Ten years ago the long awaited Hitchhikers’ movie finally hit cinemas, arriving only four years after the sad demise of its creator, Douglas Adams. Without the writer at the helm, everyone had a bad feeling, and with hindsight, perhaps, it made no lasting impact. Putting all my apprehensions behind me (there were three biggest of which was my fear of the Arthur-Trillian romance, narrowly followed by Disneyfication and that proper Adamsian dialogue would be missing), I watched the movie, and I concluded (much to my own surprise) that it wasn’t half bad.
The opening number made the biggest splash (pun intended), throwing Stephen Fry’s book straight in at the deep end. Then I sat down to endure the shortened dialogue, which I was dreading. I needn’t have.
There is a famous Adams-Smith-Adams anecdote in which Adams condensed a humorous paragraph into a couple of words, and being reassured that it was Adams who did the snipping, I found that my fan credentials were enough to sustain me. The original words were in my head even as I watched their movie-lite equivalents, and I didn’t actually need them to appear on screen. So I was quickly reconciled to the idea that if the film signposts new readers to the books, or listeners to the radio plays, then… mission accomplished. For me, the film worked best when it added new stuff to the already familiar story. New scenes to fill in gaps that weren’t in the original worked well (although I still can’t believe that Douglas Adams had a hand in the Humma Kavula-and-the-Temple-of-the-Great-Green-Arkleseizure sequence).
After my initial shock, I felt that Zaphod was handled effectively, and Sam Rockwell quickly made the part his own, living up to Mark Wing-Davey’s seminal performance. The rest of the cast also worked well, with the exception of Ford Prefect. Mos Def didn’t quite feel Betelgeusian enough for me, and the shift from Ford as the co-protagonist to Arthur and Zaphod didn’t quite work for me.
The Arthur-Trillian-Zaphod love triangle came and went, turning out not to be as bad as Vogon poetry, although the Adams-revised happy ending felt terribly out of place to me. Yes, it was a revision by the man himself, but even in his prose he never quite got everything right.
The plot hung together in the way that a brick wrapped in a slice of lemon doesn’t. No mention or explanation of Magrathea’s big sleep, no reason given for (a) slicing up Arthur’s brain, or (b) finishing off the Earth Mk II, and Zaphod forgot to get his spare head back from Humma Kavula.
High points? The jewelled crabs of Vogsphere, the point-of-view gun, Stephen Fry as the book, Simon Jones as the ghostly image, and the dedication to Douglas Adams in the credits.
Lows? The happy ending, that stupid juicer (which was funny, but not at all in the style of Douglas Adams), the face slappers (whose absent background by the pen of Adams was doubtless fantastic, but we never got to find out they are the reason why Vogons have thick rubber skin and avoid having ideas), and the absence of a Guide reference to towels.
I was left happy enough to see the film again (which I have, numerous times), and I was even looking forward to the sequel-that-never-happened. No, it wasn’t perfect, and it certainly shows evidence of the film-making process as described by Douglas Adams: that it is like trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it.
I also found I was minded to go away and write a script in the style of Adams, then hire Stephen Moore and Simon Jones to narrate a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 style critique in which Arthur and Marvin interfere, screw it up, and moan incessantly about how they got dumbed down/cut/misquoted/misrepresented, etc. Now that would be my kind of director’s cut.