Don’t Panic

This entry is perhaps a bit late, but there was a major personal crisis in my life, and I was unable to work for a time.

I saw the recent adaptation of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on opening night, at one of the tremendously over-priced Silver City cinemas owned and operated by Famous Players. The critics had prepared me for the extra material, and Sam Rockwell had already leaked a tremendous amount about what he was “going for” in his portrayal of Zaphod Beeblebrox. Those things, coupled, of course, with my prior experiences as a fan of the radio show, novels, and BBC television series, obviously made it difficult for me to go into the cinema without any kind of expectations.

The opening sequence was stupid. The “So Long and Thanks For All the Fish” song was clever and funny, the cinematography and editing were both top notch, but it was just a tremendous waste of screen time for what would ultimately wind up being a not terribly important joke. Time, or rather timing, would ultimately turn out to be the only problem with this film that couldn’t safely be ignored, and as all the world knows, in comedy, timing is everything.

One of the tremendous things about Douglas Adams’ humour is that he was never frantic. He always took his time with a joke, letting it age, settle, and ultimately become all it could be before releasing it into the world. His humour is in that respect far, far different, from, say, your average American sitcom or slapstick Wayans Brothers farce, which generally launch so many jokes at the audience so rapidly that even the twenty or thirty percent that are genuinely funny rarely have enough time to sink in properly. This film was quite simply too fast. It never quite reached the rarefied levels of the average American sitcom, but it also never allowed the truly clever jokes to sink in.

Sam Rockwell was another problem, although if the film’s timing had been better I probably wouldn’t have noticed. Rockwell’s intent was to portray Zaphod as a kind of interstellar Elvis figure, full of gusto and a kind of absent-minded, innate coolness. What he actually achieved, however, was Sean Penn circa Fast Times at Ridgemont High; a moronic, unlikeable jerk who wasn’t so much absent-minded as genuinely stupid. Given how Zaphod developed in Adams’ work, a genuinely stupd Zaphod is far, far less effective than an absent-minded one.

Mos Def’s Ford Prefect was another story entirely. I don’t generally approve of musicians moving into acting, mostly because they tend to not be able to play anyone but themselves. Mos Def, however, did an excellent job as Ford. He wasn’t exactly how I had pictured the character in my head, and he was a tad bit too soft-spoken and timid, but he filled the role so well that I can’t really think of anyone I would have preferred for the part.

About Martin Freeman (Arthur Dent) and Zooey Deschanel’s (Trillian) performances I can say absolutely nothing bad. They both nailed their characters with impeccable and humane talent, and both were exactly on rhythm for the entire film.

I could go on and on about the special effects, the absolute mangling of the plot (much of the original material wouldn’t have worked on screen, so I can see changing it, but not in the ridiculously commercial ways the filmmakers chose), and so on, but by this time you’ve probably had your fill of such things in the commercial press.

August

Writer. Editor. Critic.

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