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Hitchikers Guide To The Galaxy (moviereview) film-review

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twista

I did not find any forums for film/movie, so I thought tihis would be the closest.
I wrote it for my final-exame.
Here you have my review of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy that took me around 3 weeks to write. It's kinda long and it contains spoilers, so if you don't want to know asbout the movie, stop read now!

"Let's start by establishing a few basics. The only two things that matter when judging this film are 'Is it a good movie?' and 'Is it a good version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?' One thing which is totally irrelevant is 'How much of it did Douglas Adams write?' Douglas was not the best arbiter of what did or did not work in various versions of Hitchhiker's Guide: much of what we love in the story was created by other people or at least by Douglas in collaboration with other people, and some of his own ideas were wisely dropped from earlier versions. So 'but Douglas came up with that bit himself' is not a valid rejoinder to any criticism of changes made from previous versions.
In other words, from the audiences point of view, it matters not a jot whether Douglas Adams wrote any particular part of this movie; it only matters that it should sound like he wrote it.

Let me also acknowledge that a lot of very nice, very talented people, who have been very kind to me, some of whom I'm lucky enough to consider friends, have worked very hard on this film. I have been extraordinarily privileged - a visit to the set, interviews with cast and crew, exclusives for my website, a preview screening - but that should not affect my critical judgement. Disney have got some great free publicity out of me in return - quid pro quo - but when it comes to reviewing the film, all this means is that I will be kinder when making negative points and more enthusiastic when making positive ones. It won't affect what those points are and it won't affect my overall opinion. You can't (or at least, shouldn't be able to) buy good publicity for a bad film. And this film, I'm very sorry to report, is bad.

Really bad. You just won't believe how vastly, staggeringly, jaw-droppingly bad it is. I mean, you might think that The Phantom Menace was a hopelessly misguided attempt to reinvent a much-loved franchise by people who, though well-intentioned, completely failed to understand what made the original popular - but that's just peanuts to the Hitchhiker's movie. Listen.

And so on...

The plot has changed considerably. Yes, every version of Hitchhiker's has been different, but there is a core plot: the first radio series, the TV series, the two LPs, the first two novels and, crucially, the play. Jonathan Petherbridge's stage adaptation is a perfectly good example of how the whole of the Hitchhiker's saga can be effectively told in under two hours but seems to have been completely ignored by the film-makers as possible source material or guidance. (And speaking of running times, let us never forget that this movie is adapted from a novel which was based on only four radio episodes, ie. two hours of material, so there really shouldnt be any need to cut too much out.)

What we have here is a story which changes some of the really, really basic, iconic elements of Hitchhiker's as established in all the previous variant editions. That wouldn't be so bad if it changed these elements for the purposes of creating a good film, but that is sadly not the case. What has emerged from all this chopping and changing is an incoherent mess in which important things happen for no reason except to advance the plot and unimportant things happen for no reason at all.

The opening titles play over footage of performing dolphins with a big show number called 'So Long and Thanks for All the Fish'. It's not clear whether the dolphins on screen are actually meant to be singing this: in some shots it looks like they are, in others like they're not. For a movie made by a pop promo team, there is remarkably little attempt to match the visuals with the music. The version I saw did not have a finished sound mix; hopefully by the time the film is released they will have remixed this song so that you can actually make out the lyrics.

We start the story proper with Arthur waking up and staring groggily at a picture of himself and Trillian on his NOKIA phone. Then, while he's trying to call someone on his NOKIA phone, his whole house starts shaking. Outside are lots of bulldozers and Mr Prosser, but Ford turns up and takes Arthur to the pub where Arthur shows him the picture on his NOKIA phone and we see a flashback to a fancy dress party, with Arthur as Livingstone and Trillian as Charles Darwin. While they're talking, Zaphod turns up and claims to be from another planet.

Arthur's house is knocked down. Then the Vogons turn up, make their announcement, cause panic and destroy the Earth. Fortunately Ford hitches a ride for himself and Arthur on one of the Vogon ships. (He saves Arthur in return for the time they met, when Arthur stopped him from being run over; Ford was trying to shake hands with an advancing car - this entirely unnecessary addition to the story is another flashback.) In the Vogon corridor, Arthur desperately tries to get a connection on his NOKIA phone but they are captured, then the Vogon captain reads them some poetry and throws them into space, where they are picked up by the Heart of Gold, leaving Arthur's NOKIA phone floating in the void, filling the whole screen.

Product placement? Oh, it's very subtle. I barely noticed a thing.

So far, so normal, although what took an hour on TV and radio is crammed into about 15 minutes here. Hitchhiker's Guide always had a strong opening. It was beginnings that Douglas Adams was good at, middles and especially ends being a bit trickier. The dialogue between Arthur and Prosser, which was written for a sketch in a Cambridge Footlights revue in October 1973, is a terrific example of Douglas' clever way with - and love of - language:

"I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."
"That's the Display Department."
"With a torch."
"The lights had probably gone."
"So had the stairs."
"But you found the plans, didn't you?"
"Oh yes, they were 'on display' in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the leopard.'"

Or, as the movie version has it:

"I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."
"But you found the plans, didn't you?"

Can you spot what has been removed from this scene, gentle reader, in order to shorten it? That's right. The jokes. The jokes have gone. The funny bits, the wit, the humour. The clever stuff that made it worth including in the first place.

Throughout the movie, wherever there are recognisable scenes, they have been severely shortened. This not only doesn't work, it also shows an amazing lack of understanding of what made Hitchhiker's so good in the first place. Heres a clue: it's not the story. Douglas Adams had no real idea of how to string a long-form narrative together - that's why the plot is so fluid. It's the ideas and - let's be quite clear about this - the use of language which make Hitchhikers so enjoyable and so perennially popular. Douglas was a comedy sketch writer. His forte was brilliant dialogue in intricately constructed little three-minute bursts and all the best bits of the story, like Mr Prossers scene, are self-contained sketches. Douglas worked and worked at each line of dialogue (or monologue, as the case may be) until it was absolutely perfect; this can be clearly seen in radio producer Geoffrey Perkins anecdote about how Douglas would turn up with half an episode, work on it all day, and go home with only a third of an episode.

That's why there are so many wonderfully quotable lines in Hitchhiker's Guide, most of which are notable by their absence from the film. There are, astoundingly, individual phrases and even words that have been removed. For example, in the Vogon poetry scene which, like Prosser's confrontation, is now so short as to be utterly pointless, Arthurs line "counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphor", a brilliantly crafted piece of faux literary critique, has become "counterpoint the underlying metaphor." How is that justified? Did someone try to keep the film under two hours by crossing out some of the long words?

Great chunks of familiar, much-loved and (crucially) funny material has been replaced or dispensed with entirely. Instead of cleverly tricking Prosser into lying down in the mud, Ford simply distracts the workmen with a shopping trolley full of cans of lager which he just happens to have with him. Also, the conversation with the Vogon guard before Arthur and Ford are thrown into the airlock, which was apparently included in an early cut of the film, was nowhere to be seen in the version that I saw (nor do we get, I really wish I had listened to what my mother told me when I was young.). Yet, while all this great stuff is absent, room has been found for some real clunkers of new lines. For example, Ford's sincere "How would you react if I told I wasn't from Guildford after all?" - which is actually now quite funny, spoken with a New York accent - is sledgehammered home shortly afterward with Arthur saying: "So you're not from Guildford after all? That would explain the accent." Yes, that was definitely worth losing the wish Id listened to my mother gag for.

Aboard the Heart of Gold, Zaphod at one point calls his cousin "Ix - I mean Ford." That's an in-joke for the fans which will just confuse any non-fans who catch it. And yet we have lost "bloody Martin Smith from Croydon". I know which line I would rather have, because it's (a) Hitchhiker's Guide and (:D funny. Notice also that the Martin Smith line is an in-joke in itself, referring to Douglas' former writing partner. Douglas loved in-jokes but he understood that they should be either unnoticeable or something that is funny in itself anyway, for those who are not 'in' on the real joke. Whereas "Ix - I mean Ford" is just a big 'huh?' for anyone who doesn't know Hitchhiker's Guide intimately (and a small huh? for those who do).

Actually, I take it back. The Ix line isnt an in-joke because to be one of those it would need to be a joke. Which it rather obviously isnt.

From here on in, the story starts changing a lot. Zaphod has a video recording of Deep Thought being asked for the Answer and then responding seven and a half million years later. Fair enough that Vroomfondel and Majikthise the philosophers have been removed, but we also lose all the great lines from this sequence, such as "What, not till next week?" Lunkwill and Fook, who are played for some inexplicable reason by children, seem entirely unfazed by the vast scope of the delay and their descendants don't seem terribly angry at the useless answer, which is delivered with absolutely no portentousness or gravitas whatsoever. Helen Mirren sounds like she's just answering a question about what she had for breakfast. This was a not-quite-finished version (only three weeks before the premiere!) so perhaps Mirren's voice will be treated in some way and perhaps the music in the finished version will give the '42' revelation the build-up that it needs in order for it to function as a joke. At least, I bloody hope so.

Anyway, Zaphod has this video recording which cuts off just before Deep Thought announces what the new computer will be called. The makers of Deep Thought are still apparently a race of pan-dimensional beings, so it's really not clear where this recording came from. (We see a couple of white mice escaping from Trillian's bag around this point but they're evidently not her pets. Just - ironically - hitching a lift. Which was bloody prescient of them.)

The Infinite Improbability Drive, in this version of the story, isnt some supremely efficient propulsion system but is a device which takes the ship to completely random places, although fortunately they are all places where the cast need to be in order for the plot to happen. Going in and out of Infinite Improbability causes the Heart of Gold to change itself into a quick series of other random items. When the last of these is a giant ball of wool we get a very brief scene of the crew as stop-motion knitted dollies (available now in a Disney Store near you, by a lucky coincidence) and when the last item is a flower the crew are seen brushing petals from their faces.

It is evident that the film-makers have managed to completely misunderstand the whole concept of improbability. They have looked at the whale and the bowl of petunias and said, "Ah, improbability causes things to turn into other things." So instead of all sorts of weird and unlikely things happening, all we ever get is transformation (and not even the 'turning into a penguin' gag - Ford and Arthur arrive on the ship as a pair of sofas). But its not a Transmogrification Drive, its not a Surrealism Drive, its an Improbability Drive. For goodness' sake, did no-one on the production think to look in a dictionary if they werent sure? Once again a great deal of effort has been put into fan-pleasing references (I nearly said in-jokes there but, well, see above), such as the detailed mural on the front of the Heart of Gold which tells the story of how the Infinite Improbability Drive was invented, while the main point has been completely missed.

The Heart of Gold ends up on the planet Viltvodle (not Viltvodle VI, as in previous versions), home of the Jatravartids. We do briefly glimpse one token Jatravartid and there are empty aerosol cans everywhere (and a square-wheeled bicycle) but basically this is the movie's Mos Eisley, packed with aliens of different species. One of these, a being who squeals with delight at seeing Zaphod, is a Japanese schoolgirl with five torsos but only one pair of legs. I'm really not sure what that was about. We also have the scene from the trailer with Ford meeting an ex-girlfriend represented by a pair of giant (forced perspective) legs.

Zaphod, Arthur and Trillian enter Humma Kavula's temple, the entire design ethos of which is based around noses. That is supposed to tie in with the Great Green Arkleseizure theory although it seems odd that the Jatravartids would have considered the Arkleseizure to have a human nose (all the noses are based on the proportions of Douglas Adams own schnoz, which might have been funny - for those who know about it - if the idea was used sparingly but the whole nose design thing is laid on with a trowel).

Now, I just don't get Humma Kavula. He is supposed to be a missionary, but missionaries traditionally travel to foreign climes to convert the natives from the local religion to their own. Humma is clearly not a Jatravartid (in one early draft he was actually half-Vogon, presumably until it was realised that this involved the unpleasant idea of something that wasn't a Vogon breeding with a Vogon) but he has come to the Jatravartid planet to preach the Jatravartid religion to non-Jatravartids. Everyone in his congregation is very clearly humanoid. Isn't that like an English missionary going to Africa to preach about African gods to white settlers? Doesn't it, you know, not make any sense?

The Humma scenes look like they have been trimmed considerably, which is quite probable as their pointlessness was the most consistent negative comment among reports of early test screenings. We see Humma remove the nose of one of his followers, revealing the acolyte to be a robot (or at least, he has a robotic nose) but this isn't commented upon and seems to have no meaning or relevance.

Humma has, it turns out, the co-ordinates for the location of Magrathea. Which is handy because thats what Zaphod is looking for. And they're in the form of a cube which is specifically designed to fit the Infinite Improbability Drive, which is supremely convenient. However there is absolutely no explanation of how or why such a thing might exist or how or why Humma might have possession of it. In fact, lets just examine what we have here: the Heart of Gold, with its unique propulsion system, has landed by chance on a planet that the crew werent aiming for, where they have immediately encountered someone they know, who has a means for them to get to where they ultimately want to be - in a format which is specifically configured for their unique ship. If some play was made over how improbable all this is, perhaps it might be excusable but, as we have seen, this film was made by people who dont know what improbable actually means. As it is, this is all merely lazily scripted deus ex machina plot progression.

Humma is prepared to give this infocube to Zaphod on two conditions: he wants Zaphod to bring him back a special gun from Magrathea and he wants a hostage to ensure that Zaphod returns. In an early draft this was to be Trillian, but now he takes Zaphod's second head (we see a silhouette of Zaphod strapped down and Humma advancing with a circular saw, and Zaphod wears a neck bandage afterwards).

The head is left attached to a dancing hula doll - I have no idea what the hell that is all about - and we never ever find out what happened to the occasionally glimpsed third arm which is presumably removed at the same time because Zaphod later says of the Heart of Gold that he needs his third arm to operate it. We'll come to the subject of Zaphod's heads in a moment.

For now, let me observe that there are a couple of funny Humma Kavula bits. We see in a newscast that his Presidential campaign, when he lost to Zaphod, was based on the slogan 'Don't vote for stupid', and his sermon finishes with his followers saying 'a-choo' instead of 'amen' - to which he responds, 'Bless you.' But all the other nose stuff which is crammed into the Humma scenes has no humour value whatsoever and the entire sequence could be pretty much removed without harm. It has only two purposes: it gives the characters an excuse to retrieve the weapon which will become relevant later on, though the story would have worked just as well if they had merely found it by chance; and in an unnecessary moment of clumsy character development it shows Arthur as cowardly in front of Trillian, in an exchange which seems to come from nowhere and doesn't fit in with Arthur's character or motivation as established up to this point in the film. I dont know: maybe they have cut some parts of this scene, parts where Humma is actually threatening, because as it stands, prior to Zaphods decapitation, there is absolutely nothing for Arthur to be cowardly about.

But let's get back to Zaphod's heads, and let me be quite unequivocal about this. Zaphod's heads in the film are rubbish. In fact, Zaphod as a whole is rubbish. The whole point of Zaphod (and let's face it, Douglas Adams characters are never terribly complex) is that he puts a great deal of effort into appearing laid back and cool. Sam Rockwell's Zaphod is not at any point even slightly laid back or cool. He's nasty and mean - but not in the old, amusing, condescending, Hey, Monkeyman sort of way - and he has this hideous extra face in his throat which occasionally pops up so that he can be extra nasty. He also has a third arm which, in an astounding display of cut-price moviemaking that would shame Roger Corman, is kept completely hidden under a small cloak, only emerging a couple of times very briefly. Jeez, how much would a prosthetic spare arm have cost?

We do get a brief exchange with Ford where Zaphod explains that the second 'head' is because a President is only allowed to have half a brain. One review of a test screening expanded on this, saying that Zaphod concealed the removed half-brain in his second head in case he needed it later, but all we get by way of explanation now is: "Some parts of my personality are not exactly Presidential." Which doesn't explain in any way why he has an angry face in his throat.

Allegedly Zaphod's over-under head configuration was thought up by Douglas Adams which, as previously explained, is not a valid excuse. If it was indeed Douglas idea, then it was devised as a way of having two heads using film effects circa 1998, not circa 2004. Effects have continued to advance in those six years and it would now be entirely possible to have a Y-shaped spine and two side-by-side heads, using a combination of CGI, green screen and prosthetics. Zaphod's second head may have been a throwaway radio joke but it has come to define who he is. And the fact that, unlike most other multi-headed characters, he has only the one personality rather than bickering with himself, was part of the joke. The second head is funny precisely because it doesn't do anything. Its a massive non sequitur.

The movie version of Zaphod looks bad and acts bad and bears no resemblance whatsoever to the character as portrayed in any previous incarnation of Hitchhiker's Guide (which is ironic given that Sam Rockwell played a note-perfect version of Zaphod in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind). After his second head is removed and spiked on - let's just remind you of this - a dancing hula doll, he spends the rest of the movie acting half-drunk, which I couldn't figure out at all. Surely he is using the same semi-brain he had in the first part of the film, just without the annoying interruptions from the other, disconnected half. Occasionally he is sobered up briefly by the use of a 'thinking cap', a helmet with a lemon squeezer on top, on which Ford squeezes lemons.

Now the thinking cap is a fine example of two recurring problems with this film. First, although it sounds like it might be a wacky and zany idea, it simply isn't funny at all, either in its concept or its execution. (It's what Ken Campbell calls a jokoid - something that has the shape of a joke but is not actually funny.)

Secondly, it's lemons that make it work, not Arcturan mega-lemons or anything science fictional like that. Throughout the film, there are lots of throwaway jokes of this sort, involving Earth things (like dancing bloody hula dolls) rather than oddball variants of Earth things, which is what Douglas Adams' universe has traditionally been filled with. We see this with the Heart of Gold: every item that it transmogrifies into is an Earth item. A flower or a ball of wool or a teapot; not an alien-looking flower or a sentient ball of wool or a five-spouted teapot.

Anyway, a bunch of Vogons, accompanied by Zaphod's Vice President Questular Rontok, are chasing him because he kidnapped himself at the Heart of Gold launch ceremony (seen in a newscast - its the kidnapped President that theyre worried about, not the stolen spaceship). The Vogons turn up on Viltvodle and carry off Trillian as the alleged kidnapper. Arthur wants to go after them, but Zaphod wants to continue to Magrathea. So off they go in the Heart of Gold. (This, incidentally, is pretty much the last we will ever see or hear of Humma Kavula. The subplot is set up - and is never paid off.)

They arrive at another planet and Zaphod dances around, cheering that they have found Magrathea, just as he did when they arrived at Viltvodle. At this point (and indeed for some time to come) there is still no explanation of what Magrathea is or why it holds the key to Zaphod's quest. And let's just examine Zaphod's quest, which has always previously been to plunder the mythical planet Magrathea for its enormous wealth. Here there is no reference to Magrathea being fabulously wealthy or indeed mythical, hence no explanation of why they couldn't find it without Humma's help; nor, as we have seen, is there any explanation of how Humma is in a position to help them when they ask. In fact the Guide entry on Magrathea is completely absent, as is any discussion of the planet among the Heart of Gold crew. So those people new to Hitchhikers Guide will not have a clue what is going on.

In this version Zaphod is now, based on the video recording which we saw, seeking the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. This, he apparently believes, will bring him fame and riches and he believes that the Question can be found by going to Magrathea and asking Deep Thought (I know what youre going to say here - hold that thought). In one of the few logical bits of dialogue in the film, it is pointed out to Zaphod that, as President of the Galaxy, he already has fame and riches. Then in a return to nonsensical but expedient dialogue, Zaphod says that Presidential fame is fleeting but the fame of the Question will last.

Somebody who really doesn't understand Hitchhiker's Guide, or who is trying to summarise it without having read/heard/seen it recently, might think that the story was about the search for the Ultimate Question. In fact, the whole central joke of Hitchhiker's, for Zarquon's sake, is that this massive philosophical enquiry into the meaning of it all is a minor subplot. None of the main characters are especially bothered about the Ultimate Question, the concept of which is in any case entirely unknown in our universe except to the Magratheans who built the Earth for beings from a different dimension. Arthur's quest is for a return home and a nice cup of tea; Zaphod's quest is a purely avaricious desire for fabulous wealth and the fame and sex that comes with it; Ford's quest is for a good party - 'a strong drink and a peer group'; and inasmuch as Trillian ever had a quest it was for something more than 'the dole queue again on Monday morning'.

When the possibility of learning the Question crops up, the characters are mildly interested, as who wouldn't be, but they are none of them driven by it - until now. A bunch of people ignoring the possibility of discovering the meaning of life because they are concerned about a party or a cup of tea or whatever is funny. A bunch of people searching for the meaning of life, well, isn't.

So the Heart of Gold arrives at another random planet, which turns out to be Vogsphere (complete with jewelled scuttling crabs) and they go down to the surface in something called the Hogpod. Given that we have already established that the Heart of Gold can make planetfall, this small excursion vehicle would seem to serve no narrative purpose whatsoever except to provide some lame physical comedy. Conveniently this planet is where the Vogons have taken Trillian. Arthur and the others havent followed the Vogons here; they havent been directed here by some benefactor or worked out for themselves where they need to be. The Infinite Improbability Drive has simply dumped them in orbit around another planet which just happens to be where their incarcerated friend is being held, something which they apparently know even though they have no obvious way of knowing it. And the Infinite Improbability Drive brought them here instead of their intended destination of Magrathea despite being fitted with Hummas infocube that has accurate directions to Magrathea in it. Oh, and the Vogons who took Trillian, despite not having anything as fabulous as the Infinite Improbability Drive, have got here before them.

Arthur, Ford, Zaphod and Marvin head towards the Vogon city, but discover that every time one of them has an idea, he gets smacked in the face by a paddle (this doesnt affect Marvin, even though he must have millions of ideas). Its a measure of how few and far between the jokes are in this film that at least half of the small laughs that it generates are in this slapstick scene. Although it is never stated, this system of paddles is supposedly responsible for both the Vogons blind, bureaucratic obeisance and their upturned noses. However, it only seems to operate on the desolate wasteland outside the city so its difficult to see how that could be the case. Nor is there any hint of how or why such a system may have been set up, or by whom. So with the reason for these paddles stated in publicity but not in the film, and the origin of these paddles never stated anywhere, this whole scene comes across as entirely gratuitous slapstick, as if the film-makers were desperate to stick a few laughs in somewhere and couldnt justify the presence of a banana skin on an alien planet.

Eventually the team make it to the city. Now, I do in fact like the grey, square monolithic design of the Vogon buildings, spaceships and indeed everything else in their culture, which pretty accurately reflects the Vogon character. And while were at it, the Vogons themselves are magnificent animatronic creations from the clever folk at Hensons. We see old Vogons, young Vogons, even a female Vogon, and they are only let down by their very human-sounding voices, but perhaps that will change in the final sound mix.

Our heroes somehow find out where Trillian is being held and decide to burst in and rescue her. They don't have a gun (although Marvin and Zaphod both had guns when we first met them on the Heart of Gold) so they use Marvin's arm, leaving the now asymmetric robot to head back to the Hogpod. The downside of this is that Marvin's arm doesn't resemble a weapon in any way, so it takes the audience a while to work out why Arthur is now carrying it, and to tell the truth Im still not entirely certain that its a pretend weapon but I can think of no other explanation. However the really, really bad part here - I mean, shoot-me-now bad - is that the last thing that happens before the team burst through the door is that Arthur says to Marvin - are you ready for this? - "Marvin, can you give me a hand?"

Oh please, fetch me a surgeon for I fear that my sides are splitting.

That's right: as well as losing vast amounts of Douglas Adams' carefully crafted comedy, we are subjected to pisspoor playground jokes like this one. This must count as one of the most gobsmackingly awful, embarrassing and unfunny moments in cinematic history. Either the film-makers have no idea what comedy actually involves, or they momentarily forgot that they were supposed to be aiming at an audience slightly older than the one watching Pooh's Heffalump Movie on the next screen along.

There is, incidentally and in case you're wondering, no mention of Marvin now being 'mostly armless', thank Christ. But then there is no reference anywhere in the film to the Guide's entry on Earth, just one of many, many iconic elements of the story that have been thrown out to make room for more 'that explains the accent' lead-weights and more 'give me a hand' sidesplitters. Marvin in particular has lost most of his established lines. Hey, that's the way to treat the story's most popular character and his battery of pithy one-liners - chuck them out. We do get "Life, don't talk to me about life", a reference to "brain the size of a planet" and "I've seen it, it's rubbish" (although he's not talking about the Magrathean sunset). But all of Marvin's other dialogue is new stuff which, though it may be in character, just lacks any actual humour. "Would you like me to go and rust in a corner or just fall apart where I'm standing?" is funny; "Oh, for God's sake," isn't, even in the fine tones of Alan Rickman. Worst of all is Marvin's response to Zaphod shouting "Freeze!" when the robot first leads Ford and Arthur onto the bridge:

"Freeze? I'm a robot, not a refrigerator."

Ooh, better get that surgeon again.

I mean, Jesus, did no-one involved with the film, none of this small army of producers, co-producers and executive producers, ever, at any point, read this and think, "That's a *BLEEP* joke. Let's take it out."? Anyone? Hello?

So our three heroes have burst through a door and discovered not an armed fortress but an office with a queue of weird beings (mostly very inanimate Henson puppets - I think the effects budget must have been running out by this point). In among them is the Marvin costume from the TV series - a nice cameo and, hey, an in-joke which won't serve to confuse new viewers - but this gag is completely and utterly mishandled. If all we saw of the old Marvin was when Arthur walks past him and does a very slight double take, that would be great. But we have already had two lengthy establishing shots of the room where Marvin sticks out like a sore thumb on account of being so different in design to all the other aliens there. What is the point of going to the trouble of setting up a gag like that if it's going to be destroyed before it can work?

There follows a sequence of Arthur, Ford and Zaphod trying to find and fill in the right form to get Trillian released, while we see Trillian being lowered into a large box containing the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (all we see is one glowering eye). If there is meant to be any tension here, it's not evident at all. We don't feel that Trillian is in any danger, mainly because it seems to take forever to lower her the few feet into the shaking box.

The problem is pacing, and it is evident throughout the film though rarely more so than here. The whole movie plods along at a sedate walking pace, from one thing to another thing to another thing. It never seems to speed up or slow down; it's just a relentless sequence of things happening in order. One of our central characters is in peril (facing, as Douglas Adams would say, 'certain death') and we really don't care, nor are we rooting for the three guys to get the paperwork sorted. It all just sort of happens.

When Trillian is eventually released, she gives Zaphod a big slap. This is because, when she was interrogated by the Vogons about 'kidnapping' Zaphod, her claims to come from Earth were refuted and she was shown the planets demolition order which was signed 'love and kisses, Zaphod'.

Back to the Hogpod and thence back to the Heart of Gold they all go, and on to another planet which this time actually is Magrathea.

The Magrathean hologram is played by Simon Jones, the original Arthur Dent, as a disembodied head and hands. This is in 3D, to the extent that a red ghost of the head can be seen just to one side and a green ghost to the other. I don't know if audiences will be supplied with red/green glasses for this 30 seconds or so of stereoscopy. That would actually be really funny, so I think we can safely assume that the answer is 'no'.

Jones, incidentally, has the one genuinely funny line of dialogue in the entire damn movie. It's a new line, added to the end of his speech, which wouldnt have made any sense in 1978 but is now very funny and astute. I dont know whether it was written by Douglas Adams or not, and as explained at the start I dont care, but it sounds as if it was written by Douglas Adams and thats all that matters to me. Because it is such a rare treat I won't spoil it for you. Just don't cough while the Magrathean hologram is speaking or you may have wasted 110 minutes of your life instead of just 109 minutes and 30 seconds.

We then get the whale monologue where the script also deviates from previous versions, though without the comedy value of Jones extra line. This monologue, widely regarded as a perfect slice of one-voice comedy, has always finished with: I wonder if it will be friends with me. But Bill Baileys version - and he does a good job, to be fair - adds a coda: Hello, ground. Why? Why stick in an unnecessary extra couple of words to a monologue that Douglas honed to perfection? Do they make the monologue funnier? No sir, they do not. In fact they make it what we in the trade call not quite as funny. There has been a lot of talk during the production of this film about honouring Douglas work and sticking to his ideas, so why did someone feel the need to piss about with his carefully chosen words and phrases? Did that same person who took out surrealism suddenly realise that the movie was under-running and look for spots to stick in extra words to get it back above 100 minutes?

So anyway: Magrathea. You may have noticed that the whole film up to now has been just a picaresque series of mini-adventures on a bunch of different planets. The original Hitchhiker's story was a picaresque tale too and that was always cited as one of the problems in trying to turn it into a feature film screenplay. But all that has happened is that one sequence of largely unconnected events has been replaced by another one. Well, obviously that's not all that has happened. The film-makers have also buggered about with the characters and taken all the jokes out.

At this point we still don't know anything about Magrathea. On the snowy surface the team find three large, circular, transdimensional portals, one of which gets activated - somehow - and through which Trillian, Ford and Zaphod jump. Before Arthur works up the courage to follow them, the portal switches off - somehow - and he is left to watch the sunset with Marvin until he is approached by Slartibartfast. Theres no "mountains of fire boiling away into space", no "electronic sulking machine" - by now we're simply not expecting any of the classic lines so it's no surprise when they don't come. One line that is retained is, You know we built planets, dont you?, which is ironic because, for those in the audience unfamiliar with previous versions of Hitchhikers Guide, the answer to this is no.

Here I must give credit where credit is due and say that Bill Nighy is the best thing about this film. This is not surprising as he is an excellent comic actor who, though he tends to always play variations on the same character, can give a breath of understated fresh air to even the worst production. It helps in this case that his dialogue has been largely left alone so he has pretty much the same lines to work with as the late Richard Vernon (originally written, of course, for John Le Mesurier). Yet he manages to bring the character to life in a completely different way to Vernon's befuddled old dodderer. Much as I love Vernons portrayal, I think that Slartibartfast is the one area where the big screen version actually improves on the radio and TV shows.

There is an ineffable sadness to Nighy's Slartibartfast, a world-weariness, a suggestion that although he enjoys his work he doesn't enjoy his job. He then takes Arthur on a tour of the Earth Mark II which is great. A series of rods push and pull their tiny yellow cage around the planet at terrifying speed as the Magrathean shows off the wonders of the world. We see a worker filling the ocean from an industrial water hose, we see another worker painting Ayers Rock red, we see yet another in a forest inflating the fungi. It's a clever, funny, relevant sequence which for a few fleeting minutes captures the real attitude and style of Douglas Adams' writing. It is only let down by the removal of Arthurs reference to women standing on chairs in early sixties sitcoms so that Slartibartfast no longer claims to know little of these early sixties sitcoms of which you speak but instead knows little of this cheese of which you speak. As he is currently rebuilding early 21st century Earth in every exact detail, including pubs and therefore including cheese sandwiches, this line doesnt actually make any sense.

It probably helps here that Arthur Dent has little to do in this sequence except listen to Slartibartfast. Martin Freeman's portrayal of the storys central character comes across, to be blunt, as an irritating little git. We never feel any sympathy or empathy for him - which is a bit of a problem for an everyman character who is the last survivor of the human race. (Or is he? Trillian was confirmed as 'half-alien' during production but there is no reference to this in the finished film.) Among the other cast, Mos Def takes a bit of getting used to as Ford, not because of his colour or his accent but because of his very reticent, awkward, mumbling mannerisms, but when he settles down hes pretty good. Zooey Deschanel is actually very good indeed, making Trillian, in an extraordinary change-up for the books, the strongest and most interesting character on the Heart of Gold. Sam Rockwell, as previously noted, is uncharacteristically awful and Malkovich is wooden in his non-role. I dont think any of this is necessarily the fault of the actors, I think the problem lies with hiring a director who, while undoubtedly an expert at crafting a three-minute pop video or 40-second TV ad, has no experience of directing actors in a full-length, big-budget movie. Credible characterisation is no more to be seen here than cohesive storylines. The movie is one long showcase of production design and special effects, many of them completely gratuitous. It has pretty pictures where it should have a plot.

While Slarti is giving Arthur the grand tour, the other three emerge from the portal, presumably in another dimension. They trudge up some steps to Deep Thought, which is now overgrown with creepers but is still operating. The computer, which is shaped like a giant monitor leaning on one elbow, has spent the past umpteen million years - Christ, I really don't want to have to type this - watching cartoons.

You read it right. Deep Thought, evidently long-abandoned by its makers, spends its time watching childrens cartoons on a small portable TV. As dumb, ill-conceived, unfunny, miss-the-point ideas go, that is possibly even worse than that *BLEEP*ing hula doll. (And the cartoons we see it watching are simply a short loop of very basic, crudely animated human shapes moving across a screen. I mean, the movie has been made by Disney for Christs sake. Im sure I read somewhere that they once made some cartoons...)

But wait, something will probably have been nagging at the back of your mind for a while now. You are no doubt wondering why - I mean, why the bloody hell - is Zaphod going to Deep Thought to find out the Question? Isn't the whole point that Deep Thought was only powerful enough to calculate the Answer and had to design a bigger computer to work out the Question? Isn't that the very bedrock of the whole damn *BLEEP*ing storyline, for *BLEEP*'s sake?!

Yes. Yes, it is that bedrock. So the whole journey to Magrathea to find Deep Thought makes no sense whatsoever and is completely and utterly pointless (in an early draft Deep Thought had actually been built by the Magratheans, so thank Christ that at least that daft idea was kicked into touch). While Zaphod is there, he picks up the weapon that Humma Kavula wanted - the Point of View gun.

This is a device which, when fired at someone, makes them (temporarily) see your point of view. It's a neat, Douglas Adams-created (we do know that, not that it matters) idea which, as explained in a quite amusing new Guide entry, was invented by a group of annoyed housewives who were fed up with ending every conversation with: You just dont get it, do you? It was then designed and built (or rather, a bunch of them were built, since Zaphod picks the last one from a series of empty gun-racks) by Deep Thought. Which of course makes a mockery of Deep Thought having been created solely for one purpose. Zaphod, Trillian and Ford then try the Point of View gun on each other, which allows Trillian's contrasting feelings towards Zaphod and Arthur to be externalised by Zaphod, an idea which could have been clever but just comes across as a clumsy info-dump.

(As an aside, it is worth noting that the teams only reason for acquiring this gun is to give it to Humma Kavula in return for Zaphods head and arm. But absolutely no attempt is ever made to get the gun to Humma once they have retrieved it; there is not even any mention of him after they leave Viltvodle. And while were at it, no explanation is given as to how Humma knows that there is a single Point of View gun still attached to the base of Deep Thought, or how he knows that Deep Thought is accessible through a dimensional portal on the surface of Magrathea, or how he knows about Deep Thought at all. Or indeed where all the other Point of View guns have gone, or why no-one took this one. And while were still at it, since the effect of the gun is shown to only last a few seconds, it would be of no use whatsoever for a missionary seeking to convert non-believers. And while were still, still at it, why didnt Humma just take his old political opponent prisoner - all of him, not just his spare head, plus his old opponents friends too - then take the Heart of Gold himself to Magrathea? The entire Humma Kavula subplot is one of the worst bits of movie plotting that I have ever seen. It makes no sense whatsoever, goes absolutely nowhere and is apparently just an excuse for lots of production design jokoids based on noses. Human noses, mind you, not Jatravartid ones...)

Back on Earth Mark II, Slartibartfast delivers Arthur to ... Arthur's house, looking just as it did before the council knocked it down, complete with flowerbeds, lawns and a caravan in the front garden. This idea has its own problems. In the original story, Earth Mark II was being built from scratch and was going to have to run the whole vast programme to find the Question again, but it was never completed because the mice thought they had got their hands on a remnant of the original, ie. Arthurs brain. The Earth on which Arthur ended up was the Earth Mark I, but in its beautiful, unspoiled, prehistoric state, thanks to time travel.

In the film it is not explicitly stated that the Earth was destroyed five minutes before completing its program, so its not clear how far along the programme had run. What is clear however is that in this version there is some sort of back-up file and the Earth will pick up from where it left off. Or rather, slightly before it left off - since Arthur's house is intact and there are no bulldozers around it. We see the same people in the same pub, waiting to come to life, so is this meant to be the same Thursday or not? If the whole Earth is part of a computer programme, including the people (no Golgafrinchans in this version) then the demolition of Arthur's house must be part of that programme.

Maybe I'm thinking too deeply about this, but at least I'm thinking about it which is more than anyone on the production seems to have done.

Inside Arthur's house, tucking into vast amounts of food and drink, are Zaphod, Ford and Trillian, plus those two mice that we saw earlier. The mice want Arthur's brain and when his three friends have collapsed into a drugged stupor, wrist clamps and a helmet appear from nowhere. Why do they want his brain? Your guess is as good as mine on that one. In the original story it was the last part of the computer left existing (apart from Trillians brain, which had left the planet earlier) so it was a sort of back-up that might allow the mice to retrieve the Question. But here we can see the Magratheans building a copy of the world exactly as it was a few days earlier, complete with all the people who were killed, so why cant they just build another Arthur Dent? Like so much else in this film, this part of the story has been pointlessly messed around and now makes no sense.

An evil-looking combination of drills and circular saws now appears from under the cakes on the table and advances, wobbling somewhat, towards Arthur - but pauses briefly when he franticly suggests some possible questions, including, 'How many roads must a man walk down?' Then, just as the drill-saw-thing starts up again, he wrenches his hands free, throws off the helmet, knocks the drill-saw-thing away, grabs a bowl and squashes the two mice. So he escapes his peril not through any cleverness or morally superior position but simply because the wrist clamps weren't strong enough. Hmm, yes, that's a satisfying resolution. When he lifts the bowl, we see that the mice have briefly become tiny, flattened versions of Lunkwill and Fook, which then fade away.

With the other three now conscious again, though it's not clear how that happened, they head outside to be confronted by a squad of about 30-40 Vogon soldiers, plus Questular (who exists merely to give a sense of human scale in the all-Vogon scenes, but has no narrative purpose whatsoever) and Marvin who has led them there in some way and for some reason. As the soldiers blast inexpertly away, the gang take cover in Arthur's caravan, which Zaphod thinks is a spaceship and tries to fly, though all he manages to do is light the gas hob. This is not nearly as funny as it sounds. Marvin walks calmly across the lawn but is blasted in the back of the head and collapses, his eye-lights dimming. The Point of View Gun is just near him, too far away from the caravan for the others to reach. When it all looks like certain death, Marvin's eyes light up again, he stands up, picks up the POV gun and blasts it at the Vogons, who instantly become thoroughly depressed and collapse. (Although there were about 30-40 Vogons originally, a crane shot reveals about 200 CGI Vogons all falling over.)

As an epilogue, we see the last of the Vogons bundled off in a van, Zaphod chatting up Questular (whose crush on her boss has been hinted at but never really dealt with), and Slartibartfast asking Arthur if there is anything he wants changing about the Earth Mark II, which is so close to completion that they're going to finish it off anyway. Arthur says, "Yes, me." He wants to continue exploring the universe. He and Ford and Trillian and Marvin head off in the Heart of Gold to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the final gag being a change in direction when Marvin points out that the restaurant is at the other end of the universe (which of course makes no sense because its the end in the sense of the final moments, so we can only assume that the film-makers haven't actually read as far as the second book).

Thats your lot. Thats the movie weve been waiting 26 years for. And let me tell you, it was not worth the wait, not for this. The whole film is true to neither the letter nor the spirit of Douglas Adams' books and scripts. And it really seems that many of the changes have been introduced for no reason at all. For example, the novel leads us into the story by saying that the tale 'begins very simply. It begins with a house' whereas in the film Stephen Fry's narration tells us that it begins very simply. It begins with a man.' Even though, when Fry says this, we are looking at a house!

As narrator, Stephen Fry sounds, as I suspected he would, like Stephen Fry (although this won't be a problem for audiences outside the UK, unfamiliar with his ubiquitous presence on British TV and radio). More than that, he sounds like a straightforward narrator rather than the voice of an electronic book in Ford's pocket. Only once, on the Vogon ship, do we see the actual Guide in use and get any suggestion that the silky tones explaining things to us are related in some way to the device. Ford's employment as a researcher for the Guide is barely touched upon. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is almost entirely absent from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

The graphics that accompany some of the narration are nicely done by the Shynola team, though they lack the complexity of the TV series graphics. What is most noticeable is the complete absence of several key Guide entries and the heavy editing of others. For example, although the one thing that Ford bothers to retrieve from Arthur's demolished house is a towel, and towels are mentioned on a few other occasions, there is no explanation of why a towel is important. This is just one of many omissions which will have neophytes scratching their heads and fans fuming.

The one thing which I havent addressed here is the Arthur-Trillian romance which, ironically for something which has worried the fans so much over the years, is really not a big deal. They dont declare undying love for each other; there is in fact just one (fairly chaste) kiss right at the end. You dont feel that theyre in love, just that there is some degree of attraction there. It really is the least of our worries.

You know, I really havent enjoyed writing such an intensely negative review of this film, but unlike certain websites and certain publications (mentioning no names but I think we all know who Im talking about) my critical views are not swayed by the generosity of film companies. And I know that some people who saw preview screenings seem to have enjoyed this film, even adored it. There is, as they say, no accounting for taste. But I can only speak as I find. Maybe its just me. Maybe Im a dangerous maverick, or a grumpy old git, but maybe Im the only one who can spot the Emperors new clothes for what they are.

Perhaps Im too close to the story, perhaps over-exposure to Hitchhikers Guide has made me immune to its delights. (After all, I have been bemoaning for some time that it has dominated my life for four years now.) That would be a possibility, except that I watched the whole TV series on DVD last year and loved it; I thoroughly enjoyed the Tertiary Phase; and the original radio series and books still make me laugh. This isnt a case of familiarity breeding contempt.

Recently I watched just a little bit of Episode Three of the TV series as preparation for a lecture I was giving and I found in it a sense of joy, a sense of delight, a sense of fun - something that is entirely missing from the movie. There was, for example, a wonderful chemistry between Zaphod and Ford (Im sorry, Zaphod old mate. I still dont believe you? Why not? You tend to lie a lot.) that I just didnt see in their big screen incarnations. Although, as noted, Mos Def plays his role quite well, its not a role which is really Ford Prefect as we know him. You never, ever get the sense that the movie version of Ford wants to go to a party, which is really the intrinsic part of Fords character and certainly far more important than Zaphod calling him Ix.

Another thing that seems to be missing from the film is a sense that this is all taking place in a fantastic universe populated with every sort of conceivable lifeform, including (as Douglas put it) humanoids, reptiloids, fishoids, walking treeoids, and superintelligent shades of the colour blue. The TV series, on a tiny fraction of the movies budget, managed to present us with a universe that swarmed with different races. On the big screen we get only a few background aliens glimpsed in the brief, night-time exterior scene when the Heart of Gold crew arrive on Viltvodle, but its all very dark and the long tracking shot through the crowd which they were filming when I visited the set has not made it into the final cut. Apart from that, theres really just the handful of stiff puppets in the queue on Vogsphere to give us a clue that there are any lifeforms in this galaxy that arent either humanoid or Vogon.

This is simply not the universe that Douglas Adams created - a satirical universe which is recognisably like Earth but exaggerated. This is a universe where things are either exactly as they are on Earth or nothing like they are on Earth. The few non-humanoid aliens we do glimpse tend to be odd, abstract shapes rather than exotic variants of Earth-based lifeforms or objects. Its as if someone had filmed Gullivers Travels but had made the Lilliputians and Brobdingnagians normal-sized and turned the Houyhnhnms from talking horses into yellow triangles. The film-makers, to borrow a phrase, just dont get it.

Above all, though, it is the rewriting of the original, highly quotable and much-quoted dialogue which leaves me gobsmacked. Good comedy writing is like poetry - it has a meter to it. Its like the sound of train wheels. Counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphor has a meter, as does I know little of these early sixties sitcoms of which you speak. The *BLEEP*ised lines to be found in this movie dont have that meter, and it is profoundly obvious that they dont, in the same way that you can hear a cracked wheel even if youve never been on that sort of train before. Theres just something thats off and it doesnt sound right.

I do believe that this movie was made by people who know, love and respect Douglas Adams work. I believe this because I know these people, and indeed knew several of them well before this movie went into production. (Im not talking about the Adams estate here; I dont have a great deal of respect for the Adams estate.) I know that the people making this film did not set out to completely ignore the source material, so why have they ended up with a movie which makes it look like that was their intention all along?

The Hitchhiker's movie is, in summary, a train-wreck of a film. The plot is strung together randomly without cause and effect or motivation. To some extent, I will grant you, that is also true of the source material: Douglas Adams had no qualms about moving his characters arbitrarily from one scenario to another and if you study the first couple of books as novels they simply don't work at all in terms of either plot structure or character development. But the great ideas and the wonderful use of language are together sufficient to gloss over such problems and people love the books despite their literary failings.

However, in the movie a lot of those great ideas have been either messed about with, so that they no longer make sense, or eliminated altogether and, worst of all - and I cannot emphasise this enough - the film-makers have taken most of the jokes out. They have taken the jokes out and replaced them with unfunny lines - jokoids - or in some cases really, really crap humour of the 'give me a hand' variety. Or sometimes not replaced them at all.

I wasn't expecting this movie to be perfect. I expected a curate's egg. But what I got was a rotten egg. Apart from the Magrathean factory floor/Earth Mark II sequence, nothing in the film really works. It's an unsalvageable mess which will annoy fans and will confuse (and annoy) non-fans.

I feared that I might find a funny sci-fi movie which bore a passing resemblance to Hitchhiker's Guide, but what I found instead was a desperately unfunny sci-fi movie which bore a passing resemblance to Hitchhiker's Guide. All that time, all that effort, all that attention to detail - wasted. In fact, I believe that is where the key fault lies. The film-makers put so much effort into the details that they lost sight of the bigger picture. They were so obsessed with filling the screen with things like jewelled scuttling crabs, replicas of Douglas Adams nose and other things that, really, no-one gives a damn about, that important things like a coherent plot or well-rounded characters went out of the window, along with any line of the original that might be considered funny.

Hitchhiker's is not so bad that it's good. It's just miserably, depressingly bad. It misses the point by a light year. Is it a good movie? No. Is it a good version of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy? Definitely not. It is ill-conceived, badly written, poorly directed and worst of all staggeringly unfunny. It is a travesty of a film. I mourn for it, I really do.


Notice from serverph:
hardly your work, my friend. don't claim ownership over something you did not write. it's called plagiarism. ;)
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3-weeks to write, huh? ;) please review Xisto forum rules & TOS. credits adjusted.


SqlByte

dude... WOW ! ;) Hitchikers Guide is something best that happened to me in last...2 years ;)im in love in that book :D And movie i didnt wach and never will becouse it sux and its going to ruin my imagination abour caraters.If i dont have this much to learn i would read it now and translate to my language but i have to learn so :D~ 42 :D


serverph

moved from "gamer's arena"...


biscuitrat

dude... WOW ! ;) Hitchikers Guide is something best that happened to me in last...2 years :)
im in love in that book ;)
And movie i didnt wach and never will becouse it sux and its going to ruin my imagination abour caraters.

If i dont have this much to learn i would read it now and translate to my language but i have to learn so :D

~ 42 ;)


See, that's not very fair to the movie! I loved it, personally; I saw it in the theaters with my towel. It does the book justice. The book may be crazy, but the movie brings all the characters to life. The imagery is clear, vivid, and definitely funny -- and the "cutscenes" are fantastically done. Give it a chance before you say that you hate it.

husker

It thought the plot itself was rather stupid, but the movie definitely was funny. It was very weird with a chronically depresed robot, but he made me laugh. His monotone just cracked me up, and I don't really know why. You would like it if you had a good sense of humor, but if you are looking for something with more meaning, watch something else.That's just about the movie though, I haven't read the book.