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Sunday, May 01, 2005

Actually I quite liked it

Just got back from seeing The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. I guess I walked in expecting to be disappointed, and I was, but less than I expected to be. It is, to use a British term, a "curate's egg" - "quite good in parts."* It was consistent with all other versions of the story in that it blatantly contradicts all other versions of the story (a tradition established when the original radio show was re-recorded as a record album and then written into a novel.) It had a useless third, much like the planet Golgafrincham. And it has some new elements that are simply brilliant**, and may or may not be the product of Douglas Adams' several screenplays for the movie that would not be released until nearly four years after his death.

Some notes:

- Mos Def is good as Ford Prefect. Some of the early stuff made me think that he would be stiff, but there is a reason he looked stiff in the scenes I was seeing. (It had to do with where he had his thumb shoved.) The scenes with Ford and Zaphod together are great. And his lack of a British accent provides one of the great "new" lines in the movie.

- Sam Rockwell is fun as Zaphod Beeblebrox, although he seems at times to be channeling a certain idiot president a little too well. This is a different Zaphod than the one we're used to, by the way. Sam Rockwell plays him well, though.

- If you need to go to the bathroom during the movie, do it during the Humma Kavula scene - you won't miss anything important***, or entertaining. I was going to suggest stepping out for more popcorn during the Vogsphere scenes too, but actually you might miss one old friend here. (It isn't a blink-and-you'll-miss-it deal. He's in quite a lot of shots.)

- Pay attention to the images that flash by during the Infinite Improbability Drive sequences. The first grouping is, I think, a reference to the Platonic concept of The Forms. The images in the other sequences are also related, though I was only able to figure out two of the themes.

- If you didn't fall completely in love with Zooey Deschanel in Elf, you will here.

- The Slartibartfast/Magrathea/Earth Mark II scenes are worth the price of admission. Ever wonder why Ayers Rock looks so red? This movie explains it.

- Upset that the story has suddenly had a love theme overlaid on it? The mice didn't think much of it either.

- The Vogon soldiers' uniforms appear to be based on bondage gear, of the style worn by The Gimp in Pulp Fiction. The "scintillating jewelled scuttling crabs" and "elegant gazelle-like creatures with dewy eyes and silken coats" from Chapter 5 of the novel have been brought along on board the Vogon ships. The crabs are hard to miss.

- Watch for cameos - Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting's Diane) as a reporter presenting a story on Zaphod, The State and Reno 911's Thomas Lennon as the new, car-advertisement-narrator or game-show-announcer voice of Eddie, the shipboard computer, and Simon Jones (Arthur Dent from the radio, album, and television versions) as the pre-recorded message on Magrathea. (If you have a pair of red/blue 3-D glasses lying around, take them with you for this sequence.) Plus, as previously hinted at, a certain metal man from the original TV series is in the Vogsphere scenes.

- The POV gun seems pointless but is actually pretty neat. You're gonna want one.

- Look for the foam hand-with-finger during the Deep Thought / Ultimate Answer Revelation scene. I also want one of those.

- Trillian's costume during the fancy-dress party is a test. You have thirty seconds or so to figure out who she's dressed as. I failed, and I had the advantage of having already seen a picture of her in the costume (holding a prop that's a hint-and-a-half) in the current issue of Starlog.

- The one story contradiction that I could have done without is one of the final images in the film, not involving the main characters in any way. See if you can spot it. (Hint: it totally invalidates the plot of the fourth book in the series.)

- If you've seen the TV series, The Horse and Groom pub should look familiar. If you haven't, you should see it. It's out on DVD.

- Get the original radio recordings. Listen to them.

- Get the books. Read them.

- Go to douglasadams.com. Thank the man by contributing to his favorite charities.


I am going to see it again. The only question is when.


* Neil Gaiman says that this is an inappropriate use of the term unless I mean that the movie was, except for some pockets of goodness, overall mostly rotten. Which I don't.

**Yes, some of the new elements suck, too. I said "some new elements that are simply brilliant."

***Oh, crap. I've been thinking about this since I wrote it, and I think I've come to the conclusion that Humma Kavula may be the most important character in the story - the reason behind why Zaphod does the things he does. Things to consider:

- How and why does the Heart of Gold wind up at Viltvodel? (There is a reason. M.J. Simpson missed it, or it wasn't in the version he previewed.)
- Why does Zaphod obsessively charge to attack someone he's already publicly defeated and humiliated?
- Why did Humma Kavula run for President of the Galaxy?
- Why is Humma Kavula, a non-Jatravartid, spending his time as the leader of an apocalyptic cult of non-Jatravartids who hang out on the Jatravartid homeworld and pray for The Coming of the Great White Handkerchief, the Jatravartid bringer of doom?

Douglas Adams never completely or satisfactorily explained Zaphod's motives in either the book or the radio series. In this version of the story, could he have inadvertantly interfered with Humma Kavula's plans to become President, steal the Heart of Gold, travel to Magrathea, and do whatever the hell it is he planned to do there? And could Humma Kavula have gotten his revenge by 1.) manipulating the newly-elected Zaphod
into stealing the ship for him, 2.) supplying him with an Improbability coordinate cube that would lead him to Viltvodel instead of Magrathea, and 3.) implanting post-hypnotic suggestions that would draw Zaphod directly to him if he ever got close enough? With Douglas Adams gone, perhaps we'll never know. But now I definitely have to see this again.

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