Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Day 60: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Way overwrought and unbelievably frenetic, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy scores a few points by nailing the tone of the Douglas Adams book every so often.  When it hits these cheeky, witty high points, one can see an inkling of a very good time to be had.  However, the movie buries these moments by blistering along at a pace not suited to the material and screaming jokes that would clearly work better as offhanded remarks.  

It's frustrating when a movie ends up like this.  The design is pretty cool (love those Vogons), the actors are game, and the script, while lacking, isn't bad.  The movie undermines these elements, running them through a blender of hyperkinetic filmmaking resulting in a pile of mush.  Martin Freeman is well cast in the lead role of Arthur Dent (I would give him an award for "best reactions to imaginary objects composited in later), but I never felt as if I had a chance to know his character, and his character never had a chance to cut through the muddle.  

Whenever the movie cuts to animated sections from "The Guide," there's a stillness that allows the jokes being told to actually take hold and be funny.  Whenever the movie is dealing with live action folk, though, it seems to think it's a parody of the Star Wars prequels or Lord of the Rings, mirroring the hyperkinetic tone of the former and the overly sentimental majesty of the latter.  It's not as if these jokes don't deserve to be told, it's just that they demean the plot of the movie we're watching.  It leaps from farce to honest storytelling without these aspects ever coexisting in a way where one informs the other or, at least, coalescing into a spicy jambalaya.

The most telling example of the movie's mistaken tone is a scene where the movie delves into Adams's famous answer to "life, the universe, and everything."  We're shown a collection of super-intelligent pan-dimensional beings that have built the computer that can calculate the meaning of life, gathered to hear said meaning.  They're partying like it's Mardi Gras, and that's… okay, I guess, not really funny, but it makes sense, sort-of… but when the computer is about to reveal its answer, the movie keeps artificially heightening its tone:  the camera cranes up the supercomputer to reveal the multitude of beings, the score builds and builds, and, all the while, even if you weren't familiar with the book, you'd know there's a joke about to be told.  This telegraphs the joke in such a way as to cheapen it, castrate it, and destroy whatever chance it had to be funny.

This happens a lot in the rest of the movie, this overindulgent, in-your-face jokesmithing, and it sucks most of the wit out of the script.  That's nothing to be said of the ridiculous pace of the movie.  The movie is in such a hurry to hit its plot points, it often feels like you're taking a tour of the Parthenon and the tour guide is constantly pushing you through it as fast as the two of you can go, all the while screaming into your ear to look at the important stuff you're missing.  It's disappointing, because there are a few good moments in the movie, mostly related to the Guide, that indicate potential goodness.  Otherwise, it's a noisy, overbearing mess.


Does not play well with others said...

See, I skip reading your blog for a few days and you finally go and review a movie I’ve actually seen!
I hated this movie, probably because I love the books so much. I do not understand why HHGTTG can’t get a decent film, or even TV, representation. I’m sure that it is partially because a lot of the jokes would be hard to translate into film. Saying that something, “flew through the air in exactly the way that a brick doesn’t” would probably be a hard one to illustrate properly. But I’m convinced that the right director could really make a worthwhile adaptation of HHGTTG.
I’m usually very forgiving when filmmakers edit out parts of a book when turning it into a movie. I understand that with time constraints and such that some of the detail of the book will have to be sacrificed for the greater good of the main points of the novel. But in this movie they cut out so much important material that it barely even resembled the book anymore. To add insult to injury, they go and slap in scenes that never happened and a character that wasn’t even in the book (I’m referencing the character played by John Malkovich and every scene he is in).
And to top it off, they got Zaphod and Ford all wrong. I never pictured Zaphod as the bipolar space cowboy type. He should have been more of a leisure suit wearing cocktail drinking guy. Sort of a more casual and extra goofy James Bond. And Ford wasn’t nearly weird enough. The Ford character should just barely ride the cusp of seeming normal and seeming as if there is something terribly wrong with him. And don’t even get me started on Marvin!
So, I’ve gone on and on about this now, but if feels good to download. No one I know is as much of a fan of Douglas Adams’ work as I am, and when I wax poetic about Vogons, nobody gets it. And they really don’t understand why the movie pissed me off so much. Thanks for reading my tirade.

Laika the Space Dog said...

Hitch-hikers was originally written as a BBC radio serial of course. You should listen to that to hear the thing at its best. The radio episodes pushed the medium in directions that had never been dreamt of before - way beyond the 'odd comic boing' - and that was Douglas Adams' intention in writing it.

It's a shame the movie, so long in the making, couldn't begin to do the same thing. Those who love the books will hate it, those who don't know the books won't understand it. It's entirely english as well, it just doesn't work with any hint of hollywood, anymore than Monty Python or Fawlty Towers would.