Friday, April 29, 2005

"Mostly humorous"
Rating: 7.5/10

Review of: The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
By: Jake Russell
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"Mostly humorous." That's the phrase that comes to mind as I remember the details of the last 110 minutes.

"The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy" has finally reached the big screen, much to the delight of fans across the globe, and posthumously recognizing Douglas Adams' dream. Don't get me wrong. I loved the movie. Not all of it, but most of it. But I most definitely went to the movie theater dressed in full-on Arthur regalia (ie - bathrobe and a towel), and despite the odd looks I received, I proudly announced with a cheerful thumbing-a-ride signal that "Yes, in fact, I am quite insane," to the random strags who were there to catch a discount daytime matinee of "The Amityville Horror" before their kids got home from school.

I was at the very first showing, on Opening Day, like a good fan. I "dressed the part" like a good fan (pictures forthcoming). Despite the mixed reviews, I was eager and ready for something for which I have been waiting 25 years, like a good fan. I even wore my digital watch like a good fan.

Before the film even started, I was treated to a wonderful new Disney trailer which begins with the "And I think to myself - What a wonderful... BOOM!" scene from the Hitchhiker's "Internet" trailer, only to find a bit of absolutely ingenious originality on the part of Disney. (Brilliantly done, guys...) I'll not explain the trailer at this point, since it's still new, and it is best experienced when you're completely and totally not ready for it whatsoever. But when you go, make sure you show up early enough to watch the trailers. The laugh is worth it.

As for the film itself, there was both good and bad. The good was very good, and the bad was graciously overlooked for the most part, at least from a diehard fan such as myself.

The good consisted largely of the main characters themselves. Martin Freeman played a perfect Arthur. Much like the Arthur in the book, he was the perfect American stereotype of a typical British "average Joe", while maintaining the "this is entirely too bizarre to deal with, so let's just repress it for now, shall we?" attitude, and managed to take everything going on around him in perfect stride, all the while trying to overcome his own personal quirks, namely the fact that his character wasn't exactly a risk-taker. Mos Def portrayed Ford so well that I never had a single instance during the movie where I even briefly wished for David Dixon, which did a lot to assuage my pre-viewing fears what with all the hub-bub on the Internet about replacing a former white straightman with the surprisingly versatile and extremely expressive Mos Def. Zooey Deschanel was a good Trillian, though she didn't have much in the way of dialogue. This is not, however, her fault. What dialogue she did have, she delivered quite well.

Even better than those already mentioned was Sam Rockwell as a cross between Jim Carrey and Owen Wilson. He was the perfect party animal one minute, yet dumb as a brick the next, which translated very well to the screen. I far preferred the movie Zaphod to the television Zaphod. The second head issue was, while not completely what I was expecting, was handled quite well by simply flipping back and forth with perfect comedic timing.

Marvin was, well... Funny. Granted, he's not necessarily supposed to be "funny, funny", considering the fact that he's thoroughly depressed, yet at the same time, he was obviously invented by Douglas Adams in the first place as a running gag. Whatever the reason, the teamwork of Warwick Davis' wonderful movements and Alan Rickman's naturally depressing voice definitely did the trick for me.

The award for "Best actor trying to live up to a legendary character" has to go to Bill Nighy. He had several scenes that were completely different from the television version, but the lines that they both shared were absolutely nailed by Bill. After watching his performance, I cannot even imagine anyone else ever playing Slartibartfast. With all due respect to Richard Vernon (the television Slartibartfast), Mr. Nighy has got you beat. It isn't often that we get to see a movie where the exact perfect person was cast into the role that they were, simply put, born to play. There was Jim Carrey in "The Mask", Mel Gibson in "Lethal Weapon", Charlton Heston in "The Ten Commandments"... and now there's Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast. Well done, sir. Well done.

The visuals were brilliant. Far be it from Disney to deny us our eye candy, "The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy" delivered as promised. The Magrathean Factory Floor brought us as close to infinity as we'll ever get. The puppeteering work on the Vogons by the Jim Henson crew is out of this world (no pun intended), and the results were far more believable that anything that could have been created digitally. There's just something about good puppeteering that is somehow better than the admittedly impressive CGI creations that have come out of Hollywood in recent years. I guess it's kind of the same way that a lot of people will swear that somehow vinyl record albums just sound "warmer" than their obviously more advanced cousin, the Compact Disc.

Now for the parts that I felt were, well, less than perfect. While I hate to admit it, there are parts that, as a hardcore fan, I would have done differently. I understand that several of the cuts and omissions were made by Douglas himself, and given the fact that he is a master storyteller, I guess that if you're a filmmaker, you kind of "have" to give him the benefit of the doubt, and trust his judgement on certain things, such as changing or simply leaving out certain jokes. However, in this respect, I feel that more could have been done. Several times, I found myself on the edge of my seat waiting for punchlines that never came and silently lip-syncing jokes that were completely omitted. Likewise, I was disappointed because my personal favorite quote wasn't in there. (When Ford explains to Arthur that the Earth had simply boiled away into space, Arthur responds with an unbelievable calmness in his voice, "Listen, I'm a bit upset about that.")

But despite the fact that movie pacing is a bit more rapid than a 6-part TV show, and certainly faster than a book where the author can spend 3 pages setting up a single punchline if he so desires, I found myself wishing that the "classic" jokes had been left in. Sure, the movie may have been 5 minutes longer, but after all, Hitchhiker's isn't about the story. It's about the humor. The jokes. Without them, it is simply another movie about "some guy who's in way over his head, but manages to bumble his way through anyway." That's been done. In fact, it's one of the most common formats for funny movies in the last 20 years. Granted, this means that the format works, but Hitchhiker's is supposed to be different. Memorable quotes (from the characters and the Guide itself) are the meat and potatoes of the Hitchhiker's books, and certainly at the core of the fan community. The omission of some lines, even the funnier ones, is inevitable when translating a book to the big screen. However, just a few too many omissions were present for my taste. Should a sequel be made (and I sincerely hope that it is), I hope that more comedic dialogue is included. It needn't even be Douglas' lines. Douglas Adams had the uncanny ability to perfectly craft groups of words in such a way as to generate a big laugh. In other words, he was an extremely funny writer. Adding new jokes is not sacrilege, but having too few jokes, whatever the source, is. I deducted two whole stars from my rating for this reason alone. Out of a sense of fairness, I will return one of those stars to the rating if Karey Kirkpatrick agrees to release a video clip of himself attending one of Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz's poetry recitals as penance for allowing some of our favorite jokes to remain omitted. :)

The other half-star deduction was based on the fact that the Humma Kavula sub-plot never reached any sort of climax. That is, they set it up, and then simply never finished it. One can only assume that it was left open intentionally as a common point from which to base the underlying subplot for the sequel, "The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe", but as it stands, if the sequel is not made, we fans will be left with a distinct lack of closure.

That said, the film is still quite entertaining, and definitely worth the price of admission, especially for fans who have waited so long for something... anything new from the world of "The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy". Let me emphasize that although I had some disappointments, I loved the film. It may not have been done as I would have done it, but it was still an entertaining story. I will, without a doubt, be attending another showing this evening - once again dressed as Arthur, and once again prepared to thoroughly enjoy 110 minutes of "The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy" eye candy.

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