Early review of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” pronounces it ‘Major Suckage.’

***Dave and Solonor bring us bad news about the upcoming Hitchhiker’s Guide movie. Seems M. J. Simpson, author of Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams (among many other books), was invited to a prescreening of the new movie and he came away very disappointed:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie is bad. Really bad. You just won’t believe how vastly, staggeringly, jaw-droppingly bad it is. I mean, you might think that The Phantom Menace was a hopelessly misguided attempt to reinvent a much-loved franchise by people who, though well-intentioned, completely failed to understand what made the original popular – but that’s just peanuts to the Hitchhiker’s movie. Listen.

And so on…

It’s bad on a big scale because enormous swathes of the story have been dispensed with – most of the Guide entries, whole scenes – or changed beyond all recognition. And it is bad on a small scale because many, many wonderful lines have been cut or in some cases actually rewritten to make them less funny. Whatever your favourite line from Hitchhiker’s, there’s a good chance that it won’t be in the film. Even if it’s really well-known, widely-quoted, much-loved, very funny – it will probably be absent from the movie. Or if it is there, it might have been changed.

Douglas Adams was a dialogue writer. That was his skill – writing great dialogue. And when he had written it, he would rewrite it again and again and again, changing a word here or there because he knew that good comedy writing is like poetry. It has a meter to it and when you get the right words in the right order it just sounds right and nothing else will do. Douglas’ dialogue was perfect. However, the makers of this film, despite all their talk of being faithful to Douglas’ intentions and ideals, have seen fit to piss about with his carefully crafted, wonderfully quotable lines.

To put it bluntly, they have cut most of the jokes out. I’m not being metaphorical here, they really have, in a very literal sense, removed the jokes from the story. There are scenes where all we’re left with is the set-up dialogue, there are jokes where we get the feed-line but not the punchline. It’s astounding. Occasionally, the filmmakers have actually bothered replacing the jokes but they have replaced them with really, really pisspoor, unfunny jokes; they have replaced them with stupid playground humour and pointless slapstick.

[…] The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie is an abomination. Whereas the radio show, TV show, books and computer game are all recognisably variations on a theme, this is something new and almost entirely unrelated. It’s not even a good film if viewed as an original work: the characters are unsympathetic, the cast exhibit no chemistry, the direction is pedestrian, the pace plodding, the special effects overpowering (lots and lots of special effects, none of them funny mind you) and above all the script is amazingly, mindbogglingly awful. Oh, and they have taken most of the jokes out.

This is a terrible, terrible film and it makes me want to weep.

As my mother would say, “Well, shit.”

I’ve been waiting for this movie to be made ever since the possibility was first brought up decades ago. The Hitchhiker’s Guide series was one of the binding threads in my circle of friends when I was a teenager and it remains one of the few series I’ve read and re-read over the course of decades. It was one of the first audio books I ever bought and that was when I first realized that aspects of the American release of the novels were different than the British release which prompted me to collect even more editions so I could experience the story in all its permutations. I can be as obnoxious about these books as some folks are about Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series and I was really excited about the movie because Douglas Adams himself had developed the screenplay. There are very few movies these days that I make a point of seeing in the theaters and H2G2 was definitely one of them so this is a major blow to my happiness.

The above was taken from the short, spoiler free review of the film. Simpson wrote a longer 4 page review full of spoilers that lays out just why it all went horribly wrong. Normally I’m cautious about taking most reviews at face value (which is why I like sites like Rotten Tomatoes for movie reviews), but Simpson is uniquely qualified to be a good critic of this film due to his many works about Douglas Adams and the H2G2 books. He opens the longer review as follows:

Let’s start by establishing a few basics. The only two things that matter when judging this film are ‘Is it a good movie?’ and ‘Is it a good version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?’ One thing which is totally irrelevant is ‘How much of it did Douglas Adams write?’ Douglas was not the best arbiter of what did or did not work in various versions of Hitchhiker’s Guide: much of what we love in the story was created by other people or at least by Douglas in collaboration with other people, and some of his own ideas were wisely dropped from earlier versions. So ‘but Douglas came up with that bit himself’ is not a valid rejoinder to any criticism of changes made from previous versions.

In other words, from the audience’s point of view, it matters not a jot whether Douglas Adams wrote any particular part of this movie; it only matters that it should sound like he wrote it.

Let me also acknowledge that a lot of very nice, very talented people, who have been very kind to me, some of whom I’m lucky enough to consider friends, have worked very hard on this film. I have been extraordinarily privileged – a visit to the set, interviews with cast and crew, exclusives for my website, a preview screening – but that should not affect my critical judgement. Disney have got some great free publicity out of me in return – quid pro quo – but when it comes to reviewing the film, all this means is that I will be kinder when making negative points and more enthusiastic when making positive ones. It won’t affect what those points are and it won’t affect my overall opinion. You can’t (or at least, shouldn’t be able to) buy good publicity for a bad film. And this film, I’m very sorry to report, is bad.

That alone is enough to inspire me with confidence that Simpson is going to provide a review I can trust. He admits his biases and special treatment right up front while stating his desire to be as fair in his opinion as he can. So when he says something like…

The plot has changed considerably. Yes, every version of Hitchhiker’s has been different, but there is a core plot: the first radio series, the TV series, the two LPs, the first two novels and, crucially, the play. Jonathan Petherbridge’s stage adaptation is a perfectly good example of how the whole of the Hitchhiker’s saga can be effectively told in under two hours but seems to have been completely ignored by the film-makers as possible source material or guidance. (And speaking of running times, let us never forget that this movie is adapted from a novel which was based on only four radio episodes, ie. two hours of material, so there really shouldn’t be any need to cut too much out.)

What we have here is a story which changes some of the really, really basic, iconic elements of Hitchhiker’s as established in all the previous variant editions. That wouldn’t be so bad if it changed these elements for the purposes of creating a good film, but that is sadly not the case. What has emerged from all this chopping and changing is an incoherent mess in which important things happen for no reason except to advance the plot and unimportant things happen for no reason at all.

…my heart just sinks.

I rarely get upset about bad movie versions of books as there are very few books I get that emotionally wrapped up in. This is definitely one of those books and I am definitely very upset.

Fans of The Lord of the Rings were upset with some of what was removed and changed for the movies, but the movies still ended up being damned impressive despite the changes and omissions because the folks who made it understood what made the books so damned good. The same doesn’t appear to be true of the folks who made H2G2. Simpson makes his case against the film quite well going so far as to produce a list of things not in the film that should have been.

Oh well. It’s not like I can afford to go see the stupid movie at the moment anyway. I’ll probably watch it once it hits cable just to see how bad the train wreck is, but for now it’s definitely off my list. Dammit.

18 thoughts on “Early review of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” pronounces it ‘Major Suckage.’

  1. The situation with LotR was that they put 3 huge books into 12 hours! With HHGTTG, they put 12 hours of story into 110 minutes!

    Reading the review showed just how bad they cut it up and totally changed the story to make it fit.

    I must say, that I am extremely glad that I read the review before plopping down the large amount of money needed to watch movies these days. I would have been very upset.

    So, instead, I just sit back and watch the new Doctor Who episodes as they are released on bittorrent and hope that someone else will do a better job later.

  2. On the other hand, some did actually really love the movie. So I guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder, as usual. I did like the style of the miserable review, and I do get the points it makes, but this is a movie and not a book, most of the plays on words would be lost on a wider audience anyway, and the screening was not the final version of the movie (rather a pre-release in which still much finetuning and notetaking takes place).

    So, I’m going to see the movie (if I can afford it), hopefully unbiased. It can’t be that terrible.

  3. Form the not in the movie list:

    The second part of the Guide entry on Babel fish, about proving the non-existence of God

    I can just see some Dizzy exec nixing this bit,“Oh no, you can’t do that you’ll offend religion x.”
    (With x = to your prefered offendee.)

  4. I tend to read Ain’t It Cool News quite a bit and of all the reviewers there “Moriarty” is the one I usually disagree with the most. So the fact that he liked the film doesn’t inspire with me a lot of confidence.

    That said, there have been other positive comments  about the film and more than a few people seem to think that Simpson has his head up his ass. There’s even a few folks out there who think it’s not as bad as Simpson makes it out to be, but it still has problems:

    I thought the film was ‘ok’ – which in a way is a let down. I don’t think it’s anywhere near as bad as Simpson says. But, I think there are some big problems. Some of these are caused by the casting – when 3 of the 5 main characters are a mixture of terrible or annoying throughout much of the film you know you have problems. In some ways it’s a testament to what’s left of Adams’ story that the film still has some good moments despite this. The film, expecially in the first half an hour, moves probably too fast.

    Also, I heard that a fair bit of the God stuff was cut by Disney as they didn’t want to get Christian Fundamentalists upset. One of the little jokes about God is still in there, but most of this has gone, which is a great loss. Atheism is a key element to the story, and some of the scope of the story is lost in doing this. Arthur and Ford don’t seem so alone in the universe now.

    I think many of the hardline fans on here will hate it, and understandably so. But, it’s probably got enough in there to be a success. There’s enough slapstick stuff for the foreign markets, and there’s enough American heros in there.They need to make $100 million in the States to get a sequel – and they’ve left it open enough at the end to do it. From the test screenings it gained its highest ratings from the kiddies.

    Count me as a hardcore fan and, yes, the toning down of the atheistic theme of the books does bother me as that’s one of the aspects about it that I thought made them great. Perhaps my opinion will soften a bit as more reviews come in, but right now I’m not very optimistic.

  5. Were we really expecting Disney to not modify the story and/or disgrace a creator? I can think of five examples where Disney really modified the story, and one where they basically stole the story of another creator for thier own work. And don’t get me started on Pooh.

  6. I’ve spent most of my day so far digging further into early reviews of the film and I’ve managed to come across a few more positive reviews and defenses of the film from various sources that are worth reading. First is a comment from someone called “Yoz” over on Slashdot where Simpson’s review has been debated quite heavily since it was first listed there. Here’s a snippet:

    Most (though not all) of the spoilers that Simpson reveals in his review are true. Yes, the lying-in-front-of-a-bulldozer dialogue has been cut short. Yes, several key Guide entries are missing. Yes, some of the dialogue isn’t as funny as it could have been, and a couple of the gags are corny rather than sharp. (Note: I said a couple. It’s nearly two hours of film, there are still tons of good lines in there.)

    It’s at this point that Simpson’s opinion of the movie and mine diverge rather radically, because he seems to think that you can judge the film’s merits almost purely on what’s missing, in combination with things that don’t appear as quite as he’d have liked them. Personally, I loved it to bits. It’s not perfect, certainly, and I agree with a couple of his criticisms (though with about 5% of his severity). But I fundamentally feel that it’s true to the spirit of Hitchhiker’s in so many ways, not just through the storyline and script (which is far, far better than MJ would have you believe) but also through visuals and design that are utter genius, reimagining Douglas’s creations in totally new ways that still seem completely in keeping with his intentions. It wears its Britishness in a far more open and interesting way than any previous version of the story – the Vogons, in particular, are a satire of traditional English bureaucracy that borders on Hogarthian.

    Also at Slashdot is this defense by Tim Browse. Again, a snippet:

    I can understand some people not liking the movie – when I worked at TDV, I encountered some pretty scary fans on occasion – I once met a couple who were specifically fans “of the radio series only” (which they took the time to point out to me). I think if you’re the sort of fan who recites hitchhiker stuff, then you’re going to find plenty to get annoyed about with this film. On the other hand, if you’re the sort of fan (like me, and many of m’colleagues at TDV over the years) for whom hitchhiker and Douglas Adams’ prose is something not to be recited in a trainspotting sort of way, but which has achieved the much more impressive feat of being woven into the very fabric of your daily speech, so much so that you don’t realise you’re quoting hitchhiker, then I think you’ll find a lot to like in this movie.

    There are just so many nice touches in the movie – one of my favourites is when Ford/Arthur have to fill in a terrifyingly complex Vogon release form – Arthur is filling it in, and Ford is using the Guide to tell Arthur which boxes to tick and what to write where. Such a small thing, but so effective. Now tell me these people don’t get Hitchhiker.

    And it does seem that the number of folks who have gotten early looks at the film have enjoyed it including Jens Kellenberg who maintains one of the bigger fan sites out there:

    Bearing in mind all the way that this was a rough cut of the movie, with not all the FX finsihed and the music score not all there, I have never seen anything quite like it, and nothing springs to mind to compare it with. Did I like it? Yes I did, very much. Did I laugh? Oh, yes indeed I did. Very much so.

    So, was there anything disappointing about the movie? Yes, there are one or two details that I thought did not come across or should have been reconsidered in the movie, and that’s a bit sad. I’m not going to tell you what they are, but they will be noticable by the hard core fan.

    In relation to this fans anticipations and hopes, which have been huge and demanding since the beginning of this project, and also considering that it was an unfinished rough cut and not the final product, I give it 3,5 bordering to 4 out of 5.

    Like I said, I can be as obnoxious about H2G2 as some LoTR fans can about their favorite books. Truth be told, I really do want this to be a good film that’s true to the spirit of Douglas Adams work, but many of the criticisms in Simpson’s review resonated with me.

    So now I’ve moved from being “disheartened” to “conflicted” thusly proving that I can be just as big a mess of jumbled emotions as any other human being over something that, in the grand scheme of things, probably isn’t worth all the energy I’m investing into it.

    It is after all only a movie, but one I’ve been waiting a very long time for so pardon my silliness over it.

  7. Yoz is Yoz Grahame (you may have come across his weblog before) – he’s worked with Douglas Adams before and was involved with the H2G2 encyclopaedia project.

    Personally I’d rather make up my own mind about it, or at least wait until its release so that I can read some of the other reviews. Hopefully it won’t be as bad as Smith says it is.

  8. I feel a little better after reading the other reviews. Thanks for digging them up!

    I still can’t see how they can change Ford convincing Prosser to lie in front of his own bulldozer into something that’s not only un-funny but also without any irony as being a good thing, but then I can’t see anything at all until it’s release, now can I? smile

  9. Here is a scary piece of news? Anyone with iTunes Music Store popped to the store to check out the “soundtrack” to the movie?

    Most of it is situational music or background music, but there are a few tracks:
    The Dolphins
    So Long & Thanks for All the Fish
    Vote Beeblebrox
    Reasons to be Miserable(His Name Is Marvin)

    It just doesn’t bode well for the movie.

  10. Personally the ads have left me wondering about the movie.  Especially Marvin.  Way too cute, and not human looking enough.  I definitely didn’t imagine him as this short, round thing.

  11. I have this new philosophy in dealing with movies.  Expect very little and you are almost always peasantly surprised.  Especially when Disney corp. is involved.  If you expect the studios to chop your favorite book into sushi when they make a movie, it makes many films easier to watch.

        That being said, I really hope they didn’t botch it.  it’s one of my favorite books.

  12. I have quite a few favorite books. I live in fear of certain studios ever getting ahold of them to adapt them for screen (big or small). Disney is five of them.

    That said, this version of HHGTTG will probably end up being a bit like the two versions of Dune. They serve different purposes. If you want the hardcore spirit, the rich visuals, the use of metaphor, the atmosphere…see the 1984 David Lynch version. If you actually want a coherent story…see the 2000 Artisan Entertainment version.

  13. I trust Simpson’s review more than Yoz’s. I met Simpson about a year ago, and he seemed very much a reasonable person and knowledgable about comedy and sci-fi. Yoz Graham is peripherally attached to the film production, and gave a talk last year at NOTCON where he hyped up the film quite a lot.

    Marvin, in my opinion, should look more like Bender from Futurama than this blobby mess. Okay, not quite like Bender, slightly more mechanical and with lots of “flashing lights and computer screens” (props: Arthur Dent).

    I will probably go and see it. I won’t sit there as, apparently, the Harry Potter fanboys do and compare the film with the book. But I have my hopes quite low for it being any good.

  14. I’m not expecting a carbon copy of the book for the very reasons that so many have pointed out already; Adams often adapted the story quite a bit when moving it from one format to another. However I would hope that what made the books great, the dialog, would come through.

    Still, being unemployed, I’m not likely to see it anytime soon so it’s a mute point for me. grin

  15. I just saw HHG2TG in a finished version. “Major suckage” is overstating it. There’s nothing major about the film. “Minor suckage” is closer. It does a few things right and feels like it gets the whole enterprise wrong. Im very disappointed.

  16. Hi guys

    Well, just to throw the cat amongst the pigeons I have to say that I actually enjoyed the movie, and believed it upheld Adam’s tradition of making every new version of the story “the best.” 

    Of *course* there are things that aren’t in the movie, and the movies going to be different.  Books are a literary media, film are visual.  So a lot of the witty narration is, yes, cut out, instead using neat visual gags (okay, some of them don’t work, but some of them are wickedly funny) which fit into the “vibe” of the story.  MJ Simpson’s “list” of things tht should have been in the movie is churlish and geekboy-tastic, and smacks of the same outrage that wanted the X-men to be in yellow latex and, more relevantly, Ford Prefect not to be black (a great move, IMHO).  Perhaps Mr. Simpsons real problem is that he senses his “baby” (not his of course, but certainly something he’d like to claim a degree of ownership over) as being taken away from him, and changed.  Like when Daddy’s little girl comes home with a hickey.

    I really would encourage everyone to see this movie, and judge it for yourselves.  And remember of course that the filmmakers are given the task of creating something that will appease both veterans and newcomers, and its a line that I believe they treaded brilliantly.  So Mr. Simpson can go jump off the edge of the universe, for what I care.

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