As I said in my Two Towers review, assessing films I’ve been eagerly anticipating since I was ten years old, such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, can be tough going after only one viewing. And I expect I’ll be popping back into the HHGTTG-verse sometime in the next few days to see how it hangs together after a second go-round. But, for now, I’ll say that I enjoyed much of the Guide…with some reservations. If anything, the experience reminded me of the first X-Men — everybody looks and acts right, and there are several really great moments, but I also wish Hitchhiker’s had spent more time letting the characters be themselves and less time trying to shoe-horn Hollywood-style plot devices into the narrative. (Spoilers to follow)
First, the good, and there’s a lot of good here. I have a feeling people who haven’t read the books are going to be completely lost in very short order, but I kinda liked how quickly the movie got off Earth, without lingering on all the Mr. Prosser stuff. I also enjoyed the numerous Adamsian digressions and visual flourishes throughout, particularly those revolving around The Guide and the Infinite Improbability Drive. (Ok, the bowl of petunias was a mite overdone, and Deep Thought could’ve been funnier, but string-vision was a marvel.) Some of the new stuff worked splendidly, most notably the Malkovich detour. (Others, less so, such as the POV-gun.) I loved the creature designs — not only the Vogons but all the random lo-fi denizens in the queue at Vogsphere.
The central characters are all solid too, I’d say. While Martin Freeman is a bit more frantic than I would have liked — I always envisioned Arthur to be more resigned, laconic, and stiff-upper-lip in the face of all these hypergalactic indignities — Mos Def’s Ford and Sam Rockwell’s Zaphod are pretty much pitch-perfect. Mos Def steals a number of the early scenes, and it’s too bad he kinda falls out of the movie in the second half. And every time I thought Rockwell’s Zaphod was starting to get old, he’d pull out another rock-star-pose or goofy line reading that’d rehabilitate him in my mind. (Alas, Marvin, for his part, isn’t given very much to do…but what did you expect? Everyone always forgets about the androids and their feelings.)
And Trillian? Well, it’s not Zooey Deschanel’s fault — she’s fine, if a bit bland. But for some ghastly reason, either Douglas Adams or his scriptwriting successors made the decision to try and put an Arthur-Trillian romance front-and-center. And it just doesn’t work. From very early on, when we see Arthur and Tricia’s first meeting in flashback, throughout the rest of the film, it’s all, well, fluff. Trillian’s gratuitous shower scene (I kid you not) and the POV-gun stuff end up being bad enough, but when Arthur professes his love for her to the buzzsaw-wielding mice on Earth-2, I found my fingers itching to press the nearest big improbability-eject button.
Arthur and Trillian aside, the film also goes curiously flat at times, particularly once the crew hits Magrathea. In fact, everything that occurs on Earth-2, and particularly the Vogon Shoot-out, seems both lifeless and another rather lame concession to Hollywood plot dynamics. It’s strange, because for the most part, like LotR, Hitchhiker’s feels like a movie by fans for fans. But for one reason or another, it loses its footing in the final reel.
Despite these sizable lapses, though, my thumb is still cocked in the upward direction (That is, if you know what you’re getting into — I’m very curious to discover if non-readers can even make head-or-tail of this film.) Like I said, Hitchhiker’s feels a lot like the first X-Men to me – promising but flawed. Here’s hoping, now that we’ve been introduced to everybody and finished the origin-story, so to speak, that Arthur, Ford, Zaphod, Trillian, and Marvin will get more of a chance to cut loose in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.Update: Ok, after a second viewing, I thought it held together less well. And the score is, well, both terribly distracting and not very good. But, I’d still be up for Restaurant.