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Ode To a Small Lump of Green Putty

Tue May 3, 2005 The Webgeek 

Hichhikers Guide to the Galaxy -- The Movie
Well, Miss Vicky and I went to see the film last night -- and we both were pleased with the result. It's not fantastic, but it's not horrid either. It could have been better, but all in all, it was quite enjoyable. It's visually fantastic and Marvin in particualr is phenominal. Apparently it's doing well enough that talk of sequels is being bandied about. Now, the movie itself is causing some varied reaction; especially among my fellow geeks (caution movie spoilers in both links). I'll refrain from doing an outright review, since there's already plenty out there. Instead I'll just talk about why there is this discord.

I must admit to being a huge fan of Douglas Adams' work. I mean huge. I own all the books, the TV series (on VHS tape, though I'm planning on re-purchasing it on DVD), and even the original radio scripts (purchased during a recent trip to London, England). I also own the Dirk Gently books, "The Deeper Meaning of Liff" and -- my (and Douglas's) personal favourite amongst them all -- "Last Chance to See"; his travelogue/eco-commentary about searching out some of the most endangered species on the planet. So to say I was worried about Hollywood screwing this up is an understatement.

To an extent, they did too. Well, not really "screwed up" but definitely changed a lot of it. They beefed up Trillian's role (not a bad move really; she is under-used in the other incarnations of this story) to add a semi-schlocky love triangle (not entirely a bad a move -- but a bit saccharine). They also gave the Vogon's a much larger role; in part to tie in several discordant elements of the original story (it was originally written in episodes after all), and partially -- I'm sure -- because Hollywood needs an easily definable bad guy. Also, they tacked on that most dreaded of "Hollywood" things -- a happy ending. These are the standard things Hollywood slaps onto movies. If there isn't a love interest, a bad guy and a happy ending, movie executives get very nervous. So it doesn't surprise me that they were added to this particular film.

Now before someone pipes up and points out that Douglas Adams actually wrote the screenplay -- I know that. But I also know that the movie went through a lot of revisions beforehand. It was initially supposed to be directed by Ivan Reitman back in the mid-80's. This movie has been in "pre-production" for a very long time. It was slated to be a movie before movie franchises were the norm. Movies weren't conceived in trilogies at the outset back then. They were made as stand alone films, with an eye towards a possible sequel or two if -- and only if -- the original did well in theatres. If a movie was being adapted from a series of books, then they tried to shoehorn in several elements of the whole series in to the first one -- just in case the sequels don't pan out. This script was originally written before Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter showed us that loyal fans want movies to stick to the original story-line; and will buy into, and line up for, a movie per book.

Of course, now movie makers have learned this valuable lesson too, so why did the makers of this movie keep all the tacked on "crap"? I mean, we know better now, right? Well, I think it was out of respect to Douglas. I mean, he did write the original movie screen play. They were so afraid of betraying his vision, that -- despite what some people think -- I doubt they changed much of his original work. I think this is why the movie falls down a bit. What's really good about the movie, that's Douglas's fault for sure. The reason why some jokes stayed, and why some didn't, are because Douglas held on to what he felt dear. What changed is also Douglas's fault, a lot of which -- the new characters and scenes on the Vogon home world -- reflect changes in the way Douglas viewed the world since writing the original radio series. But it must also reflect the pressures put on him by Hollywood. He must have had to walk a fine line; trying to stay true to his vision, but also trying to please the formula-loving eyes of movie executives that ultimately would give the go-ahead for the movie. After his untimely death, the people tasked with picking up where he left off were walking an equally fine line. They had to stay as true to Douglas's wishes and vision as possible. Unfortunately, without Douglas actually here to tell them what he wanted, I think they also kept stuff that Douglas was forced to include and probably wasn't entirely happy about.

I think that's the problem here. Had they been a bit more critical, and tried to move back to the original source a bit more, it probably would have been a better movie. Thankfully, Douglas's brilliance does still shine through enough to pull off a good film. It's just a minor shame it isn't as great as it could have been. So, what of sequels? There will, no doubt, be a huge outcry if they do try to do so. But I think it's unavoidable that we see at least one more film. But I'm actually a little excited about that prospect -- on one condition. If they make another film (or four), Hollywood better hand the task of adapting his other books to someone who will be able to meld the original story with the new bits that this movie introduced. Someone who really gets it.

Some people were moved to reply

Mike M May 3, 2005 07:23 PM said:

Excellent review. I had roughly the same reaction: not nearly as bad as I feared it might be, but not as great as it could have been. H2G2 is a tough book to turn into a structured movie. Most of the best bits are the random digressions from the plot. While I wasn't totally comfortable with the changes they made (the obligatory love story arc, too much concentration on the Vogons), they were fairly seamless.

On a more general note, I've been reading the blog since the first Citizen story and have been enjoying it. Keep it up!

Miss Vicky May 4, 2005 11:33 AM said:

I'm with you, Mike. I found the love story and the Vogon bits a bit much, but all is forgiven 'cause the movie was so damned fun.

The Webgeek May 4, 2005 01:55 PM said:

To be honest I kind of liked the Vogon bits.

I think both those bits and the Trillian character beef up are tie-ins to the Fifth book, where both Vogons and Trillian end up playing a larger part. I think Douglas may have been partially making up for initially making them throw-away characters in the first book. Then again, maybe not.

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