Quint kicks the Improbability Drive and sees THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY!!!
Published at: Feb. 13, 2005, 8:05 a.m. CST by staff
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here in rainy Wellington finally catching up to writing up the test screening of one of my most anticipated films of the year, THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. (YES, THERE ARE SPOILERS BELOW, BUT NOTHING NEW TO ANYONE WHO HAS READ THE BOOK!)
I don't know how it worked out... I must have bumped into my own personal improbability drive button because I had a 12 hour window where I was in LA before heading up to Santa Barbara for the film festival and the screening fell into that 12 hours... and I got in... without having a ticket! How improbable is that?
Since I didn't have a ticket I almost decided to just head up to Santa Barbara, but I knew Moriarty was heading up to try to grease some palms with his fat wad of cash to snag a ticket and a fake name to get in, so I decided to give it a shot. I'm glad I did...
So, before I delve into my opinion of the movie, let me give a setting as to what kind of audience member I was for this particular film. I'm new to the books. There was always one or two floating around my house growing up, but there was never the first book, so even though the big planets with their tongues sticking out caught my attention I never got further than the first couple pages because I had no idea what those funny words like Slartibartfast and Beeblebrox meant.
Around Christmastime this year, I picked up the complete HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE volume and have been reading on and off, one book at a time since. I'm now about a quarter into LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING. I've never listened to the radio plays, nor have I seen the television version of the book. This comes strictly from a fan of Douglas Adams' books.
The words "Don't Panic!" are very apt for you HITCHHIKER'S fans out there. When they're adapting the text (which is about 85% of the movie) they are spot on. It seems when they begin to stray too far from the original text, they lose a little bit of the magic, with the notable exceptions of the added weirdness of what happens shortly after an Improbability jump... Let's just say that I've seen one of the best on-screen barfings ever. Though the new material didn't always work for me.
In particular, I really, really don't care for the Arthur and Trillian love connection. It feels out of place, it feels forced and at best it's corny. There should be an attraction, sure, but in the last act they really focus on Arthur's undying love and Trillian's realization that she wants someone like Arthur, not the swinging dick rock star like Zaphod, to the point where when the mice are about to cut Arthur's brain out, trying to find the question (to the answer from Deep Thought... the infamous "42"), he says something like, "The only question that really matters is if she'll say yes!"
Also the female Vice President that's tracking Zaphod and the Heart of Gold down because she secretly loves him didn't really work, either.
There, it's out. That's the worst thing about this early, early screening. The Arthur/Trillian/Zaphod triangle is the only really serious mistake, in my opinion. The rest of the movie is not just passable, but near perfect. Of course, there are some scenes that need to be massaged (especially in the first act where they cut back and forth between Arthur and Ford in the pub moments before the end of the Earth and a flashback of Arthur meeting Trillian at a costume party where she's stolen from him by Sam Rockwell, whose introduction is small, but note perfect), but the casting is great, the voices of the whale, the Heart of Gold and Marvin are great, the humor is spot on and The Guide is perfect.
Holy shit, guys. The Guide rules all. I've heard there was some more Guide stuff that wasn't in this cut and all I can say to Garth Jennings is if you got more Guide, put it in the movie. I don't think there's such thing as too much Guide. They literally have it interrupting the flow of the story, just like in the book, but it fits so well and captures Adams' voice so perfectly that the flow doesn't matter. Also, I may be wrong, but it felt like all the Guide stuff was almost word for word from the book. It visually resembles something that I'd imagine would be about two steps up in technology from modern DVD special features.
The film opens with home video footage of places like Seaworld and Marine World, of the dolphins doing their thing, jumping, swimming... Then there's the opening song... "So Long and Thanks For All the Fish" followed by an explanation straight from the original text about the dolphins trying to warn the humans of their impending doom before taking off themselves.
Now let's get onto the cast:
-Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent-
After watching his work in THE OFFICE, I was convinced he was born to play Arthur Dent. He has the everyman personality and because his character in THE OFFICE, Tim, was pretty much representing the audience throughout the show the way he reacted to David Brent's pathetic attempts at humor and Garreth's escalating weirdness... He was us. In HITCHHIKER'S Arthur is actually a pretty dull character as written, so they needed someone like Freeman who can give a great "What the fuck?!" face.
There was surprisingly little of Tim in Arthur, but he does pop up every now and again. I would have liked to see a little more of Tim, but I can't fault Freeman for wanting to spread his wings a little bit. He does a fine job as Arthur with a constant mask of confusion on his face. The only parts of his I didn't like involved the over-the-top Trillian/Zaphod triangle.
-Mos Def as Ford Prefect-
Def is the most controversial of the actors cast in this film. I didn't care that he was black and cast as Ford because in the book he's not described as Whitey McKracker, so all he had to do was be a good actor. I've never gotten a chance to see any of his stage work, but I've heard great things. In the film, he's perfectly fine. He has some moments that are a bit too over the top and a few that are a bit underplayed, but I totally buy him as Ford. He has a good chemistry with Arthur and Zaphod. I think Jennings may have to go back and pick some alternate takes in some of his conversations as he'll go from being spot on to reading the lines a little forced. That could also be fixed when they tighten up the film as well.
-Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox-
Sam Rockwell is one of my favorite working actors. His presence, along with Bill Murray's comedy, Tim Curry's awesomeness, Crispin Glover's weird-ass coolness and Drew Barrymore's goddess-like beauty made CHARLIE'S ANGELS one of my favorite mindless 2 hours of film of the last half-decade.
Rockwell rules as Zaphod (who does have two heads and an extra arm, by the way... just hidden, you'd say, but all the stuff about the second head being in his nose is a bunch of bollocks). There are moments that don't work, but I have faith that any kinks with the editing and timing will be ironed out by the time the film is released. Rockwell has all the swagger, the arrogance, the humor and slight vacancy in his eyes that the character of Zaphod requires.
I'm not sure how much I like the idea of Zaphod's brain being split between his two heads, making one head super aggressive and one easy-going, but I'm warming to it the more I think about it. The effects weren't done, so I can't really give an opinion of how well Zaphod's second head looks. The casting is just as perfect as you'd think Rockwell playing Zaphod would be.
-Zooey Deschanel as Trillian-
This will be the one that really splits the fans, methinks, but only because her character has the most drastic change from the novels. Zooey does a good job with Trillian, acts the part and looks the part, but I don't think I'll be alone in disliking the big movie romance they try to force onto her shoulders. I understand the need to spice up her and Arthur as they're the least flashy characters in the story, but I think part of the charm of the books was how dull they really were.
-Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast-
Perfect. Perfect in delivery, tone and appearance. Inspired casting.
Alan Rickman's stuff was very new when I saw this, so it wasn't mixed very well. It sounded as if his voice was coming out of all the speakers, so it was like a voice over, which made it hard for me match up the voice to Marvin at the beginning. Once again all that will most certainly be fixed by the time you plop down in your seat in May.
Rickman, much like Rockwell, is just as perfect for Marvin's voice as you'd expect him to be. The level of unbridled contempt is classic. Warwick Davis does a good job capturing Marvin's mannerisms and is a good match for Rickman's voice. Marvin will be an easy favorite from the film (although his last line doesn't make any sense... think about it, Jennings! The restaurant isn't a where, but a when!)
-The Heart Of Gold-
100% perfection as it stands. Just as chipper and overly friendly as a fan could hope for.
Stephen Fry nails it. He narrates the Guide segments like the words came straight from his brain. It doesn't feel like someone reading a narration. It's fast, sure and hits every beat perfectly. He really is the voice of Douglas Adams in the film and shoulders that responsibility perfectly.
What was really funny to me about the test screening was just how much fan support was there. The line for the screening easily consisted of 4 times the amount of people that could fit in the theater. I don't think Disney has any real idea of how big a fan base these books have. I'm not joking or exaggerating when I say there was a row of people that wore towels around their necks at the test screening. I sat besides a middle aged mother and her 15 year old daughter who are both equally in love with Adams' books.
These books are crossing the generation gap and have fans just as rabid as the people who dress up as Jedis or Hobbits at ComicCon (where, incidentally, the trailer was the only trailer to premiere that got the whole room whooping and cheering). I think Disney may be a bit worried that the film is too weird, which is why I'm betting they tried that Arthur and Trillian love story. If it was an invention of Adams, then I guess I have no room to bitch, but if not, then I'll still take issue with it.
I think Disney should be a little relieved to see the fan support for the film and realize that they have a film right now that is almost there, just a few inches away from being 100% embraced by the fans of the books. Them pulling back and trying to include some weird romantic element to draw in the non-fans is only keeping fans like me from enjoying the film 100%. I think if they truly embrace the quirks of Adams through and through then the audiences will, too.
It's obvious Garth Jennings understands Adams and he's done a great job of bringing his spirit to the big screen. Obviously, I don't think it's a perfect job, but then again I have yet to see it completely finished. The effects weren't totally finished, the score wasn't in place (I did get a laugh from hearing some RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK temp score during the Deep Thought stuff, though, I must admit) and it doesn't have a finished sound mix or edit yet.
If it should happen that I sit down with my bucket of popcorn and super-mega huge Coke next May and see a HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY minus the romance I will be the happiest of all campers. No matter what, though, if they released the movie as I saw it, warts and all, it'd still be a great adaptation.
Some final thoughts... The Vogons rule. Moriarty stole my "best animatronics since Audrey II" line, but it's true. Fantastic work. John Malkovich is creepy and cool as Humma Kavula, the new character created by Adams specifically for a movie before he passed away... The nod to Adams himself is nice... Slartibartfast's tour through the planet production plant is gorgeous... Deep Thought looks awesome... The movie looks like 100 million bucks, though I believe it cost about half that... Did I mention The Guide rules?
That's about all I can think of. I can't wait to see the final film. Now it's time for me to thumb a ride to the bedroom and catch some Zzzz's. Happy Valentine's Day, squirts!