|Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005)|
|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 13 September 2005|
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is a film based on the original BBC radio serial and book by author Douglas Adams. Long considered a masterpiece of bizarre comedic science fiction, a feature film version was finally made, alas after Adams’ recent death. Unfortunately, only small bits of his wit and genius are captured in this film version. You’d think that just by using the source material, the filmmakers would get something right, but almost nothing translates from page to screen in this amazingly lame adaptation. Hardly anything is funny and the pacing and style of the film and acting feels annoyingly stagy and forced.
As you may or may not know, the story begins on Earth with ordinary Englishman Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman), whose house is about to be demolished to make way for a new interchange. Making his day even more bleak is his friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def), who reveals himself to be an alien from a planet near the star Betelgeuse. Ford’s bad news is that the Earth is about to be demolished by a fleet of Vogon constructor ships to make room for an intergalactic expressway. Meanwhile, President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) has kidnapped himself and a new spaceship called the Heart of Gold. Traipsing along is Earthling Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), also known to Arthur as Tricia McMillan.
It turns out that Ford is not really an out of work actor but a writer for “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” a rather useful publication that contains entries for almost anything one could possibly need. After Ford and Arthur hitch a ride with the Vogons and are subjected to some terrible poetry, they are jettisoned into space, only to be picked up by the Heart of Gold. Ford and Zaphod are old friends and Arthur is shocked to find Trillian alive, probably the only other Earthling left in the universe. Along for the ride is Marvin the Paranoid Android (played by Warwick Davis and voiced by Alan Rickman).
Zaphod has captured the Heart of Gold and its Improbability Drive so that he can go to the planet of Magrathea and find the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question. Unfortunately, the Vice-President (Anna Chancellor), aided by the Vogons, is trying to find Zaphod. So Arthur, Ford and Trillian tag along as they help Zaphod try to find the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question, trailed by Vogons and others. What results is a zany, thoughtful but ultimately pointless sojourn through space, where the best laid plans of mice, not mice and men, come dangerously close to fruition.
This is a handsome collection of actors who do an admirable job under the blasé direction of commercial veteran Garth Jennings. This is one of those adaptations where they skipped so many little juicy bits in an effort to sum up what happens in the book that they too often seem to be jumping around, with little connection between scenes. Much of the comedy is forced or seems simply to be missing, due mainly to a lack of proper timing. The film is at times campy and at others serious, unable to decide which aspect of Adams’ zaniness it wanted to embrace more. The film seems a particular mess when compared to the radio play, the BBC television show or even the stage play. There are amusing moments here and Rockwell does his best to bring life to the party, but overall the film is simply flat.
The DVD itself is marginally better than the film. The design is based on the actual Guide as rendered in the film; each menu feature scrolls out in vivid color with accompanying beeps, just as if it were the Guide. In fact, each menu on the DVD contains the Improbability Drive. Hit this is at any time and you will be taken to a random part of the special features, including an Easter Egg that is impossible to get to otherwise.
The best part of the DVD is the audio commentary with director Jennings, producer Nick Goldsmith and actors Martine Freeman and Bill Nighy. There is much more information about the production here than in any of the other bonus features combined. Also, these people are funny, especially Freeman and Nighy, who are comedic actors to begin with. There is tremendous enthusiasm for the film by all involved, which takes away the sting of the film’s mediocrity somewhat. The commentary by executive producer Robbie Stamp and Adams colleague Sean Solle is more pedantic and less informative. Stamp blathers on about technical info and it is obvious that neither is entirely comfortable with what they are doing.
The “making of” featurette is only nine minutes long and, while it includes interviews with director Jennings and others, it really glosses over most aspects of the production. Marvin’s Hangman is, of course, a game of hangman, but it takes too long to load and so is really not worth playing. Another disappointing aspect is the deleted scenes, as there are only three included and they are not very long at that. The Fake Deleted Scenes on the other hand are hilarious. These are both scenes where the actors purposely faked the take, but it is less a blooper rather than a filmed moment of preconceived insanity.
The transfer is not as crisp as one would expect from such a recent film. There are no flaws in it, but it just doesn’t have the crispness that it should and the blacks are a bit inky. Fire the colorist! Both the DTS and Dolby 5.1 mixes are ample, though the DTS does boost the sound a bit more, per usual. What is most noticeable in each is the lack of a truly excellent and subtle sound design. The dialogue is mixed very high and many of the backgrounds are almost nonexistent. This is part of what makes the film seem more theatrical than filmic. Though there are fantastic sights and sounds, we don’t really hear many of the otherwordly sounds that we should. Theoretically, one of the advantages and reasons for doing a feature film is so that the creators can employ all the bells and whistles at their disposal. As far as sound design goes, though, they missed the boat (or the Vogons, if you will).
Lifelong fans of “Hitchhiker’s” will appreciate various elements of the film and DVD, but they will also lament what has not been properly captured. Making the DVD menus like the Guide itself was a necessary bit of cleverness, but it doesn’t hide the fact that the commentary and fake scenes are the only bits worth really getting excited about. Save your time and money and read the books.