good reasons for all of the above, but if you were hoping for a direct adaptation with all of your favourite bits present, intact and in full you may be disappointed. If Adams happens to be one of your sacred cows no doubt you’ll view co-scriptwriter (Adams with the main credit, naturally) Karey Kirkpatrick as something of a butcher. Veteran of such non-classics as The Little Vampire and Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves, a thankless task in reductionism may earn enmity amongst the hardcore but at least resulted in something filmable and relatively crowdpleasing, which ought to expose more people to the books, which can only be a good thing.
Those demanding an unwaveringly faithful transcript of the novel in filmic form will no doubt be crushing disappointed, but the same things that annoy them are the things that at least give it a facade of accessibility for first-timers while providing what were this an anime might be termed ‘fan service’ for the less rabid Adamites. It’s a difficult balance for fresh faced director Garth Jennings to pull off, and to be brutally honest he’s not quite managed it. Still, unless you’ve already decided to loathe this film you might as well take a gander at it. I mean, what else is on? xXx 2? Rack off, Skippy. I likes me this film, so I grants me licence to ignore it’s flaws on the basis it made me laugh. I am, at heart, and in mind, a simple man.