Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Disappointment From The Science Fiction Humor Branch: The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

The Good: Moments of humor, Decent casting
The Bad: Nothing superlative on the acting, character or plot front, Pacing, Special effects
The Basics: In a disappointing film, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy fails to make me laugh or go anywhere.

From the beginning, with what little I know about his works, I knew that Douglas Adams's science fiction humor series that began with The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy would be almost impossible to translate into a successful film. Why? It's all about Adams's writing style. What makes the few chapters of his books I've read so funny is not what happens in them, but rather the asides Adams makes or the phrasing he uses. Adams goes on tangents that are quite funny, but they make it almost impossible to make a movie version that is anywhere near as funny as the book.

Enter Arthur Dent, a Brit who is standing up to keep his house from being demolished by the State so a new expressway can go through. He is abducted by his eccentric friend Ford Prefect just before the Earth is destroyed by galactic construction workers who are making a galactic expressway. Prefect and Dent escape only to find themselves at the whim of the bureaucratic Vogons and the eccentric space captain Zaphod Beeblebrox. Accompanied by the self-deprecating robot Marvin and another human survivor, Trillian, Dent works to survive in the galaxy and do what he can to find a home now that Earth is destroyed.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy left me with a real "ho-hum" feeling that one does not want to leave a comedy with. First off, the pacing was rather off. This movie is less than two hours long, but it felt much, much longer. The movie does not have a real strong sense of going somewhere. Instead, we are supposed to be amused by where we find ourselves, just looking around to see what the galaxy is like. And it's not enough. Expecting the setting to carry the movie does not work.

Outside the destruction of Earth, the special effects are terrible. The Vogons look like they were put together by the BBC. There's nothing extraordinary or even visually intriguing about the special effects. Some, like Beeblebrox's switching heads, are just plain silly.

None of the characters pop, save Ford Prefect. Arthur Dent is a common, ordinary guy who is thrust into circumstances well beyond his control or reckoning. And while that might be an intriguing premise, he is a common man and therefor is terribly uninteresting to watch until he rises above that and by that time, frankly, the viewer does not care. Instead, we're left wondering why the alien Prefect would have saved Dent as opposed to someone more interesting.

Prefect, on the other hand, is flamboyant, funny and quirky. He is smooth-talking, educated in the ways of the galaxy and knows how to get around. His character works and is more than just a "type." Trillian is relegated to "female lead" and Beeblebrox is just a crazy space captain. None keep our attention like Ford Prefect.

Prefect is played by musician and actor Mos Def. He plays the part well, with articulate grace and humor that makes him the character and the performance to watch. Mos Def carries almost every scene he's in and he makes the movie bearable.

Similarly, Martin Freeman adequately plays Arthur Dent. Freeman is not given much to work with, but he does a good job playing an everyman. He sells us on Dent as the common man and that is, I suppose, his point.

But in the end, this movie is simply not all that funny. I laughed once or twice, but for the most part, I waited. I waited for humor. I waited for something intriguing to happen. Ultimately, I was just waiting for the movie to end. At least it ended.

I don't know who would like this film. I went with someone who was a big fan of the books and she was as disappointed as I was. If you're looking for a good time and a funny movie, this isn't it, though.

For other science fiction comedies, please visit my reviews of:
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Alien Trespass
Planet 51


For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the movie reviews I have written!

© 2012, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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