The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy
was Douglas Adams' epitaph, his best known (but not necessarily his best) work. Anyone interested in this film will probably know about the multifarious versions that have littered countless media and about the almost eternal gestation of the movie of the book of the towel.
It's not bad.
But it's not great either, which given the material, is a bit of a puzzle. And a disappointment.
Firstly, what's good about the film? Well, how it looks, for a start. The visual design is beautiful. Watchers of the rather more ramshackle original TV series will marvel at the care with which visuals and audio have been created. There are lots of loving little nods to previous incarnations of the story everywhere, including lovely little cameos by Simon Jones and the original Marvin, which is nice for a fan to watch. Clearly Stephen Fry is a good choice for the book, on so many levels. The book graphics are also vey well done and support Fry's vocals beautifully.
And, actually, the cast are mostly rather good too. Sam Rockwell did chew scenery rather playing everyone's favourite larcenous Galactic Prez but it's quite hard to play the big Z any other way. And of course, at the centre, Martin Freeman. He manages to pull off a mix of rather weary resignation and utter befuddlement beautifully.
The first time I watched this film I really didn't like Mos Def's take on ford Prefect. However, after multiple watches I'm much more impressed. For those of us used to Susan Sheridan's original Trillian in the radio series, Zooey Deschanel takes a bit of getting used to. It's less jarring if Sandra Dickinson's Trillian from the TV show was your first call. Having said that, she too was generally good and brought some nice touches to a role DNA always described (and regretted) as rather shallowly defined.
However, it wasn't all positive. In order to fit things into the movie, it's clear that things had to be pruned. But some of the decisions are inexplicable. For instance, when Arthur has his confrontation with Prosser, and is informed about the plans for the demolition of his home having been on display in the planning office for a year, the movie sees Arthur's orignial rapidly spiralling tale of trying to find them truncated to a limp, 'they were in a cellar', which pretty much destroys the momentum and the equivalence we are supposed to infer between what both Prosser and the Vogons are doing. This is a common happening throughout the film, with many of the great verbal jokes rather viciously pruned and made ot give way to visuals.
Which brings me on to Humma Kavula: apparently a DNA idea. The premise is pretty good, but the whole Humma Kavula plotline just vanishes off the radar and is left flapping around wondering where to go. In fact, the Point of View Gun riff that goes with it is a great idea, but is left hanging, utterly disappearing at the end of the movie (does anyone actually pick up the gun in the end? Where has it gone?). It seems awfully lazy that this supposedly terrifying weapon is completely forgotten at the denouement, to serve the ends of the last real problem with this film.
For me, the worst problem of all is the inevitable Hollywood-isation of the Arthur-Trillian relationship. One of the joys of the original story is that a lot of surpessed tension exists between them (especially form Arthur's side) and is never quite resolved, not even entirely in book 5 of the novels, Mostly Harmless
. Instead, what we get is a typical, 'boy meets girl, girl runs away with alien, boy escapes destroyed planet, boy meets girl again and every one lives happily after' scenario. Once again, it feels just a bit lazy and cliched. It would have been nice to sidestep some of that for a change. But that's big studios for you...
As something of a completist fan, I have bought it; but not without some reservations, I must say.