Reviewed by: Michael Karounos
|Featuring:||Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel, Bill Nighy|
|Producer:||Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, Nick Goldsmith, Jay Roach, Jonathan Glickman, Todd Arnow|
Materialism—What if the cosmos is all that there is? Answer
Extraterrestrials—Are we alone, or is there lots of life elsewhere in the universe? Answer
Bible and ETs—What does the Bible say about intelligent life on other planets? Answer
Does Scripture refer to life in space? Answer
Does God really exist? How can we know? If God made everything, who made God? Answer
Where did life come from? Is evolution really the best scientific answer? Answer
The best part of seeing “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” occurs in what appears to be the opening sequence. We see a beautiful cloud-and-water-covered Earth swirling on its white and blue axis in outer space. We drift with it to the sublime voice of Louis Armstrong singing “It’s a Wonderful World.” When the Earth violently blows up into a zillion pieces, a sign reading “DON’T PANIC” reassuringly displays on the screen, and we calmly think: “This is good.” The dissonance between cultured music and outrageous juvenile destruction on a cosmic scale strikes the sick funny bone in the same way as the image of Robert Duvall in “Apocalypse Now” surfing a wave of explosions in his helicopter and blaring Wagner from over-sized speakers: it’s just right.
Only later do you begin to panic, when you recall that the sequence was actually the trailer to “Chicken Little” and that “Chicken Little” looked like a better movie. Belatedly, you realize that you’re stuck with stupid acting, stupid writing, and stupid directing—praying for Robbie and Mr. Smith to find the humor that has been lost in space.
The fact that far worse movies have been made than “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is no consolation—if it’s the worst movie one can remember seeing recently.
I read the first volume in the series and admit that the characters, the incidents, and the fantastic details are accurate. What’s missing is the soul of the book. The book’s humor is a complex blend of imagination and tone. Adams writes cleverly, but it’s his droll authorial voice that makes him so funny. He writes satire by diminishment, a mannerism which doesn’t work on the screen, because movies work in reverse: they have to make everything larger than life.
Adams’ genius is belittlement. In the movie, diminishing the characters makes them out to be idiots who are neither funny nor interesting.
“Hitchhiker” uses voice-over narration, but this may be one of those rare movies that would have benefitted from more voice-over, a lot more, so the audience could at least hear something funny and intelligent. Stupid characters cannot communicate funny ideas because they sound like people talking about what they don’t understand. That’s sad.
Additionally, the movie relies on too many close-ups of puzzled facial expressions. In those cases, it would have been better to say what was left unsaid. Intelligence is even more difficult to communicate without words than it is with words.
For those who haven’t read the book, the plot is as follows. Arthur Dent’s home is scheduled for demolition to make room for a highway bypass. Arthur hadn’t been notified of this fact personally, but the paperwork had been available in the town archives, had he only chosen to look. Similarly, Earth is scheduled for demolition and, like Arthur’s house, the paperwork had been on file, open to appeal for a long time, though no one on Earth knew this or could travel to a distant solar system to file the appeal, even if they had known it.
Both Arthur’s house and the Earth are destroyed by mindless bureaucrats, but, luckily, Arthur hitches a ride with an alien, and they set off on their galactic adventures. The faux violence that ensues is on the level of “Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles”: improbable, unconvincing, and unfunny. The actors overact in these parts, which shows that they know the movie’s in trouble, and that they have to work harder to get laughs where they can.
The dual demolitions are a funny conception because they articulate the perversity of an unseen fate which decides, in the interest of mindless improvement, to destroy a house and a planet full of life. There are at least three obvious references to Darwin and evolution in the movie. Likewise, there are at least three references to religion—representing its spokesperson, adherents, and practices as hopelessly ignorant.
The President of the Galaxy and the religious leader are similar in their rock persona excesses; while the scientist is cooly practical in her oversized glasses and starchy logic. We see three little animated books with a voice-over saying in succession: “Where God Went Wrong”; “More of God’s Errors”; and, “Who Is This God Person Anyway?”
There are also poorly written sops to gays and feminists which fill out the film’s politically correct liturgy. Clearly, Jenkins interprets Adams’s books polemically, and he works hard to insert these lame, ideological winks and nudges into the screenplay for the benefit of a certain kind of audience who he hopes will say good things about the movie. Unfortunately, the film is so convincingly stupid that everything exists on the same low level. In terms of communicating the soundness of its ideas, the movie comes across like a box of rocks, shaken, not stirred.
Adams’s book suggests a tension between the totalitarianism of the Vogon’s mindless bureaucracy, and the capitalistic greed of Zaphod’s materialism. In this, the book has intriguing similarities to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in which the drug, soma, represents a central metaphor of a different kind of escapism. Had Jenkins strengthened the intellectual underpinning of the movie to suggest that life offers two unacceptable choices—totalitarianism and materialism--and the only alternative is to escape, it could have been thought-provoking.
The Vogons, like the creatures in Orwell’s Animal Farm, appear to be a cross between pigs and humans. Additionally, Zaphod’s theft of the spaceship The Heart of Gold has allegorical dimensions, as does the ship’s Infinite Probability Drive. But lacking ideas, what’s a hapless Earthling like Arthur Dent to do?
For the answer to that question and other painful thoughts, by all means, see this movie. However, if you wish to preserve your IQ at its present level, DON’T PANIC. Take a walk in the park instead. It’s a wonderful world.
Violence: Minor / Profanity: None / Sex/nudity: Minor
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.