April 29, 2005

Bad acting, misguided direction leave Hitchhiker's Guide stranded in space

After 25 years of anticipation, the wait is over. The result is just as disappointing as waiting for 10 million years for the answer "42." Disney has made a variety of poor decisions in its train wreck of an adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a novel with such an unusual, quirky style. The result is not so much a bastardization of the novel as it is a bad, campy Hollywood summer blockbuster.

The producers made the inexplicable choice of marketing to children. While Douglas Adams's novel appeals to all ages, this decision means his ingenious wit, sarcasm, and quirky humor will be lost. Radio Disney has intensively marketed this movie, which certainly could have afforded to don a PG-13 rating, but instead cowered away to a PG.

The wit has been replaced by clumsy slapstickĀ—one of the most brilliant moments in the book, when the Babel fish proves God does not exist, is replaced by the Babel fish causing a man to flirt with a cow. All of Zaphod Beeblebrox's cleverly constructed characterizations have been taken out, and he has been turned into a brain-dead buffoon, slapping Trillian's ass and being unable to form coherent sentences. An explanation of the improbability drive is replaced by a shot of Arthur and Ford as sofas.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the movie, though, is how some lines directly taken from Adams's novel contrast so sharply with the rest of the movie. Adams died in 2001 while writing the screenplay. To replace him, Touchstone Pictures chose Karey Kirkpatrick, who is best noted for writing such classic comedies as Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves, The Little Vampire, and an equally disappointing adaptation of James and the Giant Peach. The most egregious decision she has made is putting the love story between Arthur and Trillian at the core of the movie. The fact that the Earth is constructed to answer the ultimate question is relegated to a side note; the climax of the film has Arthur giving a monologue on his love for Trillian, whereas in the novel Arthur's brain is about to be sliced.

The horrible direction and deeply misguided casting certainly do not help. This movie is the directorial debut of Garth Jennings, and it is clear as soon as the film begins that he has been given more than he can handle. He has no idea how to design a scene, and doesn't seem to understand how to tie shots together. The result is a new low in editing for Hollywood blockbusters.

Furthermore, Jennings has no idea what to do with the cast. The characters have no personalities, and are merely tools by which slapstick can be produced. To be fair, Jennings doesn't have much to work with. While Rowan Atkinson and Jim Carrey were originally courted for the role of Arthur Dent, the films end up with the rather bland Martin Freeman (of Shaun of the Dead fame). And he gives one of the better performances of the movie. Mos Def, an excellent dramatic actor, clearly has no idea how to handle such an outlandish character as Ford Prefect, and Sam Rockwell crashes and burns as Zaphod Beeblebrox. Since more of an emphasis has been placed on Trillian, it certainly doesn't help that Zooey Deschanel can't seem to express any emotion, not even when her planet is destroyed. The movie could have used a more noticeable and experienced cast, but instead chose actors resembling extras from Galaxy Quest rather than mature, smart actors who know what they're doing.