There’s a better movie in here somewhere beneath the bad editing and haphazard direction. Unfortunately, even that better movie can’t hold a candle to the movie I see in my head when I read the book. Which isn’t to say that I’m faulting the movie for diverging from the book. When it’s true to the book, it’s almost word-for-word, although many of the best jokes are inexplicably left out or glossed over. But, strangely, the movie is a lot better when it diverges from the book.
Even so, it’s not laugh-your-ass-off funny. It got some good chuckles and maybe a guffaw or two out of me. Zaphod was spot-on every time (the subtle George W. Bush impression was brilliant), and Arthur and Ford both had their moments; the former more often than the latter. Marvin was okay, but got little screen time. Slartibartfast was exactly how I’d imagined him. Deep Thought was even better than I’d imagined. And Trillian…well, Trillian was pretty much a one-dimensional character in the books, but she’s got a bit more depth here. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.
Yet it felt like the actors were being stifled by the fact that the directors didn’t seem to know where to put the camera. I’ve seen some of Hammer and Tongs’ music videos, and they’re great, but Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith seem to be out of their element directing a dialogue-driven story. As if that’s not enough, the editor either didn’t know how to edit dialogue or he didn’t have enough footage to work with. The result is a movie that feels awkward and doesn’t flow right. The editor also makes one of the biggest mistakes you can make in a comedy: he doesn’t give the audience time to laugh. The result is that, when the occasional joke does draw laughter, it drowns out dialogue. And without hearing the dialogue, it’s pretty much impossible to know where the plot is going unless you’ve read the books, because the directors sure don’t give you much visual assistance.
In short, while I enjoyed it in spite of its shortcomings, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy isn’t quite the movie I had hoped it would be.
On the drive home from the theatre, as Felicity and I were discussing the movie, it occurred to me that there’s only one movie I can think of (not counting the HHGttG BBC series) that really captured the spirit of Douglas Adams’s books (without actually trying to): Mom and Dad Save the World.
Stop laughing, I’m serious.