Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

dir: Garth Jennings
[img_assist|nid=942|title=How does something so funny getting transformed into something so unfunny? Oh, yeah, Hollywood.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=430|height=274]
So I liked the “So long and thanks for all the fish” song used in the intro, in fact I found it thrilling, transporting and charming. Unfortunately it’s about the only thing I liked about the film.

It’s funny, or maybe not that funny that they (“they” being the people responsible for regurgitating this film forth, which includes Douglas Adams) could take a book beloved by so many legions of nerds for its humour and yet succeed in draining most of the humour out of it.

I’ll admit that I’m not really that much of a fan of the book in the first place. I would still like to think that they could have done a better job had a better director or producers had a bash at it. Imagine Charlie Kaufman having a go at the screenplay, and Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry directing it. If you don’t think that Americans or a French guy could do justice to it, then how about if they’d used an innovative bunch of people like Danny Boyle and his production crew, or Edgar White and Simon Pegg, the guys behind Shaun of the Dead.

Hell, maybe they should have gotten your mum to direct it. Or even my mum. Though she is busy sitting in a store window in Amsterdam’s red light district. That reminds me, need to send her those antibiotics for Mother’s Day.

Anyone it seems could have done a better job than Garth Jennings. The film, for the majority of its length, is just shy of mediocre. There are flashes of brilliance, but they last for mere seconds at a time. It’s not all bad, of course. We should be glad that there are still studios out there with more money than sense that aren’t so risk-averse as to knock a project like this on its head. It had been in development hell for decades, but based on this shemozzle maybe it should have stayed there.

The biggest problem for me is, having said all that, the plot is crap and the guy playing Arthur Dent is annoying. He just didn’t work for me. I like Martin Freeman, and thought he was great in The Office, and I thought prior to seeing this that he would be perfect for the role, but I was as wrong as the producers were in casting him. It’s strange, but I found it easier to accept Mos Def as Ford Prefect than I did Freeman as Dent. He flat out didn’t work for me. To be more blunt, I found him fucking annoying and quite tedious, like much of the film.

The plot in the book never really worked for me anyway, but most of the additions they made in the screenplay are even less appealing.

Are there many people out there that aren’t familiar with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in any of its previous incarnations? Book, BBC tv series, radio series, text adventure computer game (one of the earliest I can remember) and bunches of other material.

Maybe I should give a quick rundown of what the film’s about just in case: a loser called Arthur Dent finds out that his best friend is an alien, and narrowly escapes the destruction of Earth. Wackiness ensues as he ends up on a bizarre spaceship with mostly annoying characters on it. Shit happens, then the movie ends.

Still, as I sat bored through much of it, I kept remembering how much I liked the song at the start. Thinking about it right now makes me want to hear it again! But I’ll be fucked if I’m going to watch the film again just to hear a song and watch some freaking dolphins leap about and frolic in the waves. I could just take drugs and imagine it instead.

Rather than list all the things that didn’t work or bored me, maybe I should mention the few things that I did like. That way it’s a shorter list, and I save on electrons. Precious electrons.

Using Stephen Fry as the voice of the Hitchhiker’s Guide itself, explaining these little bits of galactic trivia was perfect. There was more humour in those little tangents and their accompanying graphics than there was at any other stage where annoying characters or extras in suits were on screen, which is true of the book as well.

The whale and the bowl of petunias. I can’t and won’t explain what that means, but all I can say is that they did that well and it was amusing. Totally absurd, but funny. People who never read the book would never have a single goddamn clue what any of it meant (nothing, just that it was absurdly funny), but still.

There was a scene on what I think was called the “Factory Floor” where, not to go into the plot too much, a company builds new worlds. It looked amazing, and probably cost most of the film’s budget. It had a scope and a vision clearly lacking in the rest of the story.

There’s this spaceship in the film called the Heart of Gold, powered by an improbability drive. I’m not going to bore you or myself with an explanation of it, but I liked the idea and the way it was represented. I also like the fact that when they used this spaceship ,people in the audience I watched it with who clearly knew nothing about the story prior to the film looked like someone had hit them over the back of the head with a bad metaphor. I imagine the tens or hundreds of people around the world who will watch those parts of the film and have aneurysms of confusion, and that at least makes me smile.

As part of that, for reasons again that I won’t explain, the ship and everything on it is turned into wool. One of the characters throws up from being very freaked out, and the vomit was wool. I think the film could have been way betterer had they made it entirely in wool. Cheaper too. It was, at least, a funny instant.

The Vogons, an alien race of vile bureaucrats (surely a tautology), looked pretty good. They were well realised and their insane society and dull planet looked pretty good, even if the whole time I kept thinking, “Jeez, if these people were going to suckle at the breast of Terry Gilliam for so long, why didn’t they just get him to direct it anyway?”

Of course I already know the answer to that: they think Gilliam’s mad, unreliable, and can’t be trusted with big budgets any more. Having watched Lost in La Mancha, they might be right. Still, he probably would have been a better choice as director, rather than hiring a director who panicked and thought “I’ve got no fucking ideas of my own, wait a sec, I’ll just go hire Brazil from the local video shop down the road. And maybe get myself some Hungry Jack’s on the way back. Mmmm, processed meat.”

I like Zooey Deschanel, though I don’t know or care if she was right to play the character of Trillian. Trillian in the book or any of the other incarnations was nothing more complex than the equivalent of one of the plucky, allegedly hot sidekicks in Doctor Who. None of which matters to me, since I care fuck all for any of that. She’s cute, she’s got these big blue manga eyes, and she didn’t look as faintly embarrassed as what most of the other actors did.

Where’s the fun in it? I kept asking myself this question as I was watching it. It’s just not that entertaining. I think they tried hard to make it funny and entertaining, or at least I assume they tried hard to justify their paychecks. Maybe I’m just not the right guy for it. I don’t have any nostalgia for any of the earlier Hitchhiker’s stuff, so maybe it’s lost on me. I can’t imagine that big fans of Douglas Adams will be that impressed either, in fact I imagine they’ll be quite pissed at all the changes.

I could debate whether Adams, like Terry Pratchett, is really that good a writer (of stories, as opposed to being decent humorists, which I think they both are) in the first place, but I suspect that I could offend many nerds along the way. And heaven knows I can’t afford to offend nerds. So maybe the blame goes to the source, maybe it lies with the producers, maybe the story was really unfilmable, in the end.

All I can say in the end is that I didn’t like it. That doesn’t mean it’s without merit, or that other people will hate it. It just means that it sure as fuck didn’t amuse or entertain me for that much of its screen time. The weakness of the story runs deep and made it all quite pointless for me. The ending made the whole thing seem like the very dictionary definition of pointless. I wasn’t engaged, entertained, inspired or anything much of anything else apart from bored. And I’m a total fucking nerd, so draw from that what you will.

They tried, god love ‘em. They tried. You’ve got to give people points just for trying. Just look at the Special Olympics. Everyone needs encouragement. Even you.

4 times I debated walking out of the cinema but relented when I realised I’d be letting my readers down out of 10.

“The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy also talks about love. It says: avoid it.” – wise words from the Guide.