18 May 2005

'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'

“Hitchhiker’s” as it’s affectionately called, has had three previous incarnations in different media. First, Douglas Adams wrote it as a radio script, whose popularity compelled him to adapt it into a novel - or rather three novels, and then five, as he just couldn’t seem to let his characters go. This made the original idea of a trilogy somewhat redundant, but no matter, the publishers just started calling it “a trilogy in five parts.” Then it was a television series, which I have to admit I never liked. It always seemed to look like outtakes from Doctor Who to me, wobbly sets and all.

Adams was a man of many interests, with a CV in television going back to Monty Python in the early 70s. He also wrote several Doctor Whos, documentaries, and was working on the adaptation of his novel into a film when he died in May 2001.

The news on the film is not good, I’m afraid. Fans of the novel and those new to Adams’ world will find much to laugh at, but the whole seems rather bloodless and mechanical. It also looks terrible. I can’t remember a recent film with this kind of budget that looks so wrung out and colourless. It looks compromised, as if the filmmakers spent so much on sets and special effects that the shooting schedule was squeezed into a few weeks.

The animated segments are a good visual compromise for the long, wordy sections of the novel which are the eponymous Book talking to its reader. The problem is that, while they are quite stylish and often funny, they aren’t really unified into the fabric of the film. Whenever Stephen Fry’s wonderful voice pipes up and we go down the rabbit hole of another digression into the Book, it feels like we are watching a film within a film; as if the action grinds to a halt momentarily while the audience is brought up to date with whatever was on Adams’ hilariously lateral brain at the time. I have to warn audiences to wait for the end of the credits though, for one of the Book’s finest moments. Note, all you getting-up-before-the-movie’s-over types.

The casting was always going to be controversial, so beloved are the characters to millions of readers. Mostly, they got it right, with Martin Freeman (from The Office) making a perfect Arthur Dent. Not so sure about Mos Def as Dent’s alien friend Ford Prefect. The two, who are meant to be close friends, have no chemistry at all, and sometimes seem to be acting in two different movies. The Vogons are horrendous, slobbering, poetry-reading, tiny-brained, bureaucratic morons, perfectly captured by enormous puppets, the filmmakers very wisely choosing not to go down the CGI path. George Lucas could earn a thing or two here. I should say, however, that Bill Nighy is just right as the weary Slartibartfast, proud constructor of Norwegian coastlines.

All in all, it feels like a defeat. The novel was in the end, just too eccentric to lend itself to the necessities of the new medium. Compromises always had to be made, but it’s just that they feel like the wrong ones, like the makers of the film were either just intimidated by the requirements of fans, or had insufficient sympathy for the material they were asked to make. Almost, but not quite.

“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is screening at Reading Cinema.


Pollymac said...

Oh yes, Sean - I totally agree about the casting of Slartibartfast and Dent. As a fan I was expecting the worst, so I must say that it was better than I expected. I thought it was nice to see some original elements added in deference to the new medium (wonders if this was part of Adam's script before his untimely demise). But overall I believe the main problem that the film suffers from is that it is not the book - and could never be. I think it's just time that people accepted that the book is great - and not try to keep cashing in on it.

I am the Queen of F*%&ING EVERYTHNG...OK!! said...

Thanks for the heads up...canot stand it when a good thing like Hitchhikers gets stuffed about by film makers, look at Power of One; perfect example

Ray said...

I must admit I fell asleep 1/2 way through the movie. I enjoyed the original BBC series that was shown on TV back in the eigthies. Much more enjoyable.

Enzogopher said...

Hey dad. I thought it deserved a weeny bit more credit. If you just pretend it isnt the book, that its just some other movie, its okay. I agree about slartibartfast and arthur. Alan rickman was a good marvin the paranoid android, but the puppet thingie didnt look right. His head is too big.