OCTOBER 28, 2008
AKA the movie that made me decide to always see a movie first*, Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy was pretty disappointing to me when I saw it during its theatrical run, and even though I picked up the DVD, hadn’t really planned on watching it again anytime soon. On a 2nd view, I’ve come around to a lot of it, but there are still two big problems that keep it from being the classic that I had hoped for.
The biggest problem is Mos Def as Ford. I usually like Mos, but he seems lost here, and fails to get any laughs out of what is, for my money, the novels’ funniest character. His mumbling delivery doesn’t help matters either. When I read some of the names that were tossed around as potential Zaphods (Robert Downey Jr, Johnny Depp), I can’t help but wonder how much better the film might be if Sam Rockwell, who was good at Zaphod but would have been a great Ford, was given the Ford role with one of those other guys as Zaphod instead. The rest of the cast is great (Bill Nighy is about as perfect a Slartibartfast as I could hope for), but this odd casting decision dampened a lot of the film's potential.
The other problem was that they mined too much from the book. It’s odd that the things that were invented specifically for the movie turn out to be the things that feel the most in line with the series’ sense of humor and wonder, but that’s exactly the case. Turning everyone into yarn for a few minutes, the point of view gun, etc... all these things, brand new to the mythology, work perfectly and feel very much from the universe I know and love. But things like the Vogons, the bypass, and even “42”, I dunno, they just don’t play as well onscreen as they do on the page. I found myself incredibly bored, which is something kind of odd when you’re talking about the destruction of Earth.
But maybe HG2TG was just never meant to be made into a film. It’s no secret that the first book has almost no actual story, so trying to shoehorn one into the events might just be too high an obstacle to overcome. It’s a shame that the film wasn’t more of a success, as the next four books in the “trilogy” were far more cinematic-ready (and just as funny). I am curious how many people saw the film without ever having read the book and fully enjoyed it, and then went out and bought the book(s). I hope many.
Like I said, I’ve come around a bit on it. There’s definitely some treasure to be found in here. The guide entries are hilarious, as is the opening song. And the scenes with Slartibartfast are the rare ones that are taken almost verbatim from the book and yet still retain both the humor and the genius inventiveness of it all; the shot of a guy painting a cliff-face on the “backup Earth” is priceless. And while I’m sick of it by now, Zooey Deschanel’s typically detached, almost autistic performance (drink every time she looks adorably bored!) was perfect for Trillian. Likewise, Martin Freeman made an ideal Arthur Dent, and Alan Rickman doing Martin’s voice is another stroke of genius. Again, with so much done right, I can’t help but wonder how I’d feel about the film as a whole if I never read the book.
The DVD has two audio commentaries, but, say it with me, “no time to watch them.” I did look at the rest of the extras, which are pretty slim: a few deleted scenes of no real interest, a generic “making of” that runs 7 minutes (insightful!), and a hangman game with Marvin. Why the incredible teaser trailer, or Zaphod’s “music video” which was used in the film’s marketing are not included, I don’t know, but the DVD is the poorer for it.
The death of Douglas Adams was one of the few celebrity deaths that really upset me. I had only gotten into his work about a year before, and felt that he had a lot more to say. His other series, Dirk Gently, had nearly unlimited potential, and he was working on a new book in the series when he died (his work-in-progress was released posthumously; the most frustrating thing I’ve ever read as it stops just as the plot is kicking in). And while I may have had problems with it, I know many fans love it, and thus it’s a shame he never got to see his baby translated into the last medium it had to conquer (having already been a book, album, radio show, tv show, play, and video game). On the plus note, he died at the gym, which gives me the best excuse ever not to go.
What say you?
*As long as I know a movie is being made. See, I know “the book is better”, which means that if I see the movie first, I can enjoy the basic story twice. I see the movie, and have fun, and then read the book, which has all the extra character and subplots to enjoy. But if I read the book first, I end up getting bored with the movie, because it’s just a stripped down version of a series of events I am already familiar with. I proved this; I stopped reading the Harry Potter books after the third one, and got bored with the first three movies. But I really enjoyed the 4th and 5th films, because I didn’t know what was going to happen. Then I go back and read the book, and it’s an even more rewarding experience. But again: this only applies to books that will likely be turned into a movie. I’m reading Clive Barker’s "Coldheart Canyon" right now; there’s no way in hell that will ever be a movie. But “Dread”, which I haven’t read yet and is being filmed as we speak? That one can wait.