The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: 2005, dir. Garth Jennings. Seen at Galaxy Highland (May 15).
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the most disappointing movie I’ve seen so far this year. I didn’t expect it to be wonderful, but I thought it would be enjoyable in a fluffy summer-movie sort of way. But the movie didn’t work for me on any level.
I think the problem with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the same problem I encountered with the first two Harry Potter movies. The filmmakers try to be faithful to the books in appearance, but not in spirit. I remember being impressed with some of the visual aspects of the first two Harry Potter moviesthe way Diagon Alley looked, for examplebut there wasn’t much underneath. The characters were not portrayed with any depth and the director had a tendency to rely on annoying stereotypes. (The third Harry Potter movie was a great improvement.)
I’ve noticed many adaptations over the years in which the filmmakers are more interested in maintaining fidelity to the book than they are in making a good movie. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy looks like you would expect it to, for the most part, but it isn’t faithful to the tone of Douglas Adams’ work (whether in book, radio, or TV form). And if I knew nothing about the book, I wouldn’t find it a very entertaining movie on its own, either.
Nearly every edge, every dark or cynical aspect of the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is gone. Yes, it’s great that they kept the bit about the guy who wrote the books on God, and the plummeting whale, but even the whale is sanitized: in the book, the characters end up landing in bits of dead whale splashed everywhere. Disney does not do dead whale chunks, I guess.
The Hitchhiker’s books didn’t have any kind of central plot; Arthur and his travelling companions end up whirled around the galaxy every which way for three books, until he finally gets back to Earth in the fourth book. (Which is a big shock to him, but since they messed up that particular surprise at the end of this movie, I’m wondering how they’d handle it in a sequel.) I can barely remember the fifth book because it was so terrible; it’s the only one of the series that I don’t own. (Hm, something else it has in common with the Harry Potter series.)
The filmmakers attempt to tie together a plot in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by having Arthur be terribly smitten with Trillian, and therefore inserting a whole love triangle/romantic comedy angle, but it doesn’t work very well. It’s not very interesting and it’s difficult for us to care very much.
Part of the reason is that Zooey Deschanel is badly miscast as Trillian. I liked her in Elf and I was hoping I’d like her here, but it doesn’t work. She’s too big-eyed and adorable where Trillian ought to be a little more, oh, mysterious and sophisticated. It’s also difficult to believe her character is supposed to be all that intelligent. Someone like Cate Blanchett might have made it all work better.
I thought Martin Freeman was fine as Arthur. Arthur has to be a difficult role to play; he’s supposed to be an utter prat, but we have to like him. Martin Freeman played Arthur in a straightforward, believable way, with only the occasional bouts into pratdom. If only other cast members had not been mugging and hamming it up shamelessly for the camera … I love Sam Rockwell, but he was way too over-the-top as Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Galaxy. His Texas-ish accent (which I think was meant to reflect that of another President) faded in and out and his performance had absolutely no nuance, so the one-note hooting and hollering got very old after awhile. And Alan Rickman’s voice was far too recognizable as Marvin, so every time he talked, you didn’t think of a depressed robot, you thought of Alan Rickman and his various characters throughout the years.
Mos Def was wasted as Ford Prefect, unfortunately. He spent most of his time in the background. The less said about John Malkovich and the whole Humma Kavula subplot, the better. It was pointless and unfunny. Perhaps the filmmakers intend to pay it off in a sequel, but that doesn’t do this particular film any good.
And my boyfriend wanted to know why the hell Maude Lebowski was after Zaphod Beeblebrox. I couldn’t figure it out either.
Lots of people I know raved about the wonderfulness of the “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish” song, but I thought it was derivative of Eric Idle without, again, any edge.
There were some good moments. I liked Helen Mirren’s voice as Deep Thought. I also liked Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast. (I couldn’t remember where I’d seen him recently, and it wasn’t until I got home and looked it up that I realized he was the stepdad in Shaun of the Dead, which is much, much funnier than this movie and which I wish I’d seen instead.) Stephen Fry was perfect as the voice of the Guide.
And the Vogons were perfectly realized by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. I find that the Henson creatures are often more interesting and compelling than CGI characters. Apparently the Vogons were voiced by the League of Gentlemen troupe, about which I would really like to know more (they have a movie coming out soon, I think).
The first three Hitchhiker’s books had a dark, cynical humor about them. The main characters were fairly ordinary people fighting bureaucracy and stubborn stupidity. Admittedly, a lot of humor was in the writing style, which would be difficult for the best of directors and writers to convey in a film. But this movie … this movie has romance! and a happy ending! It’s cute where it ought to be grimly funny.
The scenes with the Vogons reminded me of a good movie about the average guy fighting futilely against the powers of bureaucracy … Brazil. I suppose the best thing about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is that it made me really want to see Brazil again. Perhaps it’s time to email Alamo Drafthouse and ask them to show it (yes, I have the DVD, but it’s just not the same).
So my advice is to read the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books, rent Brazil or Shaun of the Dead, and forget about seeing this bland saccharine blob of a Disney film. And my advice to Disney? Maybe you should get Alfonso Cuaron to direct the sequel.