Thursday, May 05, 2005


I went to see Hitch-Hikers Guide on Wednesday. Quite enjoyed it, despite the rather-disappointed reviews I heard from other people. Maybe they went with too high expectations but I adjusted mine based on what they'd said and therefore went with the mind that any decent movie would be a step up. I'll try to avoid spoilers in this review but I may mention places from the story so if you want a completely fresh view of the movie, don't read past where I start getting into details (I'll let you know).

I was a big fan of the radio series and the books. I own all of the HHGG series plus the Dirk Gently books, "Last Chance to See" (humourous but serious account of a trip to look at our disappearing species) and even the "Meaning of Liff" alternative place-name meanings dictionary (best way I can describe it). I remember being sat glued to the radio many years ago as a teenager for one of the re-runs after having read the first book (was a present, I think). Brilliant humour, quite slapstick/silly at times and very enjoyable science-fiction.

The TV series was cult-viewing once I finally saw it, and although it wasn't a true classic there are some really impressive aspects like the 'guide' hand-drawn animation special effects that look very computer-generated. Just a pity about Trillian being such an unbelievable bimbo of a character. The movie version of her is a lot, lot, better. Sorry Sandra Dickinson, but you just weren't quite right for the TV part.

I wasn't keen on the introduction to the movie - it doesn't need nearly so much narrative and while Stephen Fry does a good job narrating the whole movie, in a voice not too far removed from the original series' style, it doesn't quite work. It's a bit too theatrical to launch straight into. Maybe "camp" is a better word. Either way you're not prepared for it and the rest of the movie is (luckily) a departure from it. Maybe the producer/screenwriters had an experiment, but it doesn't work well.

The first half of the movie is ok, but it gets a lot better as you get into the later scenes. Of course, knowing the story really well and all the differences between the book/radio/TV, I was thinking ahead as I watched it - wondering how they would do such-and-such, whether certain parts would be in or skipped, would they add anything to cover the narrative elsewhere etc. Sometimes I mentally cried out "noooo!" when they missed out a bit I really enjoyed from another version. Other times I was left surprised but strangely thinking "yes, this could work" when they put more in.

Ok, enough spoiler-free - beware some spoilers (not complete details though) from here on in.

For example, I wasn't expecting any kind of romance - none of the other adaptations have anything of this until much much later on - Arthur has a few thoughts to himself or there might be a little related background-historical narrative but that's it. Movies always tend to play the romance up for commercialism and more rounded characters/ a better emotional ride, so I should have expected something. I won't reveal between who although you can probably guess if you know the books particularly the later ones in the trilogy (of four... or is it five now?).

The parts that I'll remember, and remember laughing out loud for some time at, are in the latter half and are mainly visual gags when they're on Magrathea and with Slartibartfast.. This bit also has the best special effects by far and without a doubt makes it pretty believable. I feel this was a massive benefit of doing the movie now rather than 10 or 20 years ago as the computer graphics enhancement really helped add amazement and awe to the scale of things. There were some scenes here I just found hard to imagine when I read the books. I know of the expression "radio has better pictures" and the same can be said of books, but here's one area where the movie does it really well and doesn't make you regret having a visual image to refer to at all. If I read the book again I'll be picturing the movie at these points, and I won't be regretting it.

Zaphod Beeblebrox's tacky plastic head was one of the tackiest effects from the TV series, and of course the movie-budget allowed for a complete remake of this and proper effects to make it look as real as possible. I thought they'd given up on 2 heads when I first saw him, or that maybe it would come in later on in the story. It'll probably scare you a little and definitely surprise you for how they did it.

Trillian, as I said, although not an amazing part or played beyond reproach, is sooo much better a character in the movie that I really wish she'd been more like that in the TV series. You can believe in her as this really intelligent, slightly mad geeky girl who is more than happy to be whisked away by the over-confident Zaphod (and happy to believe he's from another planet), but yearns for someone who 'gets' her rather than treats her like his model bit-on-the-side who can run his ship for him and look after his life.

Martin Freeman is a good Arthur Dent. I missed Simon Jones when I first started watching it but that was because I associated him with the part so strongly - he did the TV series Arthur as well as the radio show version of him. Once I'd got used to Martin as Arthur, I think he played the part fairly well. He didn't quite make the character his own strongly enough for me to be impressed, but he did a decent job of it. Simon Jones was quite a moany Arthur, but he was good at it. Martin is quite relaxed and chilled by comparison, but he lets things drift by and happen to him more than he takes an active part in events.

Mos Def as Ford Prefect was a total surprise. I'd barely seen him in any promotional material and I hadn't been examining the cast lists. Has he been in any/much else? I don't know. A black Ford Prefect? Ok. I can get used to that. Sorry, not much more to say on him.

There still isn't enough comedy in the movie to be true to Douglas Adams style. Granted, a lot of his humour in the other versions relies on your imagination creating wacky images that just doesn't work in a hollywood-style movie (where imagination workload = almost nil). But they did a good job with the bits they did put in, there just needed to be more, and better spread throughout the movie not concentrated towards the end.

If I start writing much more I'll get too analytical, so I'm just going to conclude with it being a worthwhile watch and good fun, but hoping for improvements for the next one. Oh yep, they just did the first book so far...