Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Jerry Stratton, April 30, 2005

There are a lot of movies about boy meets girl, and not so many movies with biting satire. That’s why it is disappointing to see the satire jettisoned from Douglas Adams’ books for the movie version. We need more good satirical films. While they’re nice occasionally, we don’t need yet another movie about boy meets girl and then the universe unexpectedly rights itself by the closing credits for no adequately explained reason.

This is a good film. It is funny; it is occasionally even hysterically funny. There’s no reason not to see it. There isn’t much reason to see it either. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie was sort of the video companion to the books. They kept a lot of the punchlines and dropped the lead-up that made them funny.

It is tempting to blame Disney. Disney has a history of removing the satire and sharp humor from works, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy views very much as a disneyfied version of the book.

But it isn’t just Disney, it’s Hollywood in general. Major movie companies think they need love stories. Even satire as good as Bulworth has to include a love story and make it central to the story’s ending. Hollywood movies need love stories, and the love stories need to resolve themselves. Even if resolution goes completely against the grain of the movie, as happened in The Tao of Steve.

The love story in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy made no sense in the context of the movie’s plot, and it made no sense in the context of the story’s theme, to the extent that there was one. The entire planet Earth was destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass. There are only two known survivors. And it doesn’t really matter to either one. Arthur uses it to justify his having blown off Trillian; and Trillian uses it to justify blowing off Zaphod Beeblebrox.

I understand most of the other changes. The books were a lot different from the radio shows. The television series was different from the books. The record, too, was different. That’s a good thing, because different media have different ways of telling their stories and the plot, story, and dialogue should reflect that.

Movies have less time to tell a story than books do, so subplots and characters need to be folded into each other. But movies can be good satire. If they had not wasted space with worthless Hollywood “necessities” and if they had been willing to take risks, they could have had a good satire. That’s probably the worst part of the movie. It takes no risks; there is nothing in there that could possibly offend anyone.

The movie has pockets of brilliance. Alan Rickman’s Marvin was perfect casting. It will be difficult to read Marvin’s dialogue in the future without hearing Alan Rickman speaking it. The dolphin farewell message was inspired, Monty Python-like stuff. The rest was pointless.

The bit about kidnapping yourself was already done, and better, in Blazing Saddles. Because this is an adaptation of satire, there was certainly the potential to make a satire of governments justifying violent raids by, basically, saying that the victims kidnapped themselves--something that surprisingly does happen occasionally, even in the United States. But where Douglas Adams might have run with the idea (as he did with the lizard government in the book) the movie doesn’t go there.

The only satirical bit running through the movie was the silliness of bureaucracy, hardly an original theme. When it looked like the movie was going to take that unoriginal theme to a somewhat more original level--a look at the willingness of people to queue for bureaucracies and the pride they take in queueing--it quickly dropped the whole issue well before it blossomed into anything that might be mistaken as a satirical comment on people’s political choices.

In many cases the dialogue was taken directly from Douglas Adams’ books. But much of the time, such dialogue was chopped up so much that I can’t believe it made any sense to anyone who has not read the books.

Ultimately, the movie had too many lost opportunities, what appeared to be poor cutting, and put too much work into making it just like any other movie. It slotted the characters into standard Hollywood roles and did not use the actors--especially Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, and Zooey Deschanel--to their full ability.

Rickman, at least, got to be an interesting character. Deschanel, who has shown fine acting skills in Almost Famous, Elf, and The Good Girl, pretty much had nothing interesting to do in this movie. She even ended up being the standard “girl who needs to be rescued”. It’s too bad, because I think she really was a good choice for Trillian, and could have done well with the biting humor that a Hitchhiker’s movie should have displayed.

Whether you see this Hitchhiker’s movie or not, and whether you enjoy or don’t enjoy the movie if you do see it, it isn’t the same kind of story at all as the book. It’s an okay movie. It could have been a lot better if they had taken some chances. If you haven’t read the books yet I recommend looking at them no matter your opinion of the movie.

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