Hitchhiker’s disappointment

Hitchhiker’s disappointment April 28, 2005

The wife and I caught the new film version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy last night, and I regret to report that the film never really caught on, for me. I hope I can appease certain friends of mine by humbly bowing low and covering my head in ashes and saying I probably just don’t “get” the series, but I would be relieved beyond measure if it turned out that a fair number of them thought the film didn’t “get” the series either.

Just for the record, I have only read the first book in the series, and that was over a dozen years ago — I strongly associate it with the “Hoy House” days, for those who know what that means. (And for those who don’t: In April ’91, I moved out of my parents’ place, and until August ’92 I lived with an ever-expanding number of friends in a house on Hoy Street, which came to be known as “the Hoy House”. We were all sci-fi buffs; this was when I started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was just more than half-way through its run at this point, and I also got around to reading the original Hitchhiker’s Guide — but not its sequels.)

Anyway. Coming home from the theatre last night, I remarked to my wife that it has been 21 years since Ghostbusters, and if I’m not mistaken, that is generally considered the first “big-budget special-effects comedy” — and I think this is a very, very difficult genre to do well. The tens of millions of dollars spent on all the major special effects builds certain expectations that your typical light, fluffy comedy can’t meet; and if the filmmakers aren’t careful, the effects can begin to seem like an awful lot of work for a few quick laughs. To a certain extent, comedy and humour are all about having a sense of proportion — and unless the filmmakers know what they’re doing, the very act of making such an enormous, expensive film tends to suggest a lack thereof.

Let’s put it this way. The lumpy, grotesque, bureaucratic Vogons reminded me of Terry Gilliam creations, and not in a good way; and the reunion of Sam Rockwell (as Zaphod Beeblebrox) and Alan Rickman (as the voice of Marvin) reminded me of Galaxy Quest, which I thought was a much better spoof of sci-fi and its fans.

And the casting seemed strangely off to me. Take Zooey Deschanel, who I have loved and adored ever since she played the influential big sister in Almost Famous (2000) — heck, she’s the only reason I even remember The New Guy (2002). As much as I like her, I am not sure that she was the right choice to play Trillian; her tone doesn’t quite match the film’s, and there is a scene in which she sheds a tear that just cried out for empathy, yet there was nothing else in the rest of this film that really encouraged any empathizing. (I also got a bit annoyed by the way she kept saying “Sector Zee-Zee-Nine” instead of “Sector Zed-Zed-Nine” — what with this and the casting of Rockwell as Zaphod and Mos Def as Ford Prefect, the story has definitely been Americanized.)

On the bright side, I absolutely loved every scene that Bill Nighy was in. He was great in Shaun of the Dead (2004), he was the best thing in Love Actually (2003), and he was quite possibly the best thing here, too. I must check out more of his films.

And the animated sequence was exceedingly cute, too.

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