20. September 2005 · Comments Off on As I Suspected… · Categories: That's Entertainment!

Christopher Orr reviews The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy at TNR (free registration req’d):

After its first third, the movie loses faith not only in its predecessor’s tone, but in its storyline as well. The leisurely jaunt to one alien planet is replaced by a hectic commute to no fewer than three–one of them the setting for a nonsensical subplot featuring John Malkovich as a religious evangelist, which is inserted abruptly and then all but forgotten. A love triangle between Arthur, Zaphod, and Trillian is laboriously constructed. And the Vogons, who were not heard from in the book after the airlock incident, are reimagined as ongoing antagonists who chase the heroes across the galaxy for a series of tiresome gun battles. As a result of these and other interventions, the movie has a choppy, episodic feel and will, I suspect, prove almost incomprehensible to anyone not already familiar with Adams’s oeuvre.


Talent-wise, the cast is a tremendous upgrade from the B-list actors who performed in the 1983 BBC miniseries. (Simon Jones, who played Arthur then, has a cameo as the holographic Magrathean face in the new movie.) Yet that miniseries, though somewhat hard to find, is nonetheless rather more satisfying than its big-budget successor. Sure, the alien costumes look as though they were constructed from the innards of a 1970s sofa, the laser beams appear to have been drawn on the film stock with a highlighter, and the sets are worthy of a community theatre production (or, worse, an episode of “Dr. Who”). But this shabby, secondhand feel actually suits the story rather well. When Arthur first arrives on the Vogon ship, he asks, “Is this really the interior of a flying saucer? … It’s a bit squalid, isn’t it?” It’s an apt description of Adams’s entire universe, which is simultaneously incredible and mundane, awe-inspiring and ridiculous.

The makers of the new film obviously got this. There’s a deliberate cheesiness to the special effects, and an improvisational feel to many of the scenes. But $50 million is still $50 million, and it will find a way to get on screen. Why have just a few Vogons in the early part of the movie, when you could have dozens reappear throughout it? Why not have an entire Vogon planet? And maybe another planet, too, where John Malkovich can crawl around on dozens of crablike mechanical legs? When your special effects credits run into the hundreds, you have to find something for all those people to do. And, of course, to make space for the new material you’ll need to cut a lot of that boring old talk talk talk.

In Hollywood, budget is often destiny. There’s no doubt that a movie version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide was destined to be made–with its large and loyal following, how could it not be?–but thanks to the economics of the industry it was probably destined to be made badly. And it was.

Comments closed.