DVD Review #11: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

February 4, 2010 at 10:35 AM | Posted in Based on a Book, Comedy, DVD Reviews, Sci-Fi | Leave a comment

“I dunno about this rewrite. It seems kind of weird that Trillian would recreate a scene from Elf…”

Movie:
Gee, I’m going to have to admit some bias on this one. I’m a fan of all things Hitchhiker’s. I saw the miniseries when I was a kid. And then actually read the books. Yes, read with my eyes. (That’s “read” in the past tense, which in a perfect world would be “readed” or at least “redd.”) However, I was convinced I WOULDN’T like this. Because it’s a Hollywood adaptation. But is it really? It’s a fairly British production. And Douglas himself wrote most of it. And in fact, it’s pretty good.

(Cont.)

I will say, I’m NOT a fan of the film opening with a tacky musical number sung by dolphins. Yes, it’s a nice reference, but it’s completely irrelevant, and doesn’t prepare you for the movie. So I can understand why people would think this movie was stupid. It certainly looks completely stupid and utterly nonsensical if you’ve never heard of the other versions. And it is. It’s absurd. It makes no sense. It’s a very difficult story to get into, even if you’re ready for something weird.

The movie moves along at a pretty brisk pace. This is probably the biggest drawback of a film adaptation. It’s not even two hours long, and every other version has been well over two hours, with the possible exception of the record albums, which I haven’t heard. This is an epic story, and it doesn’t exactly work as a popcorn movie. It was conceived as a serial that you didn’t have to spend too much time with each week. With the books, you stay for the clever writing. But a movie? It just comes across as bizarre and pointless. Which it is.

All that aside, I came to love Martin Freeman as Arthur. It’s a no-brainer. He plays “everyman” on The Office. That’s what Arthur is. And I fell in love with Zooey in Elf, bleach and all, so she can do no wrong. She’s the best live action Trillian by far, and she’s damn hot in glasses and no pants. (Edit – Sorry, no trousers, but quite a bit of pants.) Sam Rockwell reinvented Zaphod in a brilliant way. Bill Nighy makes a fine Slartibartfast even without the facial hair. Even Tom Lennon as Eddie the Shipboard Computer is a perfect fit. I didn’t feel like there was an over-Americanization either.

However, while I like Alan Rickman’s Marvin… he’s just not terribly funny here. He’s maybe a little too convincingly depressive, and too empathetic. The movie doesn’t really “get” the essence of the character, or why he’s funny. And sadly, while Mos Def adds a little bit to the comedy, he’s just not terribly well cast as Ford. There is nothing at all particularly alien about him, aside from the way he reacts to a few things. He’s not really that weird. And most importantly, he doesn’t seem like he’d want to be a researcher for the Guide. He doesn’t feel like a hitchhiker to me. Doesn’t seem interested in much that’s going on. Def himself doesn’t do a hell of a lot with his voice. It’s a bit gravelly and bored. And I like him… I respect him… just not very much.

Materialwise, as a fan I wasn’t that amused with re-readings of old lines. They were hardly improved, and so could have been rewritten a bit more for the sake of interest. But there’s so much new Douglas Adams material presented that it really is a treat for a fan to see new brilliant ideas from the man.

Sadly, rather than this film being the start of a new branch of the Hitchhiker’s franchise, it seems it will be the end of the original franchise instead. There’s no way this did well enough to warrant a sequel, and there’s no way to retell it and relaunch it. This will historically be remembered as the LAST Hitchhiker’s material we got from Douglas, and an ending instead of a beginning. If you’re excited about a new series by a new author… the Babel fish you took out of your ear must have had a death-grip on your brain.

Commentary:
One of the commentaries by one of the producers and one of Douglas Adams’ colleagues, serves as basic Hitchhiker’s trivia, which while containing various new tidbits and behind the scenes info, will tend to be common knowledge for many fans.

The other commentary is just fun. Martin Freeman and Bill Nighy join the director and some other guy who I can’t identify, because it was rather dark, and also he was only a disembodied voice. They spend plenty of time talking about the other actors, who couldn’t be bothered to be there, and how they were insane and narcoleptic. This is a great catchall track with jokes, stories, trivia, and a nice general atmosphere of banter missing on too many staid commentaries.

Extras:
Very disappointed on this front. With a DVD designed like the guide, and including an improbability feature, you’d think this would be a collector’s dream. But you’d be dreaming. All you get is another short press-junkety EPK type “making of,” and a selection of predominantly unfinished deleted scenes. There’s also an annoyingly slow hangman game with very little variety. (A surprising amount of variety at three, maybe six words, but it’s slow to play audio clips between each guess, and with only four-letter words and no hints, can prove impossible, or at least improbable, to win.)

The cast and director commentary talks about quite a lot of alternate takes and deleted scenes, and one would have thought with all the improvisation, they could have included a hell of a lot more content on this disc. Or preferably, on another disc.

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