A Minor Hitch

I am extremely full of popcorn. This is because I ate far too much of it while watching The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy film with H. We both expected to be disappointed by a limp, unfunny, dumbed down americanised version of the story. Instead, we both rather enjoyed it.

Every time Hitch Hiker is told in a new medium - radio drama, computer game, TV serial, book - it's content changes significantly. The film is likewise recognisably the same but different, in plot and mood.

It was always implicit in Hitch Hiker that the politics of other worlds are those of small town, petty minded beaurocracy, but writ large. Here the implication is fully explicit, with the Vogons depicted as mindless dusty beaurocrats obsessed with habit and procedure.

The vogon face slapping machine, on it's own, would be puerile slapstick. Here, being activated by original thought, it's a good metaphor for the stultifying human culture that the vogon's satirise.

Do you remember the film of Pink Floyd's The Wall? It featured animated creatures with enormous bulky bodies, piglike faces, and long thin arms. In what must be deliberate homage, these creatures are reincarnated as animatronic Vogons.

It's also a nice touch that the voices were done by The League Of Gentlemen - who of course have their own film coming soon.

Other parts of the film impress less. The love affair between Arthur and Trillian is useful as a plot device, but trite and shallow.

The portrayal of Slartibartfast by Bill Nye is far too apologetic and 'together'. The character is supposed to be a lovable but bumbling technical nerd, trying to appear wise and serene.

The politician played by John Malkovitch was slight, and his subplot pointless. It's as though this part of the film were a fragment of a different replotting of Hitch Hiker, that got let in by accident.

Martin Freedman's Arthur Dent is an small town american 'ordinary joe' who happens to have a brit accent. He has no real characterisation.

Helen Mirren as Deep Thought? No. Geraldine McEwen, maybe.

Sam Rockwell's Zaphod Beeblebrox was presumably a satire on Bush Jr's vapidity, with elements of Ronald Regan's 'cowboy' attitude. Unfortunately it had all the sublety and charm of Michael Moore.

The voice and lines of Marvin were, I thought, very effective. This isn't a clinically depressed robot, it's a world weary superhuman. But the rounded bulbous design of the robot's body didn't fit. And the way he would save the day was obvious minutes in advance.

Incidentally, the original body of Marvin - from the BBC serialisation - got a cameo role. Which was then repeated twice just in case we were too dumb to notice the first time. Simon Jones (Arthur dent from the radio and TV serials) got a welcome and unobtrusive cameo as the magrathean answering machine.

On the plus side, Stephen Fry was suitably untextbooklike and baffled as the voice of the book. He managed to avoid camping it up, and equally avoided impersonating Peter Jones (the original voice). The book animation was imaginative and I think it was a good idea to not make it look like a computer display.

Initially, I thought Mos Def, as a stylish black Ford Prefect, was a bizarre choice by some casting director who hadn't read the books. But it works - he is intriguingly alien.

The set design has the 'huge and grimy' look of Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Overblown, as is the current fashion in science fiction visuals, but effective.

So, overall. The plot is just as lumpy as in all versions of Hitch Hiker, being essentially a stream of set comic pieces, which have a more pythonlike feel than Adams' solo work. But I don't think this is a problem.

Lots of reservations, but after all of them, I'm glad I watched it. It's a footnote to the Hitch Hiker cannon, not part of it.

No comments:

Post a Comment