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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Posted by admin | Posted in Movies | Posted on 03-09-2010


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Climb aboard for wacky, irreverent fun with The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy on Blu-ray’s high definition disc. Based on Douglas Adams’ best-selling novel, this “fascinating, funny and relentlessly awe-inspiring” (UPN-TV) movie soars to cosmic heights in this stellar new format. Seconds before Earth is destroyed, mild-mannered Arthur Dent is whisked into space by a friendly alien in human form to search for answers to the mystery of life, the universe and … More >>

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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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.

Olly Buxton
Rating: 4 / 5

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.
Rating: 3 / 5

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.
Rating: 4 / 5

Do you know someone who absolutely can NOT tell a joke? They’re the person who, set up with the most perfectly hilarious joke in the world, will mangle it. Some people can “do comedy” and some people cannot. Douglas Adams certainly knew how to WRITE comedy, and all the written incarnations of “Hitchhiker’s” are among the most hilarious passages of the English language.

This film, based on that brilliant writing, is like one of the world’s greatest jokes, mucked up in the telling.

“Hitchhiker’s” is NOT about story, and it is most certainly not about a love story. It’s about attitude and a wry observation about how brainless much of the world is. This movie doesn’t match the spirit of Adams’ writing with two notable exceptions: Sam Rockwell “gets it” with his performance as 2-Headed, 3-armed President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox. Zaphod is the kind of character perpetually in search of his next great party. It seems that the primary benefit to being President of the Galaxy is giving him a great line to pick up girls. Bill Nighy also captures the right Adams spirit as Slartibartfast, a name you don’t want to say three times fast. I give one star each for Sam and Bill.

Much of the humor of the book(s) come from asides and lines that are rendered for the benefit of the audience. Hero Arthur Dent learns the same morning first that his house is being demolished so that a bypass can be built, then that the earth is being destroyed by a Vogon Constructor Fleet so that an inter-galactic bypass can also be constructed. His friend Ford Prefect (unknown to Arthur an alien from the planet Betelgeuse) hurries Arthur off to a pub and begins explaining about how the earth is about to be destroyed.

Chapter Two ends:

“This must be Thursday,” said Arthur musing to himself, sinking low over his beer, “I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”

In this film Arthur neither muses nor sinks and the cleverness of Adams fine and hilarious prose gets passed by quickly – as if the Mona Lisa were displayed beside the tracks of a speeding train, and the only glimpse you could get of it was as the train sped you past it.

Douglas Adams’ words have ALWAYS been the “star” of Hitchhikers. That and the attitude I mentioned before could have been transformed into a serviceable film. No doubt at the urging of some Hollywood type, a love story that doesn’t exist in any prior incarnation of the written word shows up in this movie and stops any momentum that might have been building dead in its tracks.

Marvin the Robot, one of the most memorable non-human characters in literary history, is given the voice of Alan Rickman, but the body of a walking trash can. Three decades after C3PO first appeared, it is inexcusable to botch Marvin the Paranoid Android.

This movie is hilarious and entertaining in a way that is not at all hilarious or entertaining.

*sigh* Now I don’t know whether to look forward to “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” or not.
Rating: 2 / 5

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.
Rating: 3 / 5

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