Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The View from a Blog at the End of the Universe ...

Last month, in posts and comments both in this space, and over at
Fire Ant Gazette, we were looking forward to a pair of films coming out this year, each based upon a well-known book - "War of the Worlds," and "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." At the time, I said I honestly didn't know if I was looking forward to the movies with enthusiasm, dread, or a mixture of both. While I'm a great fan of both H.G. Wells and Douglas Adams, and both of the works listed above are permanent fixtures on my bookshelf, what might Hollywood do with a pair of stories that have been favorites of mine for such a loooong time?

Well, part of the the question was answered this afternoon, when I took in "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." And with that, I can now claim some sort of 'total Adams' experience,' having enjoyed audio tapes of the original "Hitchhiker" radio series, the book compilation of that series, the television series and, now, the feature film. About the only facet of "Hitchhiker" canon that I've missed is the old
Atari video game.

So, what did I think of the movie? It was alright. I'm not as gushingly-enthusiastic as the carefully-selected reviews cited by the film's promoters. But neither am I as angry as some people who saw the film as nothing less than the rape of a cultural treasure. For me, the film was, 'mostly harmless.'

Most of the laughs the boys and I got were from slapstick moments, like the time our heroes are trying to cross a field outside the Vogon city, and keep getting smacked in the face. Not much of the sometimes-satirical, sometimes-thoughtful humor of the book ... but then, I expected that. I never believed Adams' wit would translate well to a major Hollywood film, especially one made by the folks at Disney. The film's promoters made much of the fact that Adams shared in the scriptwriting, but have said next to nothing about the major work that script underwent following Adams' death.

So, what can Disney do well? Special effects, for one thing. The scenes inside Magrathea, the 'planet production floor,' were fantastic. And the Henson people pulled off another of their moments of Muppetry magic bringing the Vogons to life.

The story was kind of, well, strange considering the rich material from which it could draw. Eric at
Fire Ant was describing a scene between Zaphod Beeblebrox and his political opponent, that left me wondering ... though it did offer some insight into how a story is developed for a movie script. They took a couple of sentences out of the book, describing one planet's view of Creation (just a passing remark in the book) and turned that into a major focus of the film. They created the planet, the trappings of its religion and society, its leader, his political campaign against Beeblebrox, the confrontation between the two following the election, the mission Beeblebrox undertakes from that leader, the 'bond' he leaves to insure completion of that mission, the mission itself and its results ... all absent from the book.


(For those who wish for a more literal adaptation of Douglas' work, you can always get the
BBC Television mini-series on DVD. I highly recommend it. Snippets of that series pop-up in the movie ... you hear the TV series' opening theme song, for instance, when the Guide is ontroduced in the movie ... and among the film's creatures, standing in the queue at the Vogon office, is the TV series' Marvin the Robot.)

By the way, speaking of that confrontation between Beeblebrox and his political opponent, Eric suggested that the actor was playing Beeblebrox as if he were President Bush (the younger). I think Eric was right ... the actor's inflection, his tone, his delivery were all right-on through much of the film. He WAS talking like George Bush ... at least the way Bush sounded to me when I interviewed him. Not thinking we'd catch on, the filmmakers also gave him cowboy boots. Later, when Beeblebrox is doing lots of yelling and running around, the earlier nuances of his speech are lost.

Good call, Eric.

And don't be surprised if a sequel is in the works. The ending of the film seemed - not so much a good ending to a story, but, rather, a teaser, a springboard for generating buzz about what might emerge from the characters' trip to the 'restaurant at the end of the universe.'

1 comment:

ET said...

I agree that it was "mostly harmless" to those of us who know the full story (or claim to know most of it, anyway), but to the untrained viewer, I think the movie left a lot of open questions. Like, what was the point of the dolphins and their disappearance, which is a five minute intro into the film and then only mentioned again in the brief flash of a newspaper headline? Also, the true "Adams" bits (such as the fileroom incident relating to the bypass plans) were cut down to meaningless drivel. For more on this you can read my earlier posts and also link to "Jack the Ripper and Me" (my husband's blog) from my site (New York State of Mind).

We have the old BBC version, which I have always thought of as horrendous...especially the way Trillian is portrayed. But in light of the film, we watched the first two episodes again (the night we saw the movie) and, quite frankly, the BBC version is looking better.

Maybe people will check out the book after watching the movie (if they had not already), and at least we can rest assured that Adams's legacy will live though he does not.