Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

We were supposed to go to New York today, but we were both feeling in need of a recovery day. I'm still battling cold symptoms and have been miserable most of the week, and David's in need of his own downtime. So we decided to hang around the area instead, maybe go flying if the weather forecast is correct. We also went to see The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the only mainstream movie we've seen in MONTHS, since seeing Ray.

Official Movie Site: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

I haven't read any of the Douglas Adams books, but David has, and owns them all. To prime for the story, David suggested that I read the book, which is short enough to make it through before the evening show. I opted instead to watch the BBC videos he had on hand, released in 1992, but we were too wiped out to make it past the first half of the two 90-minute installments. I've been on a weird sleeping schedule all week thanks to days of strong over-the-counter cold medication. I hate taking any drugs, but the only way I could make it through the film was to Suphedrine myself. Ugh.

Don't get me wrong -- the movie isn't a drag, unless you hate science fiction. Any science fiction haters looking to get converted to the Dark Side certainly won't find any joy here; they might as well hang a SUSPEND ALL DISBELIEF BEFORE ENTRY sign at the cinema door. My brothers were the fantasy and sci-fi'ers in the family, but the three of us LOVED Doctor Who. We'd stay up super late on Saturday nights to watch it in all its low-budget, geek chic glory, incarnation after incarnation. While we shared a love for Doctor Who and The Twilight Zone (in its black-and-white days), our childhood library book piles bore little resemblance, mine being more of the supernatural ilk such as telekinesis, telepathy and ESP, spontaneous combustion, stigmata, er, that kind of thing... I generally steered clear of Tolkien, unicorns, and space... except for the occasional foray into the works of Stephen W. Hawkings or early Star Wars. Oh, and I liked Gattaca.

So, I'm predisposed as a sceptic, but I still wanted to see it. The Brits don't do much in the way of science fiction blockbusters, usually leaving that genre to the Americans, who've expanded upon it greatly since George Lucas set up ILM studios and spawned many competitors in the field. (I once dated an ILM animator who was such an arrogant, megalomaniacal git that I've never wanted to see any of the Star Wars prequels, but that's neither here nor there.) Anyway, I was hoping The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy would be styled in the vein of Doctor Who bankrolled by a boatload of venture capitalists rather than a British version of Men in Black or Independence Day (the BIGGEST waste of CGI ever).

Story: Being at a disadvantage by not knowing the story, I can only go with David's observation that the movie only followed the book in the first third -- the other two-thirds was a hodge-podge of the details or entirely new. I doubt that people who haven't read the book or seen the BBC series are going to be swept away by the screenplay, the story arch is very loosey-goosey and is mired in names that only fans would recognise.

Style: I'm not a big CGI fan, but it didn't put me off too much, and I did like the creatures brought to life by the Jim Henson Workshop. They stood out as memorable characters in the film, as well as Marvin the robot. I was also quite taken with the style of the Guide animation -- I've always liked 60's retro format.

Acting: This is where I am most vocal -- Zooey Deschanel is not only far too young for this film, but her personality is flatter than a pancake. Sci-fi films with a storyline like Galaxy need to be a little campy. Not quite Spaceballs, but after the suspension of disbelief, one expects to be taken for a magic carpet ride, not a trip through the mall. Deschanel was fine at the beginning, but looked younger and younger with each passing scene. By the time she said (about the "point of view" gun) "It won't work on me, I'm already a woman..." I nearly burst out laughing.

The impression of 'style over substance' and uneven acting is where I think the film really falters. It's obvious the Brits want to win over an American audience and pump up the screenings across the pond. So what do they do? American casting.

Mos Def is OK as Ford Prefect -- not too Eddie Murphy over-the-top, Def's performance is modulated so it doesn't smack of the stereotypical black guy sidekick that has been done to death. He becomes so subdued, though, that he's forgettable towards the end.

Martin Freeman's protagonist Arthur Dent is the stereotypical indignant and reserved British chap, but holds his own and isn't overshadowed quite all of the time. I have to say the filmmakers were less than kind with Freeman -- some of his shots were very unflattering. Even in the The Office, with its intentionally poor lighting, didn't make every frame look like Freeman had just woken up from a horrific bender.

However, Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beebleblox was annoying like a WWF wrestler and looked far too much like Chad Kroeger, the lead singer of Nickelback (who I bumped into at an airport one time, so I can say this with utmost certainty). His character of Zaphod had a southern U.S. accent that drove me crazy, and drove me to distraction. All in all, the acting could've made the movie more interesting and balanced if:

a) Trillian was played by someone with more verve and experience than Zooey Deschanel, and
b) Zaphod's character were more 'witty hippie' than 'winking redneck'.

David's review of the film on Multiply:

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005)