Garth Jennings’ ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ (2005)

02May05

I saw this film more out of curiosity than any expectation of quality. I didn’t expect it to be great by any means, but I never expected it to be that bad. When the first five minutes of the film were composed of a dolphin montage and a very silly, unamusing musical number, I should have known where the film was heading and left the theater.

The film’s offenses:

  1. Poor realization of characters. I like Mos Def quite a bit and while he was very funny as Ford Prefect, he just wasn’t Ford Prefect. He ran about like a confused simpleton too much; he was too silly. During their journey, Ford is supposed to be the stolid one, accustomed to hitchhiking in space, while Arthur is supposed to panic to overly dramatic and ridiculous extents. And Sam Rockwell as Zaphod? I don’t even know where to begin. A character who is a cool, somewhat sinister mastermind in the book became a weird, annoying, southern, obnoxious dual personality. And Slartibardfast should have been more irritable.
  2. Obligatory love story between Arthur and Trillian. Hitchhiker’s is such an extraordinary book—why would the screenwriters want to muck it up with something as banal and trite as an underdeveloped romance?
  3. Cheesy special effects. Yes, some of the effects were extraordinary, but others were downright embarrassing for a film with Hitchhiker’s budget.
  4. Tedium. I was bored. BORED. I think that I read the book in one, at most two sittings, but the movie bored me. Usually when screenwriters change the plot of a book, they are trying to generate more momentum for the film, not bring it to a screeching halt for fifteen minutes at a time. All of the changes, for the most part, resulted in unfunny, insipid, poorly-paced lulls.

The film’s assets:

  1. The book. The animated segments of entries in The Hitchhiker’s Guide were the best parts of the film. In these moments, Douglas Adams’ voice was fully realized within the movie, thanks to….
  2. Superb voice work. While the live-action actors couldn’t seem to become comfortable with their characters, the voice actors—Stephen Fry, Alan Rickman, and Helen Mirren specifically—were marvelous. Of particular note is Stephen Fry’s narration.
  3. Jim Henson’s puppet shop. The Vogons and Marvin were very nicely realized and were one of the least disappointing aspects of this screen translation.

I think that Hollywood needs to admit that Douglas Adams’ novels cannot be realized within a film context. The books’ inherent charm is the narration, and its absurd, philosophical meanderings can never be captured visually. I have heard a radio interpretation of the book that I enjoyed quite a bit, but both this movie and the mini-series were terrible disappointments. Granted the script was not very good, but what studio would trust such a film to a director like Garth Jennings whose only previous experience was directing music videos?

Oh, and as a vegetarian, I have to say that I disliked the unnecessary brutalization of animated crabs in this film.

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