Sunday, May 8, 2005

Looking To The Stars: The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy Movie

I had the opportunity to see The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy this past week and it was, in a word, disappointing. I found it to be neither a bad film nor a good one. It was just… there.

It is worth mentioning, at this point, that I have been a fan of Douglas Adams’s works since the age of 12. I picked up his first book, out of all the ones in the science-fiction section, for two very good reasons. First, it was the first book at the start of the section alphabetically and that seemed as good a place as any for me to start my education into all things science-fiction past Star Wars. The second reason was that it had some blurb about Monty-Pythonesque humor on the back cover and I was at an age where anything relating to Monty Python was new, brilliant and very hard to get a hold of.

I actually should hesitate to mention this, however, as the minute you say you’re a Douglas Adams fan with anything negative to say about the movie, you get one of four basic responses from people who, for some reason, cannot grasp the idea of the movie being anything less than perfect.

  1. You know, Douglas Adams DID work on the script.
  2. The romantic subplot was all HIS idea.
  3. They have to change SOME things for the movies, you know.
  4. It’s not like science-fiction comedies are ever good, anyway.

To which I respond thusly.

  1. He started it, but he didn’t finish it. And it seems like they wrote around his new ideas rather than blend them into the narrative.
  2. You’re assuming I had a problem with the romance. You’re also assuming that just because Adams was a good writer, he was incapable of bad ideas.
  3. Yes, but there’s little point in changing some things only to leave related things un-touched in a way that doesn’t make sense.
  4. So Ghostbusters and Spaceballs never existed in your universe?

In all honesty, my opinion of the movie was best summed up in a recent Dork Tower. This strip brings up the odd paradox of the film. That is to say, the film is chock full of sight-gags for the fans of the original series, but so much has been removed in crafting the film that these sight gags make little sense with the context provided within the book removed.

To give one example, there is a full 30 second bit on the Vogon ship where we get to see a small tank filled with crabs with sparkly shells. One of the crabs is pulled out, and we see a Vogon trying to smash it with a hammer.

What is the point of this scene? There isn’t one. Unless you read the books and remember the odd bit of trivia that the only other creature who evolved on the Vogon’s home planet was a breed of beautiful crab that lived only to sing and be happy and how the Vogons take great delight in smashing the things for no reason.

What was originally meant to be both an ecology message (Adams, an avid environmentalist, was quite vocal in saying that the Vogons symbolized the worst aspects of humanity) as well as a demonstration of the vileness of a race is reduced to a sight-gag that does nothing but amuse the die-hard fans. Which might have been alright had the movie bothered to put any of the jokes into context.

Another case in point; early on in the film, we see a frantic Ford Prefect running around with a shopping-cart full of beer and peanuts. This proves useful in distracting a group of workman, but no reason is ever given in the movie as to why he would be pushing such a thing around. Why? The movie skips over the conversation from the radio show and book where Ford explains that teleportation through a matter transference beam and travel through hyper-space rob the body of salt, but that eating some peanuts and being drunk at the time do help fight the symptoms. Ford also searches the ruins of Arthur’s house for a towel and he is seen repeatedly wielding a towel as a weapon. While any Adams fan worth his salt knows of the importance of towels in the mythology of the series, they never bother to explain this in the movie nor to repeat the infamous Guide entry about why it is vitally important a hitch-hiker always know where his towel is.

That is why so many of the die-hard fans like me are upset. We weep not for the changes that were made, but for what was left in that no-longer makes sense. And what, the more we try to explain, makes us sound like know-it all geeks who spend half our lives in a fantasy world. Which is very much true, but we don’t like to be reminded of that fact.

Call the film a solid 5 out of 10. Not bad. But not good either.

At least one bit of good may come out of the film though. As I left the theater, I overheard a young boy, about 11 or 12, asking mom if they could stop by the mall bookstore and try and find the book the movie was based on. I helpfully told them where to look. Start of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section. Can’t miss it.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

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