Sunday, May 15, 2005


the book to the movie, part two:
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

This is my favorite series of books, and, next to the Simpsons, my major reference point for just about anything that happens during the course of a given day. So, obviously, I could go on and on about the books . . . some other time.

Of course, the books are only one manifestation of whole Hitchhiker omniverse. There was one or more radio series (serieses?), depending on how you look at it, a cheesy British TV mini-series, the website, video games, towels, and Zarquon knows what else. Last year, I listened to the whole series of books, as read by Douglas Adams, in order, on my iPod. There is no definitive version (even the books, especially the 4th and 5th ones, contradict themselves), and I don't think it would be fair or helpful to approach the movie looking for it to include everything or give out the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything.

The movie was . . . OK. The oft-told introductory sequences involving Arthur, Ford, Zaphod and Trillian were a little flat. Sam Rockwell and Mos Def, as Zaphod and Ford, respectively, seemed to be on a whole different wavelength than the actors who played Arthur and Trillian. The books never really knew what to do with Trillian, and the movie's solution is to make her Arthur's dream girl, thus setting up a rather trite conflict/resolution: boy meets girl, boy loses girl to two-headed, three-armed President of the Galaxy, boy realizes that Love is All that Matters and She is The One, boy gets girl; end credits; coming soon, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

The animations of the Guide were fast-paced, colorful and imaginative, and illustrated the jokes in the books wonderfully. This was a vast improvement over the way these sequences were done in the TV series, and they were the only part of the movie that had the same manic pacing and lunatic free-associative quality as the Infinite Improbability (Over)Drive that kicks in when Adams really gets going in the books.

There were some little in-jokes and hidden gems for fans, but not a lot; the best was early on, when the leader of the demolition crew knocking Arthur's house down looked obviously Asian: this was because in the book, there's a whole hilarious narration when the guy's trying to keep his temper, but doesn't know he's descended from Ghengis Khan.

The Vogons didn't work. They looked like big Muppets, and they were too involved in the hands-on villainy. There was even a detour to their planet, and an army of them in the climactic scene. This is the difference between a series of books and a two-hour movie: the books can move on to another scene, another race of characters, but the movie needs some internal consistency to retain focus and plot; it needs identifiable Bad Guys.

The stuff on Magrathea mostly worked. I especially liked the guy who played Slartibartfast as a sort of scatter-brained stoner David Carradine. The stuff with Deep Thought and the mice didn't work quite as well (the Pythonesque scenes with Vroomfondel and Majikthise and Deep Thought in the TV series had a whole different tone, which I much preferred). It seemed like the Vogons were suddenly, and unwelcomely, brought back in right when the mice should have been taking over.

In the end, what I remember about the movie is the stupid, happy grin on Trillian's face as they all lifted off from "Arthur's house" on Earth Mark II (don't ask). It's an image that I can't quite imagine coming from the spirit of any of the books, which never indulged in such simplistic resolutions.

Nearly every day, something reminds me of a line or a scene from one of the books. I usually end up paging through them to find a scene every few months or so, and then I start reading, and then I have to read the whole series again. Sometimes I have an urge to break out my old videotape of the TV series, or even buy the DVD. I don't have any urge to see the movie again. Not only that, seeing the movie didn't even make me want to read the books again, at least not right now.

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