Monday, May 02, 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Review)

I saw this movie the other night.

I have always loved Douglas Adams' work. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was the first sci-fi book I ever read, and I found it to be entertaining and thought-provoking in a way quite unlike any other "hard" sci-fi story. Despite the clever social commentary, the philosophical ponderings and the wide emotional spectrum of scenes, everything in the Hitchhiker's universe seemed to be underpinned by a limitless sense of the absurb and the comical that ran with its own strange kind of logic.

I was quite curious to see whether Hollywood was going to bastardise this book like it had so many other great works previously, but knowing that Douglas Adams was involved in the creative process (at least, until he died) was a great reassurance. So how did it turn out?

To quote Arthur Dent: "Actually, I rather liked it".

The characters were great, except possibly for Ford Prefect who was "ok" but still seemed a little too clean-cut for the kind of roving hitchhiker-journalist that Adams portrayed him as. Zooey Deschanel was perfect as Trillian - very cute, but not some bombshell model type, strong-willed and intelligent. Martin Freeman was great as Arthur, who I think was always meant to be the archetypal 30-something nervous British guy. I thought Zaphod was also done very well, and John Malkovich was appropriately sinister as Humma Kavula.

What surprised me was how appropriate the Vogons were. I always had a bit of difficulty imagining what they might look like, but IMO it was a fitting representation of their blunt, bureacratic, but not quite "evil" mentality. This kind of leads into a discussion of the special effects, which were nothing short of spectacular. The "factory floor" of Magrathea was pretty jaw-dropping stuff, and the scenes with the supercomputer "Deep Thought" were pretty good too. The animated scenes from the "Guide" itself were also quite well done, fitting in nicely with Stephen Fry's narration of some of the quirkier moments of humour.

IMO the changes to the plot were acceptable, and the introduction of Humma Kavula as the religious nut who ran against Zaphod in the Presidential elections could open up some interesting possibilities for sequels. Dare I say that a nutcase religious fundamentalist as the arch-villian is somewhat appropriate these days?

But it wasn't all good. I thought the whole Trillian-Arthur love story angle was done with no subtlety at all and was a total departure from the trilogy in terms of their relationship. It also crossed my mind a couple of times that Mos Def was trying to be a little too like "The Cat" out of Red Dwarf rather than Ford Prefect.

All up though, I think it was a good adaption of the book and could have been handled a hell of a lot worse considering what Hollywood has done to other books in the past. No doubt a good portion of that was probably due to Adams' input during the making of the film and it will be interesting to see if any sequels can keep to at least an equal standard.

I'd rate it 7.5 out of 10.

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