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.

Too tired to die

I've been swamped, too busy to post anything other than my nice reviews. And by nice, I mean, somewhat lacking.

Anyone have any thoughts as to what should happen here after January 1st? Should this site sit, unupdated, collecting dust on the shelf of Internet antiquities? Should I post randomly? Anyone out there want to take up the challenge of one movie a day for x months?