Mostly Harmless

I can’t believe there’s actually apparently a demand for my drivelling. There’s more people reading this than I thought. Strange, I don’t advertise this… just have it linked off my Slashdot profile. For this update; my thoughts on the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy movie.

Now, since I’m British and therefore practically weaned on the dry humor of Douglas Adams (he was senior writer for Doctor Who during Tom Baker’s run as the Doctor) I guess I have a different viewpoint on this movie than a lot of my friends do. That’s OK… perfectly understandable.

So the summary first: I liked it… quite a lot actually. It was a lot of fun and maintained a lot of the quirkiness of Douglas Adams himself. While not perfect in many ways, it was good and well deserving of a sequel or two.

The details: From the opening montage of dolphins “mucking about in the water and having a good time” to the strains of “So Long and Thanks for All the Fish”, a showtune that’s been running through my head ever since… I knew I was in for something different than anything Hollywood has put out before. I was right… it WAS different… but not as different as that beginning promised.

Let me start with what was good. First of all, the cast was perfect! While Alan Rickman’s first couple of lines fell a little flat as Marvin, I felt that he conveyed the same sort of withering contempt for life that he managed to bring out during Galaxy Quest. The rest of the cast carried their roles well, especially Martin Freeman as the poor put-upon Arthur Dent. Mos Def as Ford Prefect? Inspired… but I felt he wasn’t given a lot to work with. The spark was there… just the material wasn’t.

The Heart of Gold was definitely not how Douglas described it, at least on the outside… but the interior was perfect, exactly as I’d imagined this incredible starship to look. In fact, the look of just about everything was spot on.

The story? Well, it’s changed… that’s definitely true… but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Douglas himself often stated that the story needs to change to fit the medium that is being used… that’s why the radio series, TV series and books all seem so inconsistent; because DA was constantly tweaking them for the media they were using. You could do stuff with radio you couldn’t do with TV and vice versa… and pretty much anything went with the books. While some of the changes I take issue with, most of the changes were merely to make it work in the fundamentally different medium of the Hollywood movie.

The Vogons were fantastic. As a British citizen I have in my past often come up against British beureaucracy at its worst, which is exactly what Douglas Adams was attempting to parody with the Vogons. The failing of the earlier TV series is that the Guide itself describes them as “… not exactly evil, but beureaucratic, officious…” and so on… while the look of them on-screen was distinctively that of an evil menace. In the movie they don’t look evil… they look like a parody of British courts and parliament… in fact precisely what I myself envisaged. And the look of them on-screen shows me exactly why I don’t think CGI is going to replace good puppetry any time soon despite what George Lucas thinks; they look solid and more alive. CGI despite advances in recent years still looks way too much like a plastic action figure that’s moving around independently. Then again, given George Lucas’ penchant for 2 dimensional actors that’s probably reasonable…

I digress… onto the bad:

The movie has been changed a lot from the source materials. There are a few issues I have with those changes, not least of which was the fact that many of the funniest parts of the source material were cut. The Guide entries, while note-perfectly narrated by the fabulous Stephen Fry (whom I had the pleasure of meeting many years ago in London) were abridged significantly from the source and somewhat lacking the dry wit of Peter Jones blatantly sardonic tones (from the TV series). The animation also wasn’t quite as “in your face” as the TV series had been, though they did have a charm of their own.

Let’s clarify one thing though; I understand why these guide entries were often cut: It was because the guide entries often wandered off on tangents that had nothing to do with advancing the story. A prime example of this is the Babel Fish entry which goes on about the Babel Fish proving the non-existence of God. I feel the whole aspect of the little yellow fish was somewhat skipped over, but I do see why. Still, it loses some of its original charm because of it.

Generally the only significant problem I had with the movie was the speed at which it was trying to move, especially in the first half. Now, although the first section on Earth (prior to its demolition) is only marginally shorter than the one from the TV series, I still prefer the TV series version of it because it flowed more naturally. In the movie it seemed a little stilted and “tacked on”.

Because of this high-speed flow, much of the movie suffered. Marvin especially suffered because of this because much of his comedy came from his lugubrious droning and pauses for effect that were note-perfect in the TV and radio series, but completely lost in the movie.

The whole Arthur/Trillian love story thing though… that’s the bit I really felt wasn’t a good addition. It’s too “in your face”… and what’s with the “… for one week I thought I had it all” sort of attitude from Arthur??? Unless I was missing something he knew Tricia MacMillan for all of one night? And not even all night at that? Sorry, this didn’t work for me at all because it was logically inconsistent, and in fact inconsistent with the character of Arthur as already defined by that point.

Although I have to say the Point of View gun was brilliant… but again I felt that the Deep Thought section suffered from rushing too much.

Still, will I see it again? Yes… but probably not until it hits the movie shelves. Even then I’ll buy the DVD… but I don’t get that kind of time to go to the movies and watch a movie.

’nuff said. Signing off and will update again soon.

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