Thursday, May 05, 2005

Cultural Diversion: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 

If you came of age in the 1970s, Star Wars was your requisite sci-fi trilogy -- classic trilogy, even if you thought the Ewoks were a bit much.

If you came of age in the late 1990s, The Matrix was your requisite sci-fi trilogy, even if the second movie was tolerable at best and the third, er, let's not go there.

If you came of age in the 1980s, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was your requisite sci-fi trilogy. The only problem was, it took them more than 25 years to make just one movie of it.

So while the nerds just a little bit older than me found themselves part of a cultural phenomenon that revolutionized the way Hollywood made films and the nerds a little bit younger than me found themselves part of a phenomenon that I would argue gave the DVD format the final push toward mainstream status, nerds my age got a trilogy that, while popular, still grew out of a radio broadcast. It was more like the Little Trilogy That Could.

Which is all a way of saying that I'm probably not the best reviewer of the movie, because I have fond memories of the books, and I'm bound to end up comparing the movie to the book, which really isn't fair.

So I'll keep this brief. If you read the books, you'll like the movie. There were some things that seemed out of place, added, subtracted, over- or under-emphasized, but I found the movie matched the genial and loopy spirit of the book. The cast is amiable enough (Sam Rockwell makes a very good, and very wild, Zaphod), but at times seems overwhelmed by the plot mechanics of the movie. Which is too bad, because the charm of Douglas Adams' book lies in the thoroughly bizarre riffs Adams goes off on. Some of those riffs are in the movie, but it sometimes felt like it slowed the movie down. And some of the cool details (like the need to drink copious amounts of beer and eat lots of peanuts before hitchhiking) are left unexplained.

All in all, I had fun. I hope they make the sequel. I don't even think you need to have read the books in order to enjoy the movie. But compared to the adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy (for nerds even older than the Star Wars nerds), it pales somewhat.

I was happy with some of the little things they left in, like using the music from the original radio broadcast, or Ford using the word "Belgium" to swear. The medium of film lacks the proper format for the rambling style of the books and radio, but they did what they could.

I just wish they'd included the line about jumping to hyperspace being unpleasantly like being drunk.
"I'll never be cruel to a gin and tonic again..." :-) The one I missed most was, "Oh yes, they were 'on display' - in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the leopard.'" Instead, we got people being hit in the faces with shovels, and "Marvin, give me a hand."

Still, they were basically on a hiding to nothing here, given the cult status involved. It could definitely have been much, much worse.
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