This Must Be Thursday

Now that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie has opened, I’d better get my early bird review out there before the worms get it. Thanks to The Observer’s free preview screenings, I’ve known whether all the other reviewers were right or wrong for a full 42 and a bit hours. And the answer is... [scroll seven and a half million years down for spoilers].








Well, it looked pretty amazing, and the casting was good on the whole, and it had some funny moments. But to a disturbing degree, I’d have to agree with M.J. Simpson’s infamous review at, without being quite so scathing (in the hope that fanatical fans won’t hound me off the web the way they have him, poor guy).

Most of the set piece scenes were there, but in too many cases they left out the jokes, to the detriment of character development. Arthur didn’t feel like Arthur; without any witty lines, all Martin Freeman had to fall back on were physical mannerisms, which were basically those of Tim from The Office (him being in the same body and all). Marvin didn’t feel like Marvin, he felt like Alan Rickman moaning a bit. Zaphod wasn’t cool, he was crazy. And so on.

There was enough to make it worth seeing. The animated guide segments were good. Neil Hannon sang the closing theme, a catchy number by his mate Joby Talbot. The demolition of the Earth was worth the price of admission alone (assuming you paid more than I did)—music, effects, and pacing combined to perfection. The Slartibartfast scenes were very good, as was Simon Jones’s cameo (with, as Simpson said, one new line that was actually as funny as classic DNA); and there were other nice bits and pieces, mostly in the visual realisations of things. But there were a few too many missed opportunities. Take, for example, the moment when Ford and Arthur are beamed onto the Vogon ship, where the original went something like (I’m reciting from memory here, to establish my own fanatical-fan credentials):

Arthur: Where are we?
Ford: We’re safe.
A: Oh, good.
F: We’re in the hold of a Vogon constructor ship.
A: Ah. This must be some new meaning of the word “safe” I was previously unaware of.

Beautiful. Arthur’s quintessential Englishness captured in a single line. In the movie this becomes:

Arthur: Where are we?
Ford: We’re safe. We’re in the hold of a Vogon constructor ship.

...with no visible reaction from Arthur at all.

The Deep Thought back-story felt similarly rushed (Deep Thought says “seven and a half million years” without a pause, leaving no chance for anyone to say, “What, not until next week?”). As Simpson said, some of these cuts need not have been made if they’d left out some of the more pointless new stuff, like John Malkovich’s scene. I have no problem with leaving certain jokes out altogether; of course you’d have to. But leaving the opening lines in place and not following through is bizarre.

And while I’m nit-picking, it annoyed me that they kept saying “hyperspace expressway” instead of “hyperspace bypass”, when the early scenes about Arthur’s house being demolished to make way for a “bypass” were surely enough to explain the term to anyone unfamiliar with it. If they wanted to save precious seconds, that’s a bunch of redundant extra syllables right there.

It was strange to come out of a Hitchhiker’s movie feeling that the main character after Arthur was Trillian; Zooey Deschanel was actually one of the highlights. But as someone who lived and breathed the books as a teenager but hadn’t thought about them much in years (apart from when Douglas Adams died), I’d been hoping that seeing Marvin and Zaphod would feel like seeing old friends... and it didn’t, really.

Still, my Hitchhiker’s neophyte companion thought it was good fun, and I’m sure it’ll find an audience. It was mostly fine (if not... you know), and I was glad to see it. It’s just that it could, if it had used a few more of Douglas Adams’s lines, have been great.

29 April 2005 · Film

I didn't even read that review, since the vibe the link descriptions were giving off was of an axe being ground on Adams' gravestone, though I had to talk one friend into seeing the movie with me after he'd read that. Fanboys at ten paces, yay.

Back when the prospect of Disney doing the HHGTTG movie was first raised a decade back, the general consensus amongst my friends was that the end result would be horrible. Ten years down the track, it's turned to be a lot better than that, fortunately, though I get much of your drift.

I was entirely predicting that the love interest between Arthur and Trillian would be played up, so I was happy that they at least did that pretty well without making it seemed tacked on or too corny. (In fact there was a hint of Fenchurch in her, I reckon...)

I think Marvin was the biggest victim of the adaptation; he just didn't seem to be depressed enough, though the bit where he passed that on to the Vogon army was funny.

But anyway. I did enjoy it as a fan of Adams. And at least it wasn't Working Titled into smug Britishness, to be frank.

Added by Graham on 3 May 2005.

I didn’t mind the love angle either, or the touch of Fenchurch. (They’re buggered if they get to book 4, aren’t they?)

If you haven’t read the Simpson review yet, Graham, now’s the time. Bit hard to find from the front page, but the link is:

His disappointment was certainly stronger than mine—I just felt it could have been better, not that it was a travesty—but then, he is the guy who wrote Adams’s biography.

Added by Rory on 3 May 2005.

Hitchhiker's does not make for a good visual dramatic production. Didn't you guys see the ho-hum television series? That's why I'm waiting until DVD for this thing.

Douglas Adams seems to work best in book and audio form: largely because his humor is so specific and free-form that it requires an imagination to get into the sociological pith that he's responding to. For example, when you see a whale descending to Magrathea, it's not nearly as funny or interesting as reading his final thoughts in one burst or hearing it, imagining the whale moving its tail.

Perhaps this is why it took Adams years to write the script. My guess is that, having penned the story in radio, novel, and television form, he inherently knew what worked and what didn't. Thank goodness he wasn't around to see it.

Added by Ed on 5 May 2005.

I’m not sure I completely agree, Ed. Yes, I saw the TV show when it first came out, and some of the visuals added a lot to the words: the ’80s-style computer graphics of the Guide; the depiction of Marvin as a big tin toy; seeing Arthur wandering around in his dressing gown. Similarly, there are great visual moments in this movie: the demolition of the earth is, I think, the best moment of planetary destruction I’ve seen in any film, and the Magrathea scenes are a highlight too. But you’re right about the whale.

Added by Rory on 5 May 2005.

Rory: Okay, I should clarify. Because I absolutely adore all the animation that was done for the Guide in the TV series. That definitely worked.

What I'm getting at here is that some of Adams' humor doesn't translate well to a visual medium: the whale's hilarious on page, but on screen it's ho-hum. Same goes with Zaphod's two heads/three arms in the TV series, which worked on page. The frequent mention of the second head was what added to quirkiness of the character. But when we're constantly REMINDED of Zaphod's alien presence by a bad makeup job, it's a different thing altogether.

Of course, it's difficult to argue with the destruction of Earth as an indelible image.

Added by Ed on 6 May 2005.

Yes, I agree with you there, it’s a mixed bag.

Added by Rory on 6 May 2005.

The "ho-hum TV series" was the qualifying post for this movie, it got nowhere near it in my opinion, I enjoyed the Tertiery Phase on radio better than the movie.

It should be mentioned that the TV series "computer" graphics were not done on a computer but pure animation, you would have thought the movie could have easily improved on that !

"Perhaps this is why it took Adams years to write the script"

Adams was the world's biggest procrastinator, read "Dont Panic" for an insight into his genius and the way he worked, saying that after H2G2 he went on to do the rather bland Dirk Gently and the even blander Starship Titanic before finally penning this script, so his creative skills were not exactly on the up.

Added by Ian on 11 May 2005.