Review for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The feature film adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has been on my radar for a long time now, ever since I watched the television broadcast premiere one Christmas. That’s probably the last time that I watched a film that way, as these days I usually timeshift what I watch on TV to fit around my DVDs and Blu-rays, or I wait for a repeat, or watch it on a plus one channel, or watch it streamed. I’ve also dithered considerably before finally placing an order for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on Blu-ray. It was actually one of the first titles on the format, a 2007 release, although I’m reviewing a 2012 re-release (different sleeve). For one thing, it has one of those generic Blu-ray trailers at the head of the film. The second thing is that they were still hedging their bets with the format. If you want all of the extra features for this film, you have to buy the 2-disc DVD. The Blu-ray only offers a taster of the bonus features, and this US disc has more of them than the UK release. Still, I wonder why it took me so long to buy a film that I enjoyed enough to make a mental note about it...
Arthur Dent is having a bad day. If it isn’t his house being demolished for a bypass, it’s the whole planet being demolished for a hyperspace motorway. Fortunately, Arthur made the right friend in Ford Prefect, who it turned out wasn’t from Guildford, but from somewhere near Betelgeuse. He was on Earth writing a revision for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the essential manual for the intergalactic traveller, and managed to supply Arthur with a towel, and thumb a lift for both of them before the Earth imploded. It was a stumbling block that they were picked up by one of the Vogon ships that had been sent to demolish the planet, but they were rescued, for want of a better word, by the fugitive President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox, and his stolen spaceship, the Heart of Gold. With another survivor from Earth, Trillian, and the most depressed robot in the galaxy, Marvin the paranoid android, they’re on a voyage to discover the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.
Hitchhikers may be over ten years old now, but the Blu-ray still stands up well today, probably because the film wasn’t exactly creaky when it made its HD debut. The image is clear and sharp throughout, with strong, vibrant colours. Detail levels are excellent, and you really do get the best of the costume and set design, the wonderful animatronic creations such as the Vogons, and the quality special effects. You have the choice of PCM 5.1 Surround English, as well as DD 5.1 English, French and Spanish, with (yellow) subtitles in these languages. The uncompressed audio is the way to go here, a powerful and immersive surround track that makes the most of the action and the music, but keeps the dialogue clear and audible. That’s except for a pop on the PCM track at 1:06:16 (it isn’t present on the lossy track).
You get one disc in a slim BD Amaray style case, one which has a latch to keep it closed. The film autoplays on a loop, following the generic Buena Vista Blu-ray trailer, and a ‘You wouldn’t jailbreak an iPad’ antipiracy ad. You do get a pop-up menu though, from where you can change your audio options and access the extra features.
The UK Blu-ray apparently doesn’t have the two DVD audio commentaries. The first features executive producer Robbie Stamp, and Sean Solle, colleague of Douglas Adams. The second has director Garth Jennings, Producer Nick Goldsmith, and actors Martin Freeman (Arthur Dent), and Bill Nighy (Slartibartfast).
You get three Deleted Scenes (2:18), 2 Really Deleted Scenes (2:48), and an Additional Guide Entry: The Man and the Fish (0:47).
That’s your lot, if you don’t count the Movie Showcase, a set of bookmarks to the best bits in the movie to show off all of this new fangled HD stuff.
As I said, if you really want the extras, place an order for the two disc DVD release of the film.
I enjoyed the movie, but I only got around to buying it now over ten years after its release. I enjoyed the TV series, but I’m yet to get the DVDs. I loved the books, but I never got round to buying them. I was entertained by the radio series but... You can see where I’m going with this. The Hitchhiker’s franchise has never been one to trigger the obsessive collector in me, despite the fact that it is nice and economically compact. That the movie is ideal for HD presentation in its Blu-ray incarnation probably explains why it’s the first iteration of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that I have bought.
That it looks fantastic is inarguable. But it is also the weakest iteration of the story, and the first thing I did when I started writing this review, was to quickly pause and place an order for the books. That’s not to say that the film isn’t good; far from it. It’s entertaining, and feels unmistakably faithful to the feel of the original. Most of all, the casting is perfect, beginning with Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent, the perfect everyman, and who else would you want as the voice of the Guide besides Stephen Fry? Alan Rickman as Marvin, Sam Rockwell as Zaphod, Zooey Deschanel as Trillian; it’s a dream cast, and Mos Def as Ford Prefect is an inspired choice.
The problem for me is that this movie take on the story is like an inverse TARDIS. It’s bigger on the outside than inside. There’s no denying the Hollywood scale of the film, the costume designs, the animatronics, the sets; when we get to Slartibartfast’s shop floor, it is my favourite bit of the film; it truly captures the cosmic scale of the planetary construction business. But the film is loud, brash, in-your-face and unsubtle, and it loses a little of the quintessential humour in the process. It’s just too fast and noisy.
It’s also a plot that feels as if it’s on rails. Arthur Dent’s journey from Earth to Earth is sequential and direct, and the sense that this universe is larger than that containing Earth, the Vogons, Humma Kavula, and Magrathea, is never really felt. That’s despite all manner of lyrical asides from The Guide. It’s not a film that makes you wonder what lies around the next corner, doesn’t inspire you to imagine characters’ back stories, leave you salivating for a sequel. It’s complete in its tidy little confines, leaving me with the impression that all of Arthur Dent’s travails occurred in the space of a disgruntled afternoon.
Unsubtle and obvious describes Hollywood down to a tee, but apply that ethos to something as ephemeral as classic British satire, and you lose something in the translation. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy feature film is Hitchhiker’s lite; all of the flavour, but none of the mental calories.