The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Trying to write a cogent review of the movie The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a lot like trying to catch one's footing during a pebbly landslide. Being unsure where to begin, I grab for a thesaurus and look up confused. "Disorderly, muddled, jumbled," it tells me. Yes, yes, those are all quite fine. Oblivious yields "heedless, incognizant, unmindful." Hmm, not bad. Then there's shallow: "facile, empty, trifling." That's probably good enough. HHGG (which, as an acronym, is substantially easier to type than the common H2G2) is a disorderly film, its jumbled parts rarely coalescing into anything worthy of praise, or even attention. While it is in many respects supremely faithful to the novel, it is also without exception unmindful of the things that make the novel great. It is infatuated with itself to the point of excess, facile to the point of mental penury, and utterly unworthy of your money or anyone else's.

Fortunately, I was admitted for free. So, too, was fellow GWJ member Grumpicus. We may as well have paid for admittance, though, since after the film ended we were forced to commiserate over drinks. For it is only with the aid of alcohol that I can fully come to terms with the fact that from here on out, this terrible film will be the first thing the ignorant masses think of when the words "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" are uttered.
(Disclaimer: This short review does not contain any tremendous spoilers for the film, although some minor facets of plot are mentioned in general terms in the next paragraph. I consider my target audience to be those who have read at least the first novel of the Hitchhiker's series. If you've never read the book, you'll probably want to steer clear... of the review and the film.)

With respect to its plot, the film does not stray terribly far from the book. Many hardcore fans will consider the prior sentence to be evidence of my insanity, but really, I think most of the essential stuff is present, albeit in a weakened state. The bulldozer scene, the Vogon fleet, Magrathea, the Heart of Gold, the whale and petunias, the Answer to the Question, Slartibartfast, entries from the Guide itself: they're all there. Some of them have been needlessly rearranged or altered, and plenty of mostly irrelevant new stuff has been added. These include a new religious cult (based upon a brief mention in the second Hitchhiker novel), a fun new handheld weapon, a cheesy romance, a couple of extraneous new characters, plenty of Vogons in places where there should be none, an unsatisfying shower scene, and an inexplicable kidnapping/rescue subplot. Few of these new elements work well, but HHGG could have easily survived them if not for its more glaring flaws in other areas. I'm not one to get bent out of shape over the addition of new plot material, or the omission of old, since I think the plot of HHGG was never a strong point in any case. However, I should note that the entire film is pervaded by a sense of uncomfortable purposelessness; many events happen for no reason at all, with no explanations proffered, and no punch lines on display. Seemingly important plot elements are at times raised, and then left totally unresolved, unaddressed, and unmentioned in the rest of the film.

Let us turn, then, to the acting -- or, if you are a clearer minded thinker, away from it. (Haha!) Martin Freeman makes a fine Arthur Dent, and Alan Rickman, who lends his voice to Marvin the Robot, is superb. Stephen Fry's narration of the Hitchhiker's Guide passages is enthusiastic and appropriately English. Other than these, the acting is uniformly unremarkable at best. At its worst, we have Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox. His cocaine-addicted, rock-star styled, and thoroughly idiotic portrayal of Zaphod is enough to single-handedly ruin the entire film, much in the manner of Jar Jar Binks. Every word he speaks, every scene he enters, and every piece of celluloid he defiles may be ranked among the most disastrous debacles in all of human history. In the books, Zaphod is a sympathetic and complex character, extremely bright but wildly impulsive; cunning, but easygoing; funny, but with deeply hidden secrets. In the movie, Zaphod does nothing other than give visual form to the word loathing. All who would venture to the theater in spite of these damning words: you have been warned.

Perhaps something could be said in favor of HHGG if it were funny. By and large, however, it is not. The novel it is based upon is one of the funniest works ever written, and so one might think it a good thing that the movie excises large chunks of dialogue and narration from the book. However, it becomes painfully clear only a few minutes into the film that the jokes that work so well on the written page fall flat when spoken onscreen. This is partly attributable to the fact that the director and actors frequently fail to grasp even the most basic principles of comic timing. The funniest parts of the movie are those that aren't taken from the novel; most of these bits are purely slapstick in nature. The narrations from the Hitchhiker's Guide are funny in and of themselves, but their humor is effectively quenched by the awkward manner in which they interrupt the progression of the film. With every narration from the Guide -- as with virtually every bit of dialogue taken directly from the book -- I found myself self-consciously squirming in my seat. This stuff is supposed to be great, but it isn't.

Most grievous of all, the filmmakers seem to have completely missed the point of the book. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the novel) is not some light-hearted comedic tramp through haphazardly scattered jokes; or rather, it is not only that. It is also overflowing with biting satire, political commentary, criticism of humanity in all its absurd vestures, and profound insights into the questions of whether our continued existence is an admirable goal to pursue, and why. The movie is devoid of all of this; indeed, its childish musical score and final sappiness would seem to be a deliberate effort at quashing all questions of import.

Douglas Adams himself is credited as a screenwriter for this film. From this fact, I am forced to contemplate the possibility that, in an entirely Adamsian twist, he may have missed his own point.

--Lobo

Comments

I was curious about this but holding out hope. Ah well.
Having enjoyed Sin City and Kung Fu Hustle throroughly, I can't complain of missing the hat trick.

Thanks for taking one for the team, Lobo.

Superbly written, of course.
It was as I feared and in retrospect totally inescapable.
Although Adams wrote the screenplay, he very well knew that after the magnus opae that were the first three books, he would never be able top them in any form. You can see this in the gradual decline of the 4th and 5th of the increasingly innaccurate trilogy. It's no suprise then to hear that the script makes about as much sense as a Cantonese crossword.

The acting is no suprise either, the casting from the outset was piss poor. Tell me though, how did Ford Prefect fair? He was always my favourite character.

Mos Def was pretty inoffensive as Ford Prefect, but beyond the first thirty minutes of the film, Ford becomes a completely expendable character. He's also almost, but not quite, completely unlike the Ford Prefect you know and love from the novels.

Ah well, I had been holding out hope on this one, but it seems my efforts were wasted. I have been made sad.

I'm glad to hear that Rickman was good - he is my favorite of the cast. I've always thought he had a very memorable voice. Well written review Lobo, reguardless of the suckitude of the movie!

Stupid dumb Hollywood movie making scum...

I'm still going to see it... despite initial reviews..

at the worst it still sounds like an entertaing movie as I wasnt exactly a devotee of the books.

Now that what I call a review. Great write Lobo!

Too bad about the movie... may be somebody will make an RPG game! [...I'm looking at you BioWare!]

Too bad... I'll still see it though. I suppose it's kinda like road-kill

The problem I am having with good reviews like that is... OK, I don't have any problems with them. An excellent review. Now I know for sure that I will wait for a DVD release, which will undoubtely follow in, like, 2 monts after it premiers in theatres.

I adore the Hitchhiker's books...and thus, will probably never see the movie. I have learned that if I adore a book, and can quote from it, that to watch someone else's idea of what that book *is*, will only disappoint me.

(Shakespeare excluded...assuming Kenneth Branaugh(sp?) is acting, directing, or delivered naked into my TV room. Rawr.)

I can't find the link, but someone who has been involved with the production from day one wrote a scathing many page article about the various suckitude that was this movie.

One of his main issues was that they left Douglas Adams holding the blame, despite the fact that almost none of what he wrote actually appears in the film, nor did he give the go ahead for the various plot and character changes that most of the HGttG books fans will find insane and riot-worthy.

I mean, CGI is way advanced enough to have given Zaphod his second head, yeah? Hello? And to not even have the Guide as part of the story? WTF, mate?

I dunno, I didn't have much hope to begin, then I read the insider story, and now your review...pretty much, if I see it, I'm sure it will be on cable.

I'm going to see it. I've only read the first book, and even that was just last year. So, I'm not exactly emotionally involved. I probably missed the boat on that. I don't know, I still think the movie's got potential. According to an article in the Houston Chronicle today, Adams was still writing the screenplay when he died - he'd been working on it from the get go. They interviewed one of the actors who said that people will probably be pissed because of some of the changes, but they won't realize that most of the changes were Adams' idea.

Added: Not to seem like an ass, I can certainly understand why long-time fans of the series might be pissed. A movie will NEVER live up to the way you picture a book in your head. It's just not possible. I'm just saying that for me, personally, if they made some big changes, it's not going to break my heart.

But I shudder to think of what could happen should someone decide to try and adapt James Ellroy's American Tabloid into a movie. And I'm really not too keen on ever watching any version of East of Eden, because I know they won't get it right.

Lobo wrote:

If you've never read the book, what the hell is wrong with you? No, seriously? Go read it. Read it, and then come back, you godless heathen.

Fixed a typo for you, Lobo.

Thanks Chumpy, glad you spotted that.

Kenneth Branagh? The Spider Dude from Wild Wild West?

Ew.

So ... you didn't like it?

Elysium wrote:

So ... you didn't like it?

I think so. He lost me after "penury"

Duffman wrote:

But I shudder to think of what could happen should someone decide to try and adapt James Ellroy's American Tabloid into a movie.

Ewww. Admittedly, they managed to turn L.A. Confidential into a cracking movie, but there's no way you could do American Tabloid justice with just one movie. Now, a miniseries by that fellow responsible for The Shield, that might be something. If there was a snowball's chance in hell it wouldn't be sanitized for children and politically correct people, that is.

cocaine-addicted, rock-star styled, and thoroughly idiotic

That's pretty much exactly how Adams wrote the character. Well, maybe more incredibly self-centered than idiotic. Zaphod was, after all, a drug addled rock star.

It is also overflowing with biting satire, political commentary, criticism of humanity in all its absurd vestures, and profound insights into the questions of whether our continued existence is an admirable goal to pursue, and why.

Um, I know the books are sacred texts and all, but I think you're getting a little carried away here.

Douglas Adams himself is credited as a screenwriter for this film. From this fact, I am forced to contemplate the possibility that, in an entirely Adamsian twist, he may have missed his own point.

Quite likely. I don't think he wrote anything worth reading after the third HHGG book. I think he started believing his own press. Or maybe he just ran out of funny stuff to say.

It seems to happen with a lot of British humor series, that it starts with something mindbogglingly funny and eventually deteriorates into bitter, painful, self-important drama.

Thank you for the review of the movie. It's a tough property to translate to film, but it does sound as though they've failed miserably at capturing the aspects of the book that made them so popular.

The most interesting thing about Zaphod in the books, in my opinion, is that (as explicitly stated at one point) it's nearly impossible to tell whether any of Zaphod's decisions or actions are grounded in genius, or in idiocy. Rockwell manages to capture only the latter.

As for the meaning of the books, different folks will take away different things, to be sure. I find HHGG to be vastly more important a work, and more worthy of thorough contemplation, than just about anything else out there. Take, for one example among many, the part in which Ford and Arthur are being carried by a Vogon guard to be killed in the airlock. Ford begins to argue with the Vogon, listing reasons why life is worth living. The Vogon is so devoted to his work, however, that even the most desperate pleas in favor of art and beauty fall on deaf ears. This brief interchange prompts me to examine my own life; to determine which aspects thereof are facing in the wrong direction; and to reorient myself toward the things that are most important. It is also extremely funny. Incidentally, it's not in the movie.

I think I could find dozens of areas in the first book alone which put me in the same state of mind. YMMV.

As for the fourth and fifth books in the series, I couldn't agree with you more.

polq37 wrote:

Quite likely. I don't think he wrote anything worth reading after the third HHGG book. I think he started believing his own press. Or maybe he just ran out of funny stuff to say.

Adams said many times that he'd never wanted to write more than the first book. That's why the fifth book ends on such a depressing note - he was making sure he couldn't be asked to write more. Incidentally, it's why the fourth and fifth books suck so much.

polq37 wrote:

It seems to happen with a lot of British humor series, that it starts with something mindbogglingly funny and eventually deteriorates into bitter, painful, self-important drama.

You were a Coupling fan, huh?

Lobo wrote:

a whole bunch of depressing stuff.

That's disappointing. I'll still see it, regardless of your impeccably-worded warning. Afterwards, you can tell me you told me so. I won't mind.

Thanks for another brilliant piece.

As for the meaning of the books, different folks will take away different things, to be sure. I find HHGG to be vastly more important a work, and more worthy of thorough contemplation, than just about anything else out there. Take, for one example among many, the part in which Ford and Arthur are being carried by a Vogon guard to be killed in the airlock. Ford begins to argue with the Vogon, listing reasons why life is worth living. The Vogon is so devoted to his work, however, that even the most desperate pleas in favor of art and beauty fall on deaf ears. This brief interchange prompts me to examine my own life; to determine which aspects thereof are facing in the wrong direction; and to reorient myself toward the things that are most important. It is also extremely funny. Incidentally, it's not in the movie.

Hmm...dont take this the wrong way but after reading this I'm now excited about seeing the movie.. I'm 100% sure this movie had no chance of pleasing you whatever they did.

On a side note at the Bookstore today I picked up a nifty HHGG book that has all 5 books in it for $13.. not bad especially since I never did read beyond the original 3 books.

I'm making sure not to start reading it until I've seen the movie though

TheGameguru wrote:

I'm 100% sure this movie had no chance of pleasing you whatever they did.

Really? 'Cause I'm not.

I'd have been pleased with an engaging story and some funny jokes, to start with. Opinions on what count as "engaging" and "funny" will of course vary, but I can assure you that I didn't go into the film looking for a world-changing experience. Nor was I upset that the film was not exactly like the book; for as I wrote,

I'm not one to get bent out of shape over the addition of new plot material, or the omission of old, since I think the plot of HHGG was never a strong point in any case.

Point being, try not to dismiss my complaints as those of a rabid fanboy who is incapable of accepting anything less than perfection. The paragraph that you quoted was written to polq37 in defense of the book; not as an indication of what I expected from the movie.

Is there any tea?

There is one scene in which Arthur orders tea from the machine on the Heart of Gold. However, the extent of the "joke" is pretty simple: Arthur orders tea, and is then displeased with what he gets. There's no confusing of the ship's computer or anything like that.

I went along and had a look. I still dunno what I think of it. Ive read all the books numerous times, and It sits pretty well on me that noone could ever translate the books to film 'properly'

Generally.. I enjoyed it. Some problems though. 1) wasnt as funny as the books (forgivable)..... And Zaphod, as mentioned. having him spend 1/2 of his screen time as a drooling lobotomized fool just wasnt right.

They really didnt quite nail down a character properly (with the possible exception of Marvin & maybe Slartibartfast).. Arthur was a little too heroic at times.. Zaphod a little too whacked out.. Ford a little too weird (and faded into insignificance) and so on.

But I'll probably buy it on DVD, for the extras.

TheGameguru wrote:
Lobo wrote:

Hmm...dont take this the wrong way but after reading this I'm now excited about seeing the movie.. I'm 100% sure this movie had no chance of pleasing you whatever they did.

Then let me offer you my less elegant opinion. I read the books over 10 years ago. I remember them as quite enjoyable but, except for major plot points, I remember only the vaguest details. Additionally, perhaps due to my age at the time, I was not moved to any deeply philosophical insight. All of this is to say that while I may be appreciative of the original text, I am not a fanatic or "hardcore" about the text in any way. (Admittedly, though, I'm not inspired to re-read at least the first book... someday.) Perhaps I even missed some of the inside jokes because it had been so long. I certainly know that there were times that some in the theatre laughed when I did not.

With that context, I will say that, overall, as a movie, it's just not that good. Perhaps Zaphod really is that annoying in the book but I don't remember it as such. The Vogons reminded me of "The Dark Crystal" and the interaction between Arthur and Trillian lacked chemistry. Ford's performance was average at best. My favorite parts (after Marvin, of course) may actually have been the narrations of/by the guide but they were more like interstitials (aka commercials) than a cohesive part of the movie.

All in all, it may or may not be a decent translation of the book but either way, it's just not a good movie.

Well, I never held up much hope anyway.

It sounds like they pulled a Wizard of Oz (and then some!) On the off chance you don't know what I mean, the Wizard of Oz the book is a political satire, rife with biting subtleties. Wizard of Oz the movie is a classic but essentially ignores the satire, taking itself seriously. It sounds like HHGG did this as well, but won't risk becoming a classic movie :b

My wife didn't want to see it anyway, and now I don't even have to try. I'm sure I'll watch it at some point for thoroughness' sake, but it can wait for Netflix.

I just returned from it and I enjoyed it very much, I'm a big fan of the books and obviously this wasn't a perfect adaptation. They did seem to try to fit too much into the movie and it felt rushed, but that didn't really bother me. I thought the filmmakers paid alot of attention to detail, and it certainly felt like Hitchhikers to me.

I especially loved the dolphin scene, Magrathea, and the Guide entires were pretty cool with many of them being the same line-for-line as the book/radio show, and the animations were funny.

The audience really enjoyed it and was laughing and clapping at the end.

We had to leave a little early (just after Arthur's smooshing of Vroomfondel and Majikthize), but the only thing that really stuck with me was the Magrathea sequence.

Man, guys... I really liked it.

[Spoilers Abound]

I'd just read the books over the past couple months, and managed to go into the movie with a pretty open mind.

Maybe it's because I didn't grow up with these books or anything (2005 being the first year in which I read them) but I thought the movie was pretty muchthe best you could expect when you're dealing with such a disjointed source that relies heavily on the written word to be funny (most of the time, it's not the situation that's humorous, it's the reaction to the situation, or the dialogue leading up to the situation, that's the funny part - not something that translates well to the screen without being overly wordy or overly voice-overy.)

Martin Freeman was theperfect Arthur. He was completely clumsy, yet not in a way that made him any less endearing.

Mos Def played Ford like I would expect anyone to - Zaphod he's not. Ford walks into a room, and really doesn't do anything over the top - he's just Ford, and that's good enough.

I lovedSam Rockwell as Zaphod. He was obviously taking a bit of a liberty with the character (hell, he was basically George W. Bush) but he was hilarious, and things like the lemon juicer only made him funnier. As far as the two heads, I would have been hard pressed to make a different decision than what they did... one of the big things with Zaphod was the idea that he's doing things, and he's not exactly sure why, and having the second head pop out and literally take control (couldn't really do that with a second head just sitting there the whole time) helped get that idea, without a long discussion of the surgery he had done on his brain, etc.

I have to say, before I talk about Trillian, that I think Zooey Deschanel is one of the most beautiful and most talented women in movies right now... just a heads up.

So, Trillian was awesome. She was physically of the caliber where I could actually seeZooey and Martin dating, and I think that helped sell the romance. I mean, honestly, why did we see a Trillian/Arthur romance in book 5? Probably because people were complaining that something was there that was never resolved. I, for one, was glad that the romance was there (it's a Hollywood movie, after all) and felt that the scene with the POV gun was AWESOME... seeing Zooey there just sort of starting to cry, with Zaphod saying the things she wished she could be saying... it was really well done.

Martin was classicand I thought Slartibartfast was particularly cool in the short scenes he was in (not to mention how cool their trip through the factory floor was).

I thought all of the scenes with the guide animations were hilarious, and come on... there was a musical numberat the beginning! What more do you want?!

Other favorite moments:
All the bar patrons on the ground with bags on their heads
The LONG pan up from Earth to the Vogon ship, along with the violins/cymbals... I literally laughed through the entire next scene at that one.
Ford and Arthur looking at the Cargo Bay door expectantly, and then falling through the floor instead.
"Ford, I think I'm a couch." "I know how you feel."
The big... oh, what do you want to call them... Idea Swatters, on the Vogon planet.
"I'm British... I know how to queue."
The old Martin from the original TV show, in line when Arthur's filling out the release forms.
The POV gun.
Martin's last line.

That's all. Like I said, maybe it's because I don't hold the books up as these gospel works, and could look on the franchise as something I've read and thoroughly enjoyed, and appreciated as great works of sci-fi humor, but that's really the extent of my opinion on the books themselves.