The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

They thought it’d never be made. Lots of times it didn’t. But now it has. Finally the Hitchhiker’s film has arrived.
Obviously this was a preview screening, and I was surprised by the scale of it, with it getting an Empire Leicester Square screening, with a queue winding through Leicester Square on arrival. This was because a significant bag and phone check was taking place. Bags I understand, and I can appreciate that they don’t like you taking cameras into preview screenings. But phones?
Yes – if your phone has a camera, then they were holding onto them for you for the duration of the film. And what proportion of mobile phones do you think have cameras these days. Nearly all of them, that’s what. Particularly in hip and trendy London. And they were basically running a cloakroom for cameras in a cinema that must seat a few thousand (The Empire is either the biggest or second biggest screen in London). Now they may be able to collect the phones in reasonably easily, but it doesn’t take a genius to realise that getting them back at the end of the film is going to be a nightmare. It was. It could have been worse but I was close to the exit and am big enough to “push” through to the front of the “scrum” that was trying to reclaim their phones at the film’s end. Can film distributors really be so scared of phone camera images of their films? Am I really likely to try to film the whole thing with the built in video cameras that many phones have. Not exactly DV quality are they?
Anyway, enough of my travails, since I was in the privileged position of getting a free screening of a film a week or so before it opens. And they did give us all a free Hitchhiker’s towel – which was rather a nice touch, and a very imaginative gift.
But what about the film itself?
I’ve got to be honest. I went in with some trepidation. I’ve listened to the radio series many times over the years. And I loved the books, and the TV series was very good too. So I know the source material pretty well, and I had read an outstandingly negative review of the film from MJ Simpson, who knows his Hitchhikers very well and runs an excellent site that’s as up to date as anything on the web.
First the good news. It’s not that bad by any means. The film’s well made, with distinctive and impressive effects. And it doesn’t stray far from the plot that we all know and love. In fact, it’s almost takes too few liberties and is perhaps just a bit too reverential to the source material.
Martin Freeman plays Arthur Dent, and is probably a little young to my mind, and just a little too like Tim from The Office. But I was perfectly happy with Mos Def as Ford Prefect which I though was going to be a harder character to accept. And Sam Rockwell is pretty good as Zaphod. Yes, his second head is done a bit differently, but he was fine. I don’t think I’ve seen Zooey Deschanel before who plays Trillian, but she’s pretty right for the part. You can quite believe that Arthur met her at a party in Islington once and could get her out of his head.
All the voice actors are fairly good too with Stephen Fry as the book, Alan Rickman playing the depressed Marvin amongst others.
As I say, the film follows a well trodden path reasonably closely. Sometimes it feels rushed, but then they probably actually needed to cut a bit more out (I can’t believe I just typed that). So we get the house getting knocked down and before you know Arthur and Ford are onboard the Vogon ship, having poetry read and being expelled from the airlock.
It’s worth mentioning at this point, that “The Book” sequences are awfully similar in style to the animation that was in the TV series. When I say that, I mean a simplistic, cartoon-like style rather than flashy computer graphics. Think of one of those safety notices you get in plane seat pockets. Now animate it. I thought it worked well.
Many of the usual diversion are included along the way, and the film is stylistically in keeping with what I’d have hoped for. There doesn’t seem to have be any especially jarring music to flog a soundtrack album with, the graphics in the Slartibartfast scenes are particularly well rendered.
But. There is a but. I was just a little under whelmed by it all. It just wasn’t funny enough. All the lines were there… well most of them anyway. But maybe it was the delivery. Sometimes it was the film’s audibility (which seemed to be an issue with Mos Def and some of the Vogon dialogue), but I wanted more chuckles, if not exactly belly laughs. I was smiling all through the film, but I thought it could have been that bit better. I didn’t begrudge the removal of much loved jokes, but I wanted well delivered lines, and I think more could have been done.
But the film’s by no means terrible. It’s just not fantastic. The book and radio series are rightly held up so highly, that they’re always going to be a tough act to beat. That’s not to say, however, that we shouldn’t strive to try.
I’ve got no idea how the film will play in the States, since the one serious worry I did have was that the quintessentially English humour would be lost in a big-budget Hollywood extravaganza, but that’s not the case. I don’t know what the budget of the film was, but it can’t have been small, and one would think it’ll need to do well in America too. I’m not sure it will though.
I suspect that there were a lot more references to previous incarnations than I picked up on, but it was good to see the TV series version of Marvin in a queue, and Simon Jones (Arthur from the radio and TV series) appears as a disembodied head warning people to stay away from Magrathea.
In the last three weeks, we’ve had updates on three different classic British science fiction properties: Dr Who, Quatermass and now Hitchhikers. I don’t think that this has been as successful as Dr Who, but it’s a decent effort, and deserves to be seen.
In the meantime, the BBC have been press releasing stories about the last ever series of Hitchhikers on the radio, so there’s still more to look forward to.