It begins with a house...

Film I suppose you ought to know I'm feeling very depressed. I've just returned from seeing the film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. On the bus home, two women were sitting with a giant piece of bubble wrap and were popping it intermittently and loudly. People shouted at them, pleading with them to stop and they just continued, and with more conviction creating headaches all round. I'm introducting this information because that experience was more preferable than sitting through large sections of this film. If you thought The Phantom Menace was the biggest disappointment of your life, you haven't seen anything yet. At least that had a cool lightsabre fight at the end.

I've been sitting at this keyboard for two hours trying to write a review. But I can't. After seeing the film I went to the pub and saw my friend Chris, who is much of a fan as I am. He asked me what it was like. I told him. The colour went out of his cheeks and it was as though I'd told him someone had died. I felt bad afterwards and wished I'd been more circumspect. So I'm giving you that. It's one of those films we're all going to end up making our own minds about. But long term reader will know what this film meant to me and I do feel like I've lost something.

There will be a huge number of very negative reviews written about the film over the following days and weeks. Which is good, it deserves them. But I do want to point out one particular positive, because there are so few things to like about the film. One of the new aspects is a romantic relationship between Arthur and Trillian. It's been hinted at in other versions, but here it's full blown and blooded. For some reason when the rest of the plot and film are falling apart, these scenes really work and it's generally because of Zooey Deschanel's playing. All the vague melancholy and loss which Simon Jones had in his playing of Arthur has been spirited into her -- when she finally finds out that the Earth was destroyed and from the last person you'd want to hear about it from, the look on her face is heartbreaking. The film feels more like her journey than anyone elses.

As I write I've got a copy of the book on my desk. It's a 7th printing, from 1980, the pages are yellow, but it's the original edition with the title of the book in computer lettering, in red on a greenish background. Open it up at a random page and you're guaranteed to find some kind of writing gem, be it dialogue, a description or a guide entry. I'll admit that having heard the radio series, seen the tv version, played the computer game and read the book a few times I know the material more than most, but it still has the power the thrill me and surprise me. I've opened the page and it's the moment when Arthur is sitting on Magrathea looking up at the stars and getting nostalgic about Earth as it dawns on him that the galaxy has lost a jewel and doesn't know about it. It's a moving moment, undercut as usual by Marvin saying how awful it sounds. The story in all these other forms is filled with these situations, a kind of sadness of something lost amid the humour. Which is the genius of the work. It's comedy, but it also has something to say about the universe and the human condition. It's a shame the film makers didn't understand that.

3 comments:

  1. Aw, really? I was dragged out to it by a bunch of giggling coworkers and found that I just couldn't hate it despite my cynicism. Maybe it helped that I had generally low expectations. And also that I'm such a cornball that I burst into tears at two seperate moments... I won't give them away... one nostalgic and one bittersweet. The gang I was with universally loved it, even though only one other person among us had actually read the book.

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  2. There were elements of the film I did enjoy - the whale, for instance, seemed to capture the melancholy tone of the book that u talk about. And the dolphin prologue was great.

    It's just that it had no sense of story or where it was going. It felt like they were happy to string a lot of jokes together.

    Thank Douglas the Guide was actually amusing! Here's to Stephen Fry!

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  3. I'm willing to admit that I may be too close to the material. I just hate that I have to sit and think about what I did like and try and keep the faith in that over the bad stuff.

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