Sunday, May 01, 2005

Don't Panic

Yesterday, I went with Jane and a couple of her friends to see "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." There has, of course, been a great deal of hemming and hawing on the Internet over what was, was not, should have been, shouldn't have been, and might have been in the film. If you're interested in that, I point you to every other web review of the film on the Internet. I will discuss only the film I saw yesterday.

So, the Hitchhiker's story is essentially that of Arthur Dent, a beleagured nobody whose planet is destroyed. It could happen to anyone, really. And along the course of his bizarre adventures with such characters as Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox, and Marvin the Paranoid Android, he learns to loosen up a bit and accept the absurdity of the universe. The question of the movie is, therefore, how well does it tell this story?

The answer, of course, is 42. No, that's something else. The answer to this question is "well enough for me." It captures, not all the elements, but the general feel, of Adams' bizarre imagination quite well. Stuff is left out and stuff is added, of course, but it keeps the tone. So that part of it is well-done. My favorite absurdities include the "Yarn" scene, the long, long, looooooooong pan-out to show the Vogon fleet around Earth, and the opening musical number performed by dolphins, "So Long and Thanks For All The Fish." That last is brilliant, and alleviated any fears I might have had right then and there.

There are several "Guide" moments which take us out of the story and quickly provide some sort of exposition, which always ends up being useful later on. They're quick, entertaining, lifted pretty much verbatim from Adams' work, and infrequent enough that they don't grate. A special bow to voiceover man Stephen Fry for narrating these and other bits.

On to the cast. Arthur Dent is British, as he damn well should be. Martin Freeman, the actor in question, gives him the everyman quality that geeks like me love to see in our heroes. He also manages to break up Arthur's perpetual frustration and cowardice (always an important survival trait) by letting Arthur be taken away by the wonder of what he's seeing every so often. I particularly liked his visit to the showroom floor on Magrathea.

Of the supporting cast, Sam Rockwell nails Zaphod Beeblebrox, whom history has conspired to make just as relevant to politics today as he was in the 1980s. Mos Def's Ford Prefect doesn't do much, but what he does he does in a more or less Prefectian style. I didn't care much for Zooey Deschanel's Trillian; she blew nearly every line in the first half of the film, and it's telling that her best scene is one that requires her only to stand still and look sad. John Malkovitch gives an adequate performance in some mostly new material as Zaphod's old nemesis Humma Kavula.

The best member of the cast, of course, so great that he merits his own paragraph, is Alan Rickman as Marvin the Paranoid Android. His every line evokes both laughter and pity, as is appropriate for the character. Really, he's brilliant, and I don't know if voice-over work in a live-action film (it's Warwick Davis, who's really quite good-sported about this sort of thing, in the suit) is enough to qualify him for an award nomination, but he deserves something, dammit. My personal favorite line was, "I've got a million ideas, and they all end in certain death." Hasn't everyone felt like that at one point or another?

Effects-wise, it's a gorgeous film (except for the Vogons, who look pretty much as I imagined them, only with more of a fetish for leather gear than I ever suspected). I give top marks to the effects people, particularly the Hensonites who went hog-wild with the various species. I also like the brain machine.

So, overall, I was pleased. I won't see it again in theaters, but I will pick up the DVD (which I understand will have almost as many useful extra features as Arthur's state-of-the-art towel from book 4 of the trilogy).

Stay for the credits, as there's one of those little extra thingies directors like to put in.

1 comment:

Lena said...

I may have to see this- I've heard a similar review.