Tuesday, October 04, 2005

So Long, and Thanks For Nothing

Okee dokee.. I finally got around to watching The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Sigh.


I should confess up front that I’m a pretty big Douglas Adams fan. I’ve read the Hitchhiker books a few times, and I even plowed through the Dirk Gently, Hollistic Detective books, despite finding them a bit dry.

So, as you can imagine, I was both excited and nervous about seeing the big film version. Well, let me just be clear about this – books good, movie bad.

Hmm, you need a bit more than that? Alright, fine.

The casting in the movie runs the gamut from perfect to horribly misguided. Martin Freeman from The Office does a fine job as Arthur Dent, the ‘audience entry point’ character. He’s not, however, given much to do. Anyone who’s seen the Office knows how great he is at both dropping a dry punchline, and reacting to the madness that surrounds him, but he isn’t given the opportunity to do either in this film. I understand the character is a bit of a schlub, but it’s difficult to root for a character that you wouldn’t want to spend 10 minutes with, let alone the bulk of a movie.

Mos Def is great as Ford Perfect. I’m sure a lot of Adams’ fans were dubious about the prospect of an American rapper taking on this role, but he does a really nice job. He really seems to understand the absurdity that lies at the heart of the Hitchhiker saga, and runs with it. Mos (is that what I call him?) gives an energetic performance that is a lot of fun to watch. I think I would have liked this movie a lot more if he had been the lead.

Sam Rockwell made a tragic misstep when he decided to play the role of Zaphod Beeblebrox as a cartoonish caricature of George W. Bush. He’s clearly having a blast, but it was lame. Political impersonation just doesn’t fit in this movie, and I wish someone had told him that.

And the absolute worst casting of the entire film, and maybe the Worst. Casting. Ever. (okay, probably not, but it’s bad. REAL bad.) Zooey Deschanel as Trillian. Now, some might disagree, but I consider Trillian to be one of the most important roles in the movie. In order for the audience to have any sort of emotional investment in Arthur Dent’s character arc, his longing for Trillian has to be seen as a rational motivation for the internal changes he undergoes. Trillian, as played by Deschanel, is a drip. Everything she says falls painfully, thuddingly flat. It’s as if she was shipped in from an angst-ridden indy flick in order to give the “dorky” HHGttG some ‘street cred’.

Now, I saw Elf, and I sure don’t remember hating her performance as much as I did here. I can’t confirm that she was phoning it in, but any time that she spent developing her character was not time well spent.

I really wanted to like this movie. I thought the casting sounded great on paper, and even the commercials made the movie look like it would be fun. Imagine my shock when, halfway through, I found myself profoundly bored. I know the story isn’t dull, but they seemed to have drained all the wit out of the script. There’s a real difficulty in taking a book (or radio play, as the case may be) in which much of the humor is based on very precise language choices, and attempting to break it down into a high-concept Hollywood popcorn flick. Some of the classic bits made it into the movie (i.e. the whale) but for the most part they kept the basic concept and characters, but removed most of the charm and quirkiness that is such an important component of Adams’ style.

I believe that it is much worse to make a boring movie than a bad movie, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is hugely, overwhelmingly boring. Again, sigh.

4 Comments:

Blogger Sourabh said...

well, its on my netflix list for this weekend. I loved the books completely and your review hasn't inspired much confidence in me.....
whats the deal with movies made from books falling woefully short? (Jurassic Park, TIMELINE! etc etc)
Although LOTR movies have been thoroughly enjoyable.

1:53 PM  
Blogger Jhunt said...

I have Timeline in my Cinemail.ca queue as we speak, yikes!

I just feel like they shoehorned a great, hilarious, very British work of fiction into a typical, special-effects focused Summer "popcorn" movie. It'd be interesting to see what, if anything, viewers who went into the experience with no prior HHGttG knowledge took away from the flick.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Sourabh said...

you were right. i was bored halfway through Hitchhiker's...
My wife hasd't read it, and she didn't follow much either, but to be fair she's not much for scifi anyway. How was Timeline?

2:07 PM  
Blogger Jhunt said...

Timeline is still in the queue... Cinemail.ca seems to send me discs entirely at random, disregarding any attempt I've made to put certain films in my ASAP queue. I've got to respect their focus, if not their accuracy.

4:04 PM  

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