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Better get used to
this facial expression ...
Guide to the Galaxy
(Hollywood remake or sequel, or film based on a comic book, book, play or video game # 21, since January 1st, 2005. Click for full list of Hollywood's lack of original ideas.)
Review written by: Alex Sandell
Have you heard the one ...
Have you heard the one about the popular radio show that could never be properly adapted into a film? After the show became a television series and later a best-selling book, they turned it into a movie. Okay, that punch line wasn't very funny, but neither is the big-budget Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy feature film, so let's call it even. I never listened to the radio show, watched the television series or read the book(note: by the end of this review I will have read the first novel in the Hitchhiker series), and I still found myself becoming upset over the big-screen version messing things up. Sort of a "sympathy disappointment" for all the poor blokes so stoked to see this film they came to the screening wearing their bathrobes and proudly carrying their towels. Nothing as slow-moving and repetitive as what was projected onto the screen Tuesday night could garner up the following that Douglas Adams' books did, much less inspire people to come to the screening dressed like senior citizens! Oh, and my brother -- a crazed fan of the novels -- said, "now you should go home and read the book. It's actually good." "Snarky," I replied, "but what are the differences?" My brother didn't have an answer, but he did give me a dirty look before mumbling something about everything that worked in the book not working in the film. Then he bowed his head and wept.
It's the story ...
Of a man named Arthur (Martin Freeman -- who immediately had one half of the theater turning toward the other half to ask, "isn't that the guy from The Office?"), whose house is about to be demolished and replaced by a bypass, only to find out that his planet (Earth) is about to demolished by these Vogon alien fellows, to make way for a hyperspatial express route. Luckily, Arthur's friend turns out to be an alien named Ford Prefect (Mos Def), who has the ability to hitch a ride onto one of the Vogon ships and escape earth just before she blows. The two end up getting booted off the Vogon vessel after a poetry reading and are picked up by a stolen ship captained by Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), President of the galaxy. In an odd twist of fate, Arthur discovers that Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), the girl he fell in love with at a party on his home planet when she was still known as Tricia, is now inhabiting the ship and dating the egocentric, two-faced (literally) Zaphod. The gang is in pursuit of the ultimate question, which they hope will give them more insight into the meaning of life than the number 42 did (you'll have to see it for yourself). The whole while they are accompanied by Marvin, a chronically depressed robot (played by Warwick Davis -- "Wicket" the Ewok from Return of the Jedi) and pursued by Vice President Questular Rontok (Anna Chancellor) and a gang of Vogon Bureaucrats (are there any other kind?). Sounds fun, don't it?
Why I didn't know the story until watching the film ...
As many of you are already aware, I'm a quirky sort of fellow with a taste for the absurd. The reason I didn't read the book is because everyone ("everyone" meaning, "a good number of people") told me that it was very similar in nature to my first novel. Logically, I didn't want to be accused of ripping off someone else's work, so I avoided The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy like the plague. Watching the movie I could see all these outlandish ideas spilling out of the screen. This was definitely the kind of story I would come up with, if I wanted to leave web publishing behind for the typical "fame and fortune" bit. But this film isn't how I would tell the story. And even though he wrote much of the screenplay, I don't think it's the movie Douglas Adams would have created. The director (Garth Jennings) gets enough right to let the audience know he got most of it wrong. You don't need to be a rabid follower of the source material to know that the movie messes much of it up.
What did the film get right?
The first 20 minutes, in its entirety (although the dolphin song was a bit excessive). It's humorous, whimsical and a treat for the eyes. I'm guessing the early moments of this film resemble the book that so many fell in love with. After that, things take a terrible turn for the worse. The best parts of the movie are the readings and accompanying visuals from the actual Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The book sold better than the Encyclopedia Galactica, we're told, because it was slightly cheaper and had the words "Don't Panic" printed on its cover. You select a topic or specie and a narrator calmly describes it to you, with visual aids. The movie relies on the book for laughs, and the book rarely fails it. Sadly, after the first 20 or 30 minutes, the only laughs the movie gets come from the book (and a rather comical scene with a whale and a pot of flowers). With a director seemingly incapable of moving past the eye-candy and building any tension or sense of excitement, the movie itself starts to lag. The last big kick the audience seemed to get was Marvin the Robot -- and it doesn't take long before the filmmakers are using his sullen ramblings as a comedic crutch. The movie tries to keep our interest with varying oddities, but fails more often than it succeeds. The action becomes too slapstick for its own good and the film starts to seem as though it is only adding new characters and scenes to try and perpetually "outweird" itself. By the time we get to a church of people that think the universe was sneezed out, and whose leader, played by John Malkovich, asks them to pray for tissue to cleanse them (or something along those lines), the movie's working so hard to be ridiculous, it stops being fun. The film turns into a series of bad Monty Python skits spliced with the increasingly tedious pursuit of President Beeblebrox by the Vogons.
Speaking of President Beeblebrox, what in hell's name was Sam Rockwell thinking?
I usually like this guy as an actor, but he stinks to high heaven in this movie. His performance is not so much "over-the-top" as it a "pain-in-the-ass." He's dressed like some loser from a 1980's hair-metal band and his entire idea of acting is to talk in a manic fashion and never remove this obnoxious shit-eating grin from his face (see photo at the top of this page). The performance is painful to watch. Not Mike Myers in The Cat in the Hat painful, but it verges on that sort of Halle Berry as Catwoman kind of a hurt (maybe I'm just not a cat person). Upon perusing various fan forums after seeing the film, I discovered that the biggest fear Hitchhiker followers have is Mos Def as Ford Prefect. Don't Panic! Mos Def brings a lot of life to the role.
How do the other actors do?
Did this film have the most amazingly out-of-place product placement ever?
It's odd that you ask. Actually, this film did have the most amazingly out-of-place product placement ever. For some reason we see a cell phone fly at the screen and as it gets closer you can clearly read the word, "Nokia."
You mainly brought up things you didn't like in the "what did the film get right?" section of this review. Can you say something else nice about the movie?
Many of the alien effects were done through puppetry and makeup, rather than CG. The robot was a midget in a suit, not CG. Midgets in suits and actors in rubbery alien suits make me yearn for my youth (maybe that's what's wrong with me). Computer Generated Images don't.
Is there any way they could have gotten this right?
Yes. Get Dean Parisot behind the camera. Parisot got the sci-fi comedy right, without stumbling over himself in the action scenes, in 1999's Galaxy Quest. I sincerely think he could have taken this mediocre movie and turned it into something great.
What time is it, your time, as you type this review?
3:00 AM, exactly.
Now I'm going to go let my dog outside and then proceed to read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy from cover to cover, come back and write the end of this review, where I will answer the question every Hitchhiker fan is asking ...
How does the film compare to the book?
Ask again in seven and a half million years.
Agree? Disagree? Have questions? Comments? Email this critic at firstname.lastname@example.org
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