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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

We normally don't do this sort of thing at Fanboy Planet, or at least we don't solicit it. But today in my mail box I got a review from last week's Pasadena sneak preview of a movie that has me shivering in anticipation -- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Just in case the film needs our advance hype, here's the review from a reader who wishes to remain anonymous.

I got a sneak peek at The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the other day. I’d hate to overstate it but I don’t think well-read genre fanboys have had this much
reason to be excited since Middle Earth came to life (live action life –sorry Ralph Bakshi).

It starts with dolphins dancing as if in an old MGM musical. The film is faithful to the books, radio plays and BBC TV production. Well, I can’t really vouch for the BBC TV version; I never watched much of that. I can tell you that Zaphod’s double head is achieved in a funny inventive way that shames the BBC TV’s low budget solution. Which was actually Rosie Greer’s low budget solution first.

Inventive is a key word for this film. A story dependent on an Improbability Drive begs for clever depictions of the improbable and this film delivers.

Without spoiling anything Arthur Dent’s space sickness is rendered in a visual style which, in all probability, has never been employed in feature films til now. Arthur is played by Martin Freeman of BBC’s The Office fame. Freeman does a great job as the Job-like Dent, if anything coming off a little less typically British than the role suggests.

Mos Def seemed unlikely casting as Ford Prefect but makes a convincing towel-toting intergalactic guide. He invokes a not quite human quality that is subtle and used sparingly to better effect. Def is most definitely delivering on the promise he showed in his feature debut Where’s Marlow?

The design of Marvin the Robot is a pure crack up. Of course his head is huge, but to have it on such a small body…it made me laugh just to look at him. Inside the suit the credits tell us is Warwick Davis. Good thing the credits say so because you’d never know it. Was it really necessary to get (arguably) one of the two most famous and veteran little people actors to wear the suit and not speak? Is there some particular body language Davis can deliver that another actor couldn’t? Not that I saw.

Marvin is voiced by Alan Rickman. At first I thought he wasn’t quite right for the role. But he delivers exactly what you’d expect. That’s good but I couldn’t help wondering if there wasn’t another voice that would have nailed the depressed droid’s personality a bit more.

Sam Rockwell delivers the nicest surprise in the casting. His Zaphod Beeblebrox, the man lacks the brains to be president, becomes a biting satire of a certain cowboy commander in chief. Rockwell goes over the top but how could he be Zaphod if he didn’t? After all, Zaphod’s just this guy, you know?

Zoey Deschanel is lovely to look at and believable as Trillian. Her eyes sparkle and you can see the chemistry between her and Arthur. But it’s a restrained chemistry. That’s probably the British style.

The book itself is also a star of the film. Fans of the books might fear that some favorite bits would get left out for being too… well bookish. But this film is not afraid to employ narration (by Stephen Fry) over utterly clever graphic depictions of the information contain in the titular tome. The animation is these sequences is bold flat colors a bit like the instructions for how to evacuate a plane in the event of a water landing only much, much funnier.

A film that has has us bouncing about the galaxy had better capture a feel of the epic and this one does. The FX used for giant ships and strange planets are great. And Slartibartfast’s tour of the planet building factory is deliciously dizzying.

Overall I was thrilled at how well this film captures Douglas Adams' masterpiece. But then maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. Guide had the advantage of previous radio and TV adaptations – practice runs of sorts. And then the film is co-scripted by the late Adams himself.

I’ve tried to avoid too much detail because I’d hate to spoil this fantastic ride for anyone. But one last comment. The Vogon world is amazing. I was so glad the creatures weren’t CGI inhumanities. CGI characters are beginning to do more and more things well but I’ll bet slothful comedy is one of the last hold outs. If these creatures weren’t built at Henson's Creature Shop they've got some keen competition and the sets for the Vogon evoke Terry Gilliam.

Gilliam would have seemed a natural choice to direct this film. He certainly would have nailed the Byzantine bureaucracy of the Vogons and risen to the challenges of production design. But he may not have achieved the odd lighthearted whimsy that director Garth Jennings keeps in the foreground. The wonder at the sheer fun of it has always been a big part of Hitch Hiker’s
appeal to me. Occasionally I tore my eyes away from the screen to watch my date delighting in the discovery of the wonder of Douglas Adams' humor for the first time.

To underline that last point, I think even the uninitiated will deeply enjoy this film.

Oh, and yes, the film’s end more than hints at a sequel.


There you have it. If you have any feedback, contact me and I'll pass it along.

Derek McCaw

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