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AICN-Downunder: Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, the review...

Father Geek here... Latauro's review was soooooo over the top that I decided to give it a solo shot, for all you talkbackers to comment on...


I'm going to give you a bit of personal history before the review, mostly so you can decide whether you want to read it or not. I grew up on "Hitch-Hiker's". We had tapes of the radio series, which I would listen to over, and over, and over again. Then I read the books, and have read them far too many times, too. Then I watched the TV series as many times as I could. Douglas Adams is my favourite writer, and without discounting other influences (of which there are many), I usually cite him as the reason I became a writer.

I'm not just a fan. I'm deeply in love with his work. I treasure a gift I received as a child from my uncle, a signed copy of "Life, the Universe, and Everything", in which Douglas Adams wishes me personally a Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah. I'm constantly telling people that the radio series of HHGTTG is the greatest thing mankind has ever produced. I can recite the whole damn thing by heart, if you like.

If you'd asked me at, really, any point in my life which are the most important projects for me to see brought to life on the big screen, I would number them as (1) HHGTTG, (2) "The Hobbit", (3) "Lord of the Rings", and (4), believe it or not, KING KONG. I'll explain the other more when I eventually review PJ's KING KONG, but needless to say, after Christmas of 2000, the only one I was worried about was HHGTTG.

The following review is completely biased. I contemplated *not* writing it from the point of view of someone who grew up in love with the source material until I realised that was impossible. If you care about the film as a stand-alone work and not as an adaptation, you probably won't find much of interest in the following.


There's a scene in the original radio series where Arthur, Ford, Zaphod, Trillian and Marvin have just left the Restaurant at the End of the Universe in a cool, black spaceship they've stolen. After a fashion, they discover that it's the flagship of an Admiral who is leading a fleet into battle. The Admiral's second-in-command attempts to call the Admiral on the visi-screen, only it sees Zaphod. For some reason, it believes Zaphod is the Admiral and talks to him accordingly. Minutes later, it calls and sees Trillian, and assumes Trillian is also the Admiral. They soon figure out that the race is a super-evolving species, and that the second-in-command assumes they're the Admiral because they look completely different.

This is a pretty good example of how Hitch-Hiker's adaptations are supposed to go. They're all meant to be different. The radio series, the TV series, the books, all the various adaptations take the story in a different direction. They're supposed to. In complete opposition to almost every property adapted for the big screen, true Hitch-Hiker's fans actually *expect* the film to be different to what's come before. What's I'm trying to get at is that I have pretty high expectations for a HHGTTG movie, but they're not impossibly high. I wanted them to mess around with the material.

So did they get it right?


Sort of.

Some bits.

Okay, let's go through it. The opening - the "So Long and Thanks For All the Fish" bit - is brilliant. I'd heard a bit about this, but had no idea how they were going to do it without it being dumb. They nailed it. But that was nothing compared to the chills that rushed through me when "Journey of the Sorcerer" kicked in over the logo. I honestly didn't think they'd put "Journey" in, and the excitement that hit me was palpable.

I might stop here and talk about the characters. Adams wrote some of the most interesting and complex characters, the only things that were consistent from adaptation to adaptation.

Arthur Dent. Martin Freeman was, I thought, a really good choice for this role. He's a little uncomfortable in his own skin, and provided he played it different to Tim from "The Office", it would work. Confusingly, there were moments where he seemed to be channelling David Brent, but on the whole he was a fairly good fit. There were some problems, though. Arthur constantly yelling and willing to get into fights with Zaphod, this is not Arthur. Well, it's not the Arthur from any of the other incarnations, and I suppose changing him here isn't too big a travesty (especially given I expected them to change the story). My problem is that it makes him into a less-interesting character.

Ford Prefect. Mos Def was the one piece of casting I just didn't get. I've not seen him in anything else, so I can't speak to his previous work; my concern was that he's American. I sort-of wish the filmmakers had fought for the Brits like Peter Jackson had fought for the British accents in LOTR (remember the pre-production announcement that the LOTR accents would be a mixture of British and American?). It felt like they placated the fan base by making Arthur English, and then didn't bother with the rest of them. It's a pity, because Adams's writing is so incredibly English, it just doesn't sound right coming out of a Yank. Anyway, I was able to overlook this when I remembered that Adams himself had talked about his dreamcasting for a film version would include Jeff Goldblum as Ford. I suppose if Douglas doesn't mind, then neither do I. Mos Def is Ford. I get why they cast him. He's got that Essence of Ford. I have no problems with his casting. I do have problems with how underwritten he was (he was a field researcher for the Guide... that was so interesting! Was it mentioned in the film? If so, I don't remember). Still, Ford was the characterisation I enjoyed the most.

Zaphod Beeblebrox. When I heard that Sam Rockwell was to play Zaphod, I couldn't believe it. In all my head-based dreamcasting sessions, I'd never hit upon anyone as perfect for the role as Rockwell. This bit of casting was the thing that eventually put me at ease during pre-production. However, as much as I enjoyed Rockwell's performance, this is one instance where they completely missed the point. Zaphod was never stupid, and he was never a loud-mouthed, annoying or broad. Zaphod was cool. His left cranium had been voted the hippest place in the galaxy; he got everything wrong not because he wasn't smart, but because he was too cool to care. Rockwell plays it broad, and he's very funny at times, but once again there was a more interesting character in there.

Trillian. Trillian was always the most chameleonic character, changing completely from series to series to series. I welcomed the fleshing-out of her character, and hoped they'd do something interesting with her. They didn't, really. She was the girl, so they put her in a love triangle, and that seemed to be her motivation for everything. Zooey Deschanel does a good job, but again: why is she American?

Marvin. I grew to love the design of Marvin; I think it suits him perfectly. I also think that the voice casting of Alan Rickman was excellent, though a little obvious. What confuses me is how they missed the mark on him. They seem to confused depression for active hatred, with Marvin insulting people a little too quickly. Maybe I'm being too fastidious on this point, but there were a few lines where I just thought... okay, I think I *am* being overly fannish about this, so I'll move on.

The Book. Short of resurrecting Peter Jones, there was no better person to play the Book than Stephen Fry. As confident as I was that he'd get it right, he got it better than I'd anticipated. He's really that good. The animations didn't do it for me, though. They were cute, but then that was the problem. They were trying too hard to be cute. Otherwise, everything that was culled directly from the source worked a treat.

I'm going to stress here that I'm still on the fence about my feelings on the film. I think they got some things right and others not, and I don't yet know where I sit. I'm pointing that out now because I'm about to talk about what didn't work, and you may get the impression that I outright hate the thing.

The romance between Arthur and Trillian. The big matzo ball. This could have worked, I believe. I mean, there's no reason why it shouldn't. Adams never lingered on it in the beginning; she just happened to be a girl he met at a party, and that was that. Here, it's handled about as badly as it could possibly have been handled. Arthur, whose home was bulldozed, whose planet has been destroyed, who has twice escaped certain death from a species of alien, who is now on a space ship, the first thing he brings up to Trillian is why he was ditched for Zaphod at a party. Then the love triangle tension apparently steps up a bit when Trillian expresses her frustration at Arthur not being more heroic (this seems to be the American view of what Arthur was all about). Then Trillian gets teary because she believes she's blown it with a guy who might "get" her (this is after she's almost been fed to a Ravenous Bug Blatter Beast of Traal, and discovered her planet has been destroyed). Then Arthur says the only question he cares about is if she's the One. What, was this found in an old Nora Ephron script? Where the hell did they find this shite? Let's be clear: my problems with this strand are not fanboyish. I'm sick of the gratuitous romance, particularly when it's handled as badly as it is here. A hint of romance between Arthur and Trillian could have worked, if handled correctly.

What else? To run through them, I suppose the mobile phone that Arthur has bothered me more than I was expecting. It comes off as a desperate attempt to "update" the story, but is far too self-conscious to work. (I also don't think Arthur is the sort of character who would even have a mobile phone, but I'll leave that alone.) The whole Deep Thought strand was far too rushed, like they were worried about spending too long away from the main characters. That awkwardly-written line towards the end that replaced the brilliant "I seem to be having a tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle". The point of view gun bothered me, though the idea sort-of works in principal. It just feels to me like a fanfic idea of what Douglas Adams might have come up with.

The things that work: the Vogons - brilliantly realised, brilliantly executed; the hilarious jump back from Arthur and Ford to the ships surrounding the planet; Bill Bailey as the whale was perfect; Bill Nighey's interpretation of Slartibartfast was spot-on; John Malkovich was a really nice addition, even if that whole Jatravartin strand was a bit tacked-on; the references to the jewelled crabs of Vogsphere; the planet manufacturing workroom on Magrathea (more, please); the way they're ejected from the Vogon ship; Ford's towel.

A lot was made of the fact that Douglas Adams had written the script, but what I think should have been pointed out is that he wrote an earlier draft. Subsequent drafts were done by some guy whose name I haven't bothered remembering, and I bet dollars to doughnuts that I could go through the script with a highlighter and tell you what was Adam's stuff and what was added to appease the executives at Disney. The script is a near-hit. It got a lot of things right, and missed the point on an equal number.

It doesn't bother me, though. While film is my favourite of all media and I'd been awaiting a "Hitch-Hiker's" movie my whole life, I'm not that bothered by the fact that it wasn't the film I'd been waiting for. I'll say again that I don't think I had unreasonably high expectations: so long as they *understood* what they were making, I didn't mind where they went with it. I just don't feel that the directors - whose video clip work I love - really understood it. Or if they did, didn't bother fighting the studio to make it.

Still, I have the radio series, I have the books, I have the TV series, and now I have the film. Recently, someone I know brought up LOTR and how much they loathed it and thought it was a complete failure. I asked why. Apparently the number one major sticking point was the Elves at Helm's Deep. I took a deep breath. See, a great adaptation doesn't mean a slavish adhesion to the minutiae of the source material; a great adaptation captures the essence of the art it is based on, and going by that barometer, HHGTTG is - at best - a moderate success.

Peace out,


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