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Mostly Harmless?

1st May 2005 • Dave

On Saturday afternoon the time had finally arrived for me to get myself over to the cinema and checkout the Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy movie. The UCI 10 here in Preston is as the name suggests a ten-screen multiplex showing all the latest offerings from Hollywood and and Hollywood and elsewhere. It has been a long time since I went to the cinema alone, and I was quite looking forward to the experience. Although I did have some nagging doubts in the back of my mind about what to expect from the silver-screen adaptation of what was truly one of the seminal books of my early teens. However, I tried with every will in the world to put my best foot forward and not be influenced by the mixed reviews I had read thus far.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy started life as a BBC Radio series in the late 70s. The books and TV series followed shortly after. And more than a quarter of a century later the eagerly anticipated movie. This was going to be big, I mean you won’t believe how mind bogglingly big … ok enough. You already know all that stuff right?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide story has been chopped and changed any number of times over the years, and to some extent the over-all plot isn’t really critical to having even a basic appreciation and understanding of the Hitchhiker’s experience. In the various Hitchhiker’s Guide retellings, details are revealed at different stages in the story; Plot points have been reworked; Different perspectives have been emphasised; And even key sections of dialog had been tweaked. For me continuity is not important in Hitchhiker’s. You can take all the little pieces, mix them up and you still have the basic premise. This illustrates the simplicity yet genius of using a reluctant Englishman as the protagonist, and infinite improbability as a plot device. Each time Hitchhiker’s has been adapted it has been enhanced. In all of the previous formats I have found a new and refreshing perspective on material with which I had previously become extremely familiar. So there was a part of me very much looking forward to seeing Douglas Adams’s epic at the cinema. Hitchhiker’s in a new format? Not a problem. This is exactly what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy legacy is all about.

What is important for me and so many others about hitchhiker’s are that certain core elements are there, and are there in just the right quantity, not entirely unlike making a good cup of tea. For example, Arthur’s sarcastic and whimsical nature and his faint disgust leading to occasional indignation at the events taking place around him; Marvin’s enduring boredom. Not just depression, but sheer boredom at having a brain the size of a planet and nothing to think about. And so on. And while the actors turned in perfectly respectable performances, These attributes amongst others are things which fans of the previous incarnations of this story will seriously have to let go if they are going to even attempt to enjoy this film.

I have no problem with Arthur having a cell phone, this is the 21st century. Or even that they cut some of my favourite jokes, maybe they weren’t everyone’s favourites. And that not long after everyone reaches the Heart of Gold the plot takes a huge trans-galactic detour from which no one, including the audience, ever really recovers. Digressions are part of the Hitchhiker mentality. Nor do I have a problem with the predictably cheesier than cheese happy happy ending with the earth being rebuilt and everyone flying off into the universe complete with racing car sound effects. Or even the introduction of the “Point of View Gun” which I think is a brilliant yet sadly misused plot device.

In my humble opinion, Arthur is meant to be a slightly tragic figure and he would not in a thousand years declare his feelings in a genuinely romantic way to Trillion. At least not without having had a couple of drinks first, in which case he definitely would have messed it up. Arthur is slightly dysfunctional and is a tragic lonely figure, for goodness sake don’t give him meaningful relationships. This is why we like Arthur because he represents a tiny part of our selvs which just craves acceptance. This is why we have the irony that Arthur’s only friend in the world is not from this world. Ford is the equivalent to an imaginary friend. An imaginary friend which we would all like to have.

The last thing Arthur is is a superhero, and several times throughout the film we witness him finding himself in very physical situations. Any heroics on the part of Arthur are purely accident, and on the few occasions Arthur Dent saves the day he should be just as surprised as everyone else.

Why is ford an American? A point for which the script even has to apologise as it completely destroys the Guildford joke. And why does Zaphod sound not unlike George W.

Dear reader, I was expecting a train reck. And what I got was much much worse.

There are a couple of gems amongst the wreckage, most notably a visit to the Jatravartid world where we find the natives praying to the The Great White Handkerchief in a hilarious sketch worthy of Python. The other laugh out loud moment is when one of the mice (pan dimentional beings) shrilly exclaims “bollocks” much to the amusement of a little girl sitting somewhere in the cinema off to my left.

Look people if your expecting a movie version of the radio series forget it.
This has been through the Disney machine good and proper. I’m sure it will appeal to someone somewhere and will likely clean up at the box office. If this draws people in, who then go on to read the books etc then it’s a good thing. The existence of this film doesn’t detract from the radio series which incidentally restarts on Tuesday. Don’t take it too seriously. It’s like sex, you’ll enjoy it much more if you relax. But I don’t know about you, I can’t enjoy crap sex. And for me this is worse. Apparently Adams himself approved the script, although I’d be fascinated to know what if any difference he could have made once the cookie cutter movie industry got their teeth into this. Sadly that’s what it boils down to. It doesn’t matter if me and people like me don’t enjoy this film. We are not who this film was made for. Go see it if you’re curious and don’t mind handing over your £5.60 just remember when you’ve stopped spitting teeth you can bask in hours of radio drama and hundreds of pages of prose which in the opinions of many embody the true spirit of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

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