Pierce ThorneOn...Pierce Thorne on Life • Mostly Pointless

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Mostly Pointless

That would be the entry in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (HHGG) for the recent movie release of the same name.

Whether you like it depends on who you are:

  • As a full-fledged hitchhiker, complete with towel, ready to quote dialog along with the movie a la Rocky Horror, you'll quickly be disappointed. The book entries are fairly faithful, but few and far between (hint: wait through the credits.) In the beginning, there's some recognizable dialogue, but delivered unwittily, rather more like an American reality TV show than like a British comedy. Gone is the crisp energy of previous productions. The movie has also been thoroughly Americanised ( Zee-zee-nine instead of Zed-zed-nine, for example) as if the studio has assumed Americans are incapable of understanding British humour. But doing so rather misses the point. It's a little like ordering bangers and mash, but the waiter bringing you a burger and chips because you're a Yank.
  • Someone who hasn't read the book has a finite probability of liking it, somewhere between certainty and 2 to the power of that Islington phone number. Not having read the book, you're not likely to have been put off by the dolphins' last words punch-line being drawn out into an entire old-Hollywood chorus line opening number. But without the benefit of the book, the plot is thin, and characters underdeveloped.
  • As a woman wondering why the man in your life is always going on about "42," and "pan-galactic gargle-blasters," and "Zaphod" being "just this guy, you know?" there's a chance you might find the movie endearing, ("It won't work on me, I'm a woman") leaving you with the mistaken impression that you now understand HHGG. But of course you won't. You will have been watching something that is not entirely unlike the real thing.
  • If you're one of those souls with nothing to do, and looking to fill two hours of free time with special effects shots, predictable sight gags, and a bit of thinly-veiled political humor, this may be the movie of the season for you.

The point is, the movie really has only the most superficial resemblance to the books, the BBC radio programme, or even the Beeb's shoe-string budget television show.

Sadly, Douglas Adams passed away before completing the screenplay—a point that becomes evident mid-way through the movie when the infinite improbability drive kicks in and the characters find themselves in an entirely different storyline. That, by itself, is not entirely unforgivable, except that the new storyline completely lacks the cleverness and wit of the late Adams Douglas Adams... Though it tries by borrowing (sparingly? stingily?) from the books.

Whether because of screenplay limitations or dumbing down for American audiences, all the characters seem one-dimensional, lacking anything resembling Genuine People Personality. Zaphod is portrayed as a complete bumbling idiot of a president (complete with Texan drawl) instead of the hip, Millyway-clubbing but politically naïve hoopy frood. Ford Prefect comes across as a marginally competent journalist, more bumbler than suave galactic explorer. Eddie wasn't quite irritatingly cheery enough, nor Marvin manically-depressed enough.

While the characters weren't developed enough, the settings were incredibly rich, sometimes distractingly so. One of the charms of the radio show, and to a smaller extent the low-budget tellie production, was that much of the galaxy was left to the reader's, listener's, or viewer's imagination. Not so with this production.

I shan't be accused of entirely disliking the movie; there were moments I enjoyed despite the movie's many shortcomings. Arthur hurling yarn, for example, was a cleverly improbable moment. The idea swatters were worth a laugh, and of course the book entries were the much expected pearls of wit (though I should have liked more of them...)

I have mixed feelings about the tidy happy ending. It's a Hollywood fabrication at odds with the dry, ironic style of the book, and draws an end to the story. It's as though they let Eddie the Shipboard Computer finish the screenplay. While upsetting, it ends up being a saving grace, as it becomes extremely improbable that sequels will ensue, ruining the rest of the milieu with this Yankified treatment.

Sections: 1

RE: Mostly Pointless
 — Pierce

Thomas sends along this link to another less-than-enthusiastic review of HHGG:


Note the link above is a spoiler so....

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