on April 29, 2005
There's a simple reason this movie has taken so long to make, and it's this: while Douglas Adams' classic The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a hilarious book, it's a rubbish novel.
I mean that in the nicest possible way - it's one of my favourite books, but it's barely a story at all - more a set of dead-eye, deadpan observations on the absurdity of life, and particularly the British way of life, revolving very loosely around a chap in a dressing-gown. While that's great fodder for a comedy read, it's no basis for a coherent, 90 minute motion picture, especially one having the American market in mind.
It's a matter of record that Douglas Adams realised there was no story, but not until it was too late to fix it (about halfway through book two). From that point onwards made several attempts to pull everything back into a single coherent, archetypal story but totally failed, and in the process ruined the remaining three and a half books themselves, none of which are funny, let alone a good story.
A film-maker has a choice, therefore: stick with the material and film something which is not so much a screenplay as an extended, themed version of Saturday Night Live, or do some significant damage to the source material - "zap straight off to its major data banks and reprogram it with a very large axe", if you will - and make a story out of it.
The first option will in equal measure thrill and infuriate the party faithful, but bore the rest of the population; the second will most likely infuriate the party faithful, but at least has a chance with everyone else. Since the Hitch-Hiker's Guide is now twenty years old, there is probably a whole generation who, so far in their lives, have missed it altogether, so you can hardly blame director Garth Jennings for choosing option two.
What instead we should do is take our hats off to him: he's fashioned a great story but preserved surprising amounts of the source; his innovations are sympathetic and in a couple of cases (the point-of-view gun and the face-slapping devices on the Vogsphere) are a match for the original material; the wonderful production design thoroughly captures the loveable Britishness of Adams' story (the Vogons hover somewhere between the schoolmasters of `70s Pink Floyd and the sort of bureaucrats whom you might find behind the desks of some Ministry of Monty Python's devising), and on top of all that he's coaxed some wonderful performances out of the cast. Martin Freeman captures Arthur Dent's everyman perfectly and has real chemistry with Zooey Deschanel's Trillian; John Malkovich, Bill Nighy, Bill Bailey and both the original Arthur Dent and Marvin from the BBC TV series make hilarious cameos, as does the smiling face of the late creator himself, Douglas Adams, as the very last shot of the movie. That was a splendid touch.
The less forgiving purists are bound to gripe about what's missing; but on the whole I'm the more forgiving sort of purist. Perhaps there is something sinister in the conspicuous omission the Babel Fish "proof" for the non-existence of God - was that a Disney-required edit or just my perfectly normal paranoia? - and I was a bit sad my favourite exchange in all of Douglas Adams' writing was omitted (Arthur: "It's at times like this, when I'm trapped in a Vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, and about to die from asphyxiation in deep space that I really wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was young." Ford: "Why? What did she say?" Arthur: "I don't know, I didn't listen"), but overall this was an extremely enjoyable, touching experience and I can't think of a better way to have rounded off an otherwise trying Thursday.
Thursdays. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
on August 2, 2007
Having owned the first release of this movie on DVD, when I heard it was coming out on Blu-Ray I had to pick it up; after all, this was the movie that convinced me to pick up Douglas Adams' spectacular written novels (from Hitchhiker's to Dirk Gently) and give them a read. While watching the movie in 1080i was a pleasure, I was rather disappointed to find that many of the special features found on the original disc - including the absolutely brilliant interface with the interactive improbability drive that occasionally took you to an Easter Egg - were stripped out of the Blu-Ray disc. I could have even dealt with the loss of the interface in exchange for the movie showcase menu that allows you to access features, select scenes, and access the setup while the movie is playing, if only they had provided all the content on the original DVD. I've experienced this now on a couple of Blu-Ray discs and I find it quite upsetting (officially entering rant territory), that despite the capacity for Blu-Ray discs to hold 80% more data than a DVD, and 40% more data than a HD disc, that companies are skimping on features and selling the discs at an inflated price. While Blu-Ray may be the superior format, it's not going to gain in market standing by the release of inferior products.
on September 12, 2005
Thankfully, the film remains quite faithful to the spirit of Adams' book. For example, all of the Guide entries are taken verbatim from it. The massive budget results in a great looking movie that properly captures the scope and scale of the story. There is extensive use of CGI to recreate intergalactic space travel and the planet showroom inside of Magrathea (some of the film's most arresting visuals), but this is mixed with old school, reliable rubber costumes for creatures like the Vogons that gives them a texture that you just can't get with computers. This movie is light years ahead of the clunky BBC version which resembled a bad-looking episode of Dr. Who.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy may not have done well in North America because it lacked recognizable A-list movie stars (but then again, neither did the original Star Wars) with decidedly British sense of humour. Sadly, it failed to connect on a mass audience level despite a significant marketing push. Regardless, it is still an entertaining, big, splashy science fiction movie that manages to preserve the wit of Adams' book. So long now and thanks for all the fish.
"Making of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" is a fairly standard making of featurette. Not surprisingly, director Garth Jennings said that the key to this movie was in the casting. So, he gathered an eclectic group of actors.
Also included is an "Additional Guide Entry" which faithfully recreates the gag from the book about man proving that God doesn't exist but then it fails to include the book's punchline in which man goes on to prove that black is white and gets killed at the next zebra crossing.
There are three deleted scenes that amount to merely extra little bits that include Ford's update entry for Earth as "Mostly harmless."
There are also two "Really Deleted Scenes" that are basically goofy outtakes of the cast hamming it up.
"Sing Along `So Long and Thanks for All the Fish" allows you to sing with the film's catchy Monty Python-esque theme song cum show tune karoake-style.
There is an audio commentary by Jennings, producer Nick Goldsmith and actors Martin Freeman and Bill Nighy. It's a fun, relaxed track as everyone enjoys themselves watching the movie.
Fans of the book will enjoy the additional commentary track with executive producer Robbie Stamp and Douglas Adams colleague Sean Solle. They talk about the movie in relation to Adams' original vision and also speak at length about the differences between the film, the video game, the radio play and the book, justifying the reasons for certain changes. Best of all, Stamp points out the little details that are buried throughout the film in this excellent track.
There is "Marvin's Hangman," that allows you to play a variation of the hangman word game but with Marvin's robot parts.
The extras included on the DVD are done in the style and tone of the movie, including a clever feature known as the "Improbability Drive" that will take you to a completely random moment in one of the extras.
on December 12, 2014
In looking at a few of the negative reviews, it strikes me that they all mention the "original" book, and how this movie diverges from it. What is apparently overlooked in that argument is that the book is NOT the original! The Hitchhiker's series started as a BBC radio show written by Douglas Adams. This movie, while unique in its own way, adheres more closely to the original radio show than to the book, even in details such as Marvin's voice. HHGTTG has always been an evolving product, going from radio show to book to TV show to movie, and at each stage Douglas Adams introduced changes, some quite radical. He never just left it alone. Adams was also quite involved in the screenwriting for the 2005 film, and originated new ideas such as the face slappers on Vogsphere that indirectly explain why Vogons are such unimaginative, bureaucratic creatures. It is therefore quite unfair to discount this movie as somehow not faithful to the "original", because Adams was entirely unfaithful to it himself. He unfortunately left us before he could see the finished product, but this movie is a worthy addition to the Hitchhiker's collection.
on October 2, 2005
I have loved this story ever since the radio show (which came before the books!) was brought to American airwaves courtesy of NPR Playhouse. I love the books as well and have a special place in my heart for the British TV show. I know the lines backward and forward, inside and out, and the one thought that kept popping up in my mind as I watched this new film was "Where are the punchlines?" Anyone familiar with the now-classic jokes will hear the characters setting up for a punch line--and then stopping before the gag is delivered! As previous reviewers pointed out, the story does not translate well into a concise storyline for film, and so the filmmakers tried to trim down the dialogue and concentrate more on plot. But the one thing that made this story a success to begin with was the hilarious diaolgue exchanged between characters under bizarre circumstances (and these funny lines survived through all previous incarnations: radio, books, & TV, until now). Plot, what there was of it, came second,and could be abandoned anytime Adams came up with a funny new direction to take the characters in. Since they were more interested in making a wacky space film instead of a truly hilarious one, they should have left out what original dialogue they kept (since it doesn't go anywhere here) and written entirely new dialogue that advances the plot more coherently. The new bits made up for this film were clever enough, and I believe even die-hard fans of the franchise will find something to enjoy. I think I liked it more this second time around on DVD than when I first saw it in the theaters. There were even things that I applaud them for. Take the cast for instance. Some actor choices were absolutely inspired, while others were horribly wrong. Mos Def, mumbling his lines in an attempt at an alien accent with no comedic timing whatsoever, ruined my favorite character for me, Ford Prefect. I was never crazy about the actor from the TV show, preferring the original radio performer, but now I think he's a comic genius compared to this film's actor. There will never be an Arthur Dent as good as the first, who played him in both radio and TV versions in such a way that he could never be replaced. (In fact, I recall hearing that the role was written with him in mind.) Having said that, I am glad that this new Arthur is nothing like the old one. In this case, any attempt at recreating the original would be an impersonation and not a performance, so it wise that they got someone entirely different for the film to make the role his own. I had thought Alan Rickman would be perfect as the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android, but his line readings were so pale compared to the original voice that I wasn't impressed. Now for the great choices: Zooey made a fantastic, adorable Trillian, taking a character that really wasn't originally a big part of the story (she was always off with Zaphod somewhere and hardly with Arthur at all) and making her into an absolutely necessary part of it all (a wise choice on the filmmakers' part; I think a lot of fans always wanted her and Arthur to get together). Zaphod fanatics (I knew some in H.S. but never was one myself) might be disappointed with the new performer due to their love of the character as brought to life by the same actor in both radio and TV versions, but I never thought much of his line deliveries or his take on the character and found this new Zaphod to be fantastic. And Slartibartfast (yep, I spelled that without having to check the book!) never came to life as he did in this film with Bill Nighy in the role. So, considering the near-perfect casting, this film should have been much better, if only they trimmed out the unnecessary dialogue that leads to jokes that aren't delivered, or...turned this into a miniseries where they could add back all the missing punchlines. Or recast the role of Ford Prefect!
on May 10, 2005
Englishman Arthur Dent wakes up one morning to find his house is scheduled for immediate demolition to make way for an express bypass. This is small potatoes, however, as a short while later he is saved from the destruction of the entire planet by his best friend, who reveals that he is actually an alien from another star system. A short while later than that, they find themselves roaming the universe with an incompetent galactic president, a depressed robot, and a woman Arthur once tried to pick up at a party. There is a kidnapping subplot, a romance, and... oh, look, it's not really important. It's just dressing for an uproarious satire of the human condition...which is completely glossed over, rushed through and lost in this lifeless adaptation.
For one example, there's a bit in the novel where Arthur describes the ludicrously convoluted and injurious process he had to go through to see the plans for the bypass that were supposedly "on display." In the film, he simply says, "In a cellar!"
All the lines that were kept intact were delivered far better in the 1981 television miniseries. Likewise the animated Guide sequences, which are pathetically uninspired here. The cast, which sounded great on paper, simply can't carry the material. This new version is absolutely dismal in comparison, in every way.
I don't think viewers new to the story will have a better experience. The storytelling is so poorly executed that it will probably go over their heads completely.
I was amazed by this film -- amazed that one of the funniest books ever written could be transformed into such an unfunny, dull motion picture. Nobody in the theatre laughed. My mom fell asleep. It's true, my mom falls asleep during most movies but I don't, and I came close. Skip this and rent the BBC TV adaptation, which is completely hilarious, not to mention coherent.
on September 21, 2012
Douglas Adams created this story in the 1970's when he was in Austria and too drunk to understand people. Mostly because he didn't speak German, but also because he was s*@% faced. Dude wrote episodes of Doctor Who, was on Monty Python, and shredded with Pink Floyd. In short, Douglas Adams was a bad ass. This movie reflects that. He adapted his own book to the screen which are usually the best kinds of adaptions done from book to film if film makers are ever smart enough to get an author to adapt his own work. Starring Martin Freeman (Sherlock, the Hobbit) as well as Sam Rockwell (Moon, Ironman 2) and Zooey Deschanel (500 days of summer). This movie has great narration by Stephen Fry and is funny at the right moments, awkward at the right moments and totally British Sci-Fi at the right moments. This movie looks really good on Blu-Ray and has some pretty decent special features. If you haven't seen it or don't own it on Blu-Ray yet, you should. It's well worth the price.
on November 30, 2014
One big spoiler at the end. I'll warn you right before.
Before his untimely death, Douglas Adams managed to personally create, often with collaborators, many, many, many versions of the hilarious Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It was originally a radio serial, then it became a series of books, a television show, a video game, and also a screenplay. He was engaged for a long time with movie executives trying to get a movie made, but sadly it had to wait until after his death.
Every version was quite different from every other. Unlike, say, Star Trek, none can really be considered "canon." Each is equally as legitimate as the others, and all have many strengths.
The special effects here are awesome, and we get to visit parts of the Hitchhiker's universe which have only been alluded to before. The cast is amazing. My favorite was Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast—but, and this is my only gripe with the movie, they left out the best line. (HERE COMES THE SPOILER!)
They included the fact that he won an award for designing the coastlines of Norway. But he never says here that on the backup earth he was assigned the coastlines of Norway. In almost every other version he says, "Of course I did it with all fjords again. They said it wasn't equatorial enough. (scoffs) Equatorial."
on September 4, 2014
I'm a Douglas Adams fan from way, way back: read all the books in the Hitchhiker's series as well as everything else he wrote, watched the TV show, listened to the radio program. I love the Hitchhiker's Guide best, read it in high school and I am such a nerdy gal that I had to get me a towel, which I carried in my backpack all times (but then, I also carried a Tribble key ring and a Dr. Who - Tom Baker scarf that I knitted myself ... ). So, let's take it as read that I couldn't wait to see the movie. I was excited when I heard it was in the works, read the updates and production notes, and actually went to the theatre, in a snowstorm in upstate New York, the night it opened. I watch it on video whenever I can, and I've gotten my kids hooked on it, they think it's really funny, too.
Highlights: Sam Rockwell was absolutely over the top as Zaphod Veeblebrox, Mos Def as Ford Prefect was just crazy enough to telegraph alien, as in 'not from around here', and Alan Rickman as Marvin the Paranoid Android was SOOO pained and put out ... I felt the movie was more like how I imagined the characters and their interactions when I read the books; but then, the budget for the movie was much better, so that Mr. Adams could do things the way he wanted. I didn't care for Zoey Deschanel as Trillian, but she always comes across to me like someone stoned out of her head, even when she's excited.
I know there are lot of people out there who didn't care for the movie because the story wasn't exactly like the television program (also have heard it described as dumb, disjointed, confusing), but they don't know the history of how the story was revised and rewritten over the years to change the emphasis, that it was all meant to (in whatever version you may have first experienced it) point out some of the more absurd, small everyday things in British life (like the die-hard daytripper - Ford - for example) or maybe it's a simple as, they don't get British humor. It can be an acquired taste, after all.
In any case, Doug Adams didn't intend for the movie to be just like the book or the TV show, or the radio programs, rather, he wanted the viewer to see the same story from a different viewpoint than the last retellng. He developed the movie concept and wrote the script himself, before he died, and interviews he gave, he stated that he wanted to focus on parts of the story he felt were glossed over or left out in the radio and tv versions, details that were important to him and to many of the long-time fans. He also stated that he especially did not want to cover well-worn ground. I'd say he did a good job on that score.
on August 24, 2005
Once again Hollywood follows the trend of rushing out the DVD of a summer movie, only to release a "deluxe" edition right before Christmas. I can't tell you how excited I was to buy this movie until I heard that the UK is getting a deluxe 2-disc version (which looks like a copy of the Guide itself), and the US will have to wait another 3 months. Keep in mind, I LOVE this movie, it just breaks my heart that such a great movie is getting such a shoddy release. Not everyone will care.. some people just want the movie and don't care about extras, but some of us do. It's become routine that a movie comes out early summer, is released sometime in September, and released again (only better) in late November. They've done it with Hellboy, they're doing it with Sin City, and now they're doing it with this. I urge you to wait for the special edition so maybe Hollywood will stop trying to make us buy the same movie twice.