Tuesday, May 24, 2005


So you're looking for a film to see this weekend? A film with humor and science fiction? A film based on characters and stories that have been around for over 20 years?

(and no, I'm not talking about Star Wars III; Revenge of the Sith , though I did talk about that particular film here.)

No, I'm talking about the feature film adaptation of the first of Douglas Adams' trilogy of books (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy,
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe,Life, the Universe, and Everything and So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish) This very popular series had been adapted for radio and TV by the BBC already, but this is the first big budget screen attempt.

First, for those of you who've never read the books or have seen the earlier adaptions, here's a quick synopsis:

Arthur Dent, your typical downtrodden every-man, is rushed off Earth by his friend (and alien hitchhiker) Ford Prefect, just before the planet is demolished. To make way for a hyperspace bypass.
And from there, it only gets worse for Arthur.
He's smacked, whacked, insulted, shot at, sickened, rescued, thrown into space and reunited with the woman he loves.

I read Adams' books years ago when they came out and enjoyed them very much. But then again, I really like British humor and satire and these books are FILLED it. Adapting a series of books like these are quite a task. What comes across as funny on the written page, allowing the reader to formulate the look of the aliens in their imagination, are often lost when transferred to the silver screen.

Fortuantely here, it works.

First the casting. The choice of Martin Freeman (Tim, from the excellent BBC show The Office) as Arthur Dent was perfect. Freeman has that look, of a befuddled man (dressed in his robe and clutching his ever ready towel) thrust into this space saga, searching for the ultimate question while attempting to impress the woman he loves.
We, the viewer, can relate to Freeman's Dent, as well as we did while reading him in the original books.

The rest, Zooey Deschanel as Trillian (Arthur's love), Mos Def as hitchhiker Ford Prefect and Sam Rockwell as the flamboyant Zaphod Beeblebrox (nice job done here showing his two heads) are well cast. I especially enjoyed the added voices and voice overs by such British luminaries like Helen Mirren, Stephen Fry and Alan Rickman.

As for the film itself..... director Garth Jennings performs the near impossible here. He' s able to take this story which is crammed with visuals and characters and make it work. Yes, there' s a lot in the book that didn't make it on the screen (though the screenplay is credited to Karey Kirkpatrick as well as the late Douglas Adams, anytime the original creator/author is involved with an adaption of their work, you really can't bitch about cut scenes) and while the bulk of the visual effects are great, I'm not a big fan of the Hensen renditions of the alien Vogens. A Hensen creation always just looks like a big muppet, no matter how much they try to hide it.

The movie, much like the book, are filled with layers of satire and subtext. This is great for diehard fans who've not only read all the books but have watched or listened to other adaptions of this book as they've sprinkled in little nods to many of the other Hitchhiker treatments. The drawback here, I fear, are for audiences' who have no knowledge of the original work. They'll miss a lot of the small bits that would enhance their viewing.

Though perhaps the biggest stumbling block for this film is that the foundation work comes across as somewhat dated. What was hilarious and topical when Adams first put pen to paper back in the 70's may not have as much of an impact here in 2005.

BUT (and this is a big but,....unlike a Baboon butt...which is red)

This is a good, fun film. (and having reread the book, it too is still a good read)

Really, if you're a fan of science fiction laced with barbed wit and intellegent satire and a fan of Pythonesque, British humor, by all means see this picture.

Just don't expect a light sabre duel
(though you will see several talking dolphins......)

I give this film a "decent cup of tea":

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