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Friday, May 13, 2005

Unpleasantly Like Being Drunk

Went to see the new Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie last night, and here's my review.

Firstly, though: the previews. What the hell is up with the kids' movies? We saw three previews in a row for kids' sports movies: The Bad News Bears (baseball -- it's a remake, starring Billy Bob Thornton), Rebound (basketball), and something whose title I don't remember that was about soccer. (Ah, via the miracle of IMDB, I see that the title was Kicking and Screaming. I found this only because I remembered that Mike Ditka was in the movie, as is, inexplicably, Robert Duvall.) These are all the same movie: coach turns loser-ass kids' team into champions. Just how many of these movies does one civilization need during a single summer, anyway?

There was also an animated movie titled Valiant, about British pigeons in WWII. It looked pretty good, although since we don't go to movies we almost certainly won't be seeing this one in the theaters.

It's worth looking at this Guardian article about that film, from two years ago. The main attraction, for them, seems to be the possibility that a British film effort might just knock the Yanks down a peg or two. But there's also this:

Bob Godfrey frets that the premise behind
Valiant is old-fashioned and potentially jingoistic. "Depicting Germans as hawks and British as pigeons is something I would stomp on. Germans must be terribly fed up with being shown as the bad guys. I think it's a mistake."

Who's Bob Godfrey, and what does he have to do with the film? Damned if I know. The article just says that he's an Oscar-winning animator, and I think he was asked just to provide de rigeur sneers. 'Cause he also says:

He is equally blunt about Aardman's five-film deal (or "Faustian pact" as he calls it) with DreamWorks. "In this country, we have a Rolls-Royce mentality. In America, they have a Model T Ford mentality...

Aardman, children, is the studio that did Chicken Run, which is not doing Valiant -- Ealing Studios is. I therefore assume its mention is another opportunity for sneering.

And since we're talking cars, kids: which of these car companies is currently a world-girdling behemoth and which is, uh, not?

But I was going to talk about Hitchhiker's, wasn't I?

I have never understood the passion for the Hitchhiker's books. They seemed to me to be made up of tiny sparkling gems of genius in a matrix of, well, nothin'. There's no discernable plot, that I can recall, just a million brilliant funny bits in search of a plot. And that would be perfectly OK, if the books didn't subtly hint at Deep Meaning. Specifically, the Deep Meaning the books hint at is that there is no Deep Meaning.

Thanks, but I came to that conclusion when I was about fourteen. Got anything else? No, huh?

Still, one plotless book half-filled with genius is a lot better than I'm ever going to do, so yay for Douglas Adams. But, like eating salted peanuts or stolen biscuits, Adams just couldn't stop at one. I think there were five books, at least one radio series, a TV show (or two), and a videoholograph in which twenty artificially-induced supernovae will provide the input photons (coming to a galaxy near you in the year 9595).

Oh, and a movie, in the year 2005. I keep forgetting.

The movie followed the first book (near as I can remember), up until about the time that Arthur and Ford arrive on the Heart of Gold. After that, things get kind of fuzzy. There's a quest for the Ultimate Question (since, of course, they already have the Ultimate Answer), and the movie takes you places that the book sure didn't go---don't know about the other versions. This gives the movie more of a plot than I remember the book having, but that's not necessarily a good thing. It's a rather trite and simplistic plot, and not at all convincing, based on the thin characters. In fact, in places I kept trying to speed them up through the actual "plot" moments, they were so dull.

And we end with a sequel set up.

Nevertheless it does look great, especially the world of Deep Thought (I've forgotten the name) and Vogsphere, home of the Vogons. And as for the Heart of Gold: when you want that stark white, sterile, soul-sucking look for your future, you can't go wrong with a British art director. For some reason they do soul-sucking better than anyone else.

The Guide itself, voiced by Stephen Fry, has a few moments, but I found them rather intrusive.

One of the joys of Hitchhiker's is the amount of information which you read right over and don't process until three seconds later. Jokes are funnier, I think, when you don't get the punchline until you've started the next joke (this works well for stand-up comics, at any rate). The movie doesn't do this well at all. The Guide is one of those elements in the book which is funnier for not being immediately funny, and I don't think this translates to the screen.

I was on the verge of arguing that Hitchhiker's Guide is just one of those works that just doesn't port well to other media, because you can't absorb all the jokes fast enough in real time, and you can't go back and re-read them again. Then again, there's The Simpsons, which never seems to have a problem with that.

For other views, see Murray Hill, who hated it, and scary Hitchhiker's Guide fanatic Emily Jones, who loved it.

Boyfriend Niles says, "I had really low expectations, and it was better than that, so I'm happy." We saw this movie, by the way, at 5:30pm on a Wednesday, and there were only three other people in the theater. I don't know what that says, but it doesn't sound good.