Comedy Oddities: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
Prior to the release of the film version of Douglas Adam’s much loved novel / tv show / radio series the producer’s held a Q&A session as part of London’s then annual Sci-fi Festival which I managed to blag a ticket to, where Robbie Stamp did his best to persuade us that this latest adaptation hadn’t been Americanized, that it would be a faithful adaptation, and that Mos Def had been cast due to his greatness as an actor, and not just to make the film of interest to as wide an audience as possible. It reflected the concerns of a lot of the press at the time, and upon release was attacked over all of these things.
I’ve always felt that the criticism of the film was a little harsh though. There’s something distinctly British about this adaptation despite the main cast being largely American, and it’s fairly faithful to Adam’s original vision which probably shouldn’t be too surprising given that he worked on the script up until his death, and some of the elements that people disliked turned out to be things he’d added. What’s more it’s clear to see how much care and attention has been put in to the film, Garth Jennings created a very real world, one which avoided cgi unless absolutely necessary, and it’s all the better for it. Much of the time it’s stunningly shot, designed and there are times your breath is taken away so quickly you might forget you ever drew it in in the first place.
Acting wise things are of a top notch nature too. Many had issues with Martin Freeman’s casting and I have to admit that I did feel that he seemed oddly uncomfortable in the role at first, but he settles in to it after he’s left the Earth and forced to struggle with the various quite insane predicaments he finds himself in. Mos Def may not be instantly recognisable as the Ford Prefect from the book but he is distinctly alien, and like Freeman once bouncing around the Universe he becomes far more likeable. Best of all is Sam Rockwell’s fame obsessed egotistical Zaphod Beeblebrox, the epitome of the modern (if slightly clichéd) rock star, all flashy smiles and lack of substance. Stephen Fry’s the perfect successor to Peter Jones as the voice of the guide, and whilst not quite as impressive as the rest of the cast Zoey Deschanel handles the underwritten love interest role well. Voice wise the cast is on top form too, with Alan Rickman as Marvin the paranoid android, Helen Mirren as Deep Thought, Thomas Lennon as Eddie the computer and The League of Gentlemen as the Vogons all turning in performances that are extremely memorable, as is Neil Hannon’s musical moment in the movie.
Unfortunately the film definitely does have certain issues. It’s an odd situation, for unlike 97.8% of cinema in the 21st Century it’s packed with too many ideas. It leaps all over the place and rarely allows the humour to breathe, just as you begin laughing it often cuts to another scene, another crazy planet, another group of beautifully designed and almost always bizarre aliens. If only they’d had more faith in the humour, and not relied so much on spectacle, it’d have been a much better film. A few more Guide entries would have been welcome too, as a lot of the absurdity of the book has been sadly lost.
Which is all rather disappointing as there is a lot to admire about it, as mentioned it’s visually quite alluring, even when dealing with the ugliest of creatures, packed to the brim with great performances, and it will make you laugh a fair bit. It’s just a shame that Garth Jenning’s didn’t slow proceedings down a little and remember that he was making a comedy, not a sci-fi epic.