DVD Review Of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 11/23/06
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is one of those films that seems a lot better if one has not read the source material it’s based upon- in this case the series of Hitchhiker books by Douglas Adams, the BBC radio shows, or the 1970s BBC television series of the same name. This was manifest immediately to me, as one who’d seen the repeats of the tv show on PBS, but never read the books. In just briefly skimming the online critical consensus this seems confirmed, for rarely does a film elicit such widely divergent reactions. Those critics who came to this film fresh invariably thought it was very good, while those with prior Hitchhiker bonafides thought this new version, by first time director Garth Jennings, who made his name in music videos, was horrible. Oddly, even though I fall into the latter camp, I thought it was a mildly amusing film, in the tradition of Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, and it was scripted by Karey Kirkpatrick, who wrote the delightful claymation comedy Chicken Run, with help from Adams, before he died in 2000. This enjoyment I felt may have been due to the fact that although I enjoyed the old BBC series it’s been at least twenty years since I saw the show.
The problem with the film is not really the film’s problem, but that the books have such a devoted cult following that even the slightest deviations from the canon seem to be taken personally by fans and critics alike, even though all basic tales must adapt to whatever medium they are in. As long as they capture the essence of the work, that’s all that is required. And the essence is a work of humor somewhere between Jonathan Swift and Kurt Vonnegut. The special effects are also first rate, although they retain some of the cheesiness that BBC productions as the original series and Doctor Who made (in)famous- such as Jim Henson muppet Vogons, and there is a necessary chronological ordering of events that in the tv series were spread out between episodes. As for the main characters? Martin Freeman is very good as Arthur Dent, the earthman whose home is at the epicenter of both earthly and cosmic demolition forces. Rapper Mos Def is solid as Ford Prefect, his alien buddy, and Sam Rockwell is appropriately goofy as galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox. Arthur’s and Zaphod’s love interest is the quirky Zooey Deschanel as Patricia McMillan, or Trillian, and the manically pessimistic robot Marvin is voiced by Alan Rickman.
When the earth is demolished by the dour Vogons, after a dolphin musical number, So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish, Dent and Ford hitchhike on a Vogon ship, while Trillian has been picked up by Zaphod at a bar. After many twists and turns in search of the ultimate answer to the universe and everything in it, which turns out to be forty-two, the gang finds out that Zaphod accidentally signed the papers that condemned earth. Of course, another earth is under construction, commissioned by mice determined to have Arthur’s brain to answer the cosmic query that dogs them, and the project is headed by Slartibartfast (Bill Nighy), an award winning planet designer who is proud of his work on Norway’s fjords. The end is rather silly, but so is the whole essence of the Hitchhiker universe, right down the very guide within the guide, itself, voiced by Stephen Fry, and the device works fairly well to tie up loose ends that would otherwise go over the heads of newbies to Adams’ universe. There are many scenes that are funny, but my favorite was one, near the end, when the Vogons come to demolish Arthur’s second home. First, Ford attacks the Vogons with a towel, which terrifies them, and then he buys the others precious time by closing a small garden gate, to which the foiled Vogon horde replies, ‘Oh no! We’ll have to the other way go around!’
The DVD has many features, includeing real and fake deleted scenes, a dolphin singalong of So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish, and two commentaries- one with director and crew that is all Britishy humor and bad jokes, and the other with the film’s producer, which is quite a bit more informative on the making of the film and the mind of Douglas Adams. There are also some decent making of featurettes. Overall, even if one is not too thrilled with the film, the DVD extras make the effort a little more worthwhile. This zeitgeist may explain the many cameos in the film, by the likes of Jason Schwartzman and John Malkovich, although they are really given nothing to work with. Yet, Slartibartfast’s philosophy, ‘I’d rather be happy than right,’ is the sort that, if applied to the film’s many disappointed cultist detractors, is hard not to find some resonance with, even if, like him, real happiness has not been reached. Somehow, though, I think Douglas Adams would find their circumstance a hoot.
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